There are situations when it’s acceptable, and perhaps even encouraged, for pros to shoot on auto. While we’re certainly not going to argue that professional photographers should rely solely on the automatic settings of a camera, we would like to be devil’s advocate in this case to point out a larger truth. Often, overanalyzing can get in the way of a shot, or as a famous mantra to the Hindu god Ganesha says, “Oh my lord of lords Ganesha, kindly remove all obstacles, always and forever from all my activities and endeavors.”
Myth: Automatic Is For Amateurs
Digital cameras have progressed to a point where it’s actually hard to take a “bad shot.” At the same time that some photographers are lamenting this, other photographers have looked at it as a boon because, as always, it’s not the camera that sets the pros apart from the amateurs, but rather what they’re able to do with an entire scene, from exposure to lighting to subject to composition and so forth. For a pro, the camera is only one tool in his or her toolbox, just one small piece to the puzzle. So if this is the case, and assuming a photographer has already learned the capabilities of a camera by shooting manually, why is it such a social stigma for a photographer to even consider using the auto settings?
It’s almost as if shooting full manual is a point of pride, and sometimes, distilling an image to its essence is going to reduce clutter and allow you to concentrate on taking a picture instead. Modern cameras include a variety of settable parameters that are designed to optimize shooting conditions to the capabilities of the camera. And, yes, in the right scenario, it’s okay to use them. Even for the most practiced photographer, fidgeting with settings can make you miss that once-in-a-lifetime shot, and it can ruin the energy on a set. For photojournalists, events photographers, sports photographers and nature photographers, the decisive moment is going to be more important than proper exposure.
None of this is to say that you shouldn’t get as much right in-camera as possible. In fact, many of the photographers who we interview point out right off the bat that their paramount job as a photographer is to make everything perfect in the real world before an image ever lands on the computer. You should always walk into any scene, photographic or otherwise, with as much preparation as possible at all times. Once you’ve established how much you can do in a scene, however, and you find that there are a variety of elements beyond your control, like rapidly changing lighting conditions or elusive subject matter, then auto shooting (or, at the very least, “P” program mode selection for automatic shooting with control over ISO, flash and whitebalance) may be the fastest and easiest way to get workable results.
Would we be making this argument even just a few years ago? Probably not. In a John Henry-like race of man versus machine, in-camera metering still isn’t better than the ability of the human eye to coordinate with the mind and, more importantly, predict the imminent future. Not yet, anyway. Humans used to be able to beat computers at chess, too.