Automatic vs Manual

Bob Blakley recently argued to avoid automatic exposures. The debate further continued with Phillip Hallam-Baker's reaction and Bob's reply.

Bob is indeed right that the "pure" automatic exposure does in fact homogenize your photographs. But he may be wrong with the method how to avoid that. Well, there are essetially two approaches to "creative" exposure:

  1. Switch to "manual" as Bob described. But for that you need another way how to meter the lighting conditions. Maybe your expert judgment, maybe handheld exposure metering device. The former needs tons of experience and is not reliable even if that is given. The latter is expensive, cumbersome and unreliable for beginners.
  2. Switch to "automatic" and use exposure compensation of some form. The camera meters the "normal point" for you. You just have to decide how much darker or lighter you want the scene to be and compensate for that. You need not have decades of experience nor separate device. And it does not really matters if the "automatic mode" is aperture priority, shutter priority or some program mode. It does not really matter if the metering is spot, center-weighted or multi-zone, as long as you can predict the results.

The photograph is not produced by camera. The photograph is produced by photographer. And it really does not matter that much what camera you use. What really matters is how much you know your device. How you can predict it's behaviour and results. Therefore, both of the approaches will work, and I could say that both will work equally well.

Know your equipment. That's one of the basic photography mantras.

Want a proof? Look at my photographs. Most of them were taken using some sort of (tweaked) auto-exposure. And you really cannot say that the exposure is "homogenous".

The real problem with auto-exposure is that most photographers do not think about it. They do not "tweak" it. Do not use exposure compensation, they do not choose a segment of image for measuring the exposure, they just take the picture as it is. That's the real problem. Not the feature of the camera, but the mind of the photographer.