I think we are all guilty of it and probably do it more often than we should. No, it won’t make you go blind (at least I think it won’t). No, there’s really nothing wrong with it but wouldn’t you really rather do it the way nature intended? Of course you would, so turn off those darn automatic settings on your camera and take charge of your exposures!
Way back when I began my professional career as a photographer I used pretty much the same gear as all the other wedding and portrait shooters. These cameras generally didn’t have any automatic settings and very few had internal light meters. Solid exposure was determined by using a handheld incident light meter or sometimes a handheld spot meter. Once the exposure was determined the settings were transferred to the camera by turning one dial for the shutter speed and another for the aperture. It didn’t take long before you could easily predict the exposure without even getting the light meter out and taking a reading. I’m sure this sounds like a royal pain and that it must slow you way down during a fast paced event like a wedding, but the reality was it didn’t and in someways was faster than how most photographers work today. How can that be? Read on.
Generally the light in a scene isn’t constantly changing. The only time I can think of is outside under fast moving clouds with the sun ducking in and out. The point I’m driving toward is that if you measure the light in any given scene it’s fairly constant. If you are indoors it may be that the light is brighter over by the window than it is near the back of the room you are in, but that’s not what I’m talking about. Consistency. The light levels, while different throughout the room, will generally be consistent. If you know the exposure over by the window and in the back of the room, then you can easily shoot without a meter as long as it’s consistent light. Over by the window it’s giving you 1/500 at f2.8 and near the back it’s at 1/125 at f2.8. Cool, then set your camera to either setting depending on where you are shooting. Why is this good? Read on.
When you shoot in manual mode, you are in the driver’s seat and the camera will behave as you have directed. If you were shooting in an automatic mode, then the camera is constantly looking for the best exposure and changing your shutter speeds and apertures. This lacks consistency and can often lead to more work in post production. Let’s say for the sake of the article that you are shooting on automatic and your exposure is staying around 1/60 at f2.8 in the bride’s dressing room. She throws on that big beautiful white gown and your camera sees all that white and freaks out. Why does it freak out? Because camera meters want everything to be medium gray. Most scenes average out to medium gray and in those cases it works just fine, but when they don’t it’s not good. So back to the dress. She throws that dress on and the camera says, “Wow, that’s a lot of light reflecting back at me. It’s really bright so I better lower the exposure.” Is that what we wanted? No! The white dress IS bright and we want to keep it that way. If you were shooting in manual mode, the camera wouldn’t react to the dress. It would deliver the exposure you requested. Need more examples? Read on.
OK, we know that camera meters want everything to read as medium gray. Keeping that in mind, you are shooting a few group shots outside the church after the wedding. Your camera is on auto and you are a happy camper clicking away. Then you group all the groomsmen in their black tuxes together for a quick shot. You take the pick and find out it’s overexposed? Huh? You are in automatic and the camera meter saw all that black and said, “huh, who turned out the lights? I better brighten this up” and bingo, you’ve got a beautiful, washed out frame. If you had shot in manual based on a reading of the scene (using a handheld meter or histogram or whatever) then you exposure for the groomsmen would have the same as it was for all the other groups. Easier? You bet. Faster? Definitely. Less post processing? For sure
Automatic cameras, zoom lenses, TTL flash all lead to laziness during shooting and much more post processing in the end. Shooting in manual mode is not difficult at all and makes the whole take so much more consistent. If you have consistency, then you can easily batch and adjustments in Photoshop, which will save you tons of time no mater whether you shoot RAW or JPEG. So go old school. Turn off all the automation and use your brain. It’s good for you AND your exposures.
-Bruce L. Snell
Bio: Bruce L. Snell (www.blsphoto.com) has been professional wedding photographer for over 20 years and lives in Topeka, Kansas with his wife Karen. Bruce is also co-owner of That’s My Monkey which is a website offering tips and techniques to digital photographers in a unique and humorous format. www.thatsmymonkey.com