Everyone's a photographer until M

I see a lot of these “Everyone’s a photographer until M” T-shirts on Instagram. For those of you who don’t know, M stands for manual mode in a camera. The slogan is implying that unless you know how to shoot in manual mode, you’re not a real photographer.

This gear-related mentality in the photography scene is enormous. I follow some photography related pages on Instagram and read some articles and some comments, and it’s all about gear. Everything is about models and pixels and technicalities.

It’s a disease.

There’s a famous Penn-Hemingway interaction that supposedly went something like this:

Ernest Hemingway to Irving Penn: “Your photos are really good. What camera do you use?” Irving Penn to Ernest Hemingway: “What typewriter do you use?”

People tend to think they can buy skills. If you buy this new camera, you will take better pictures, which is obviously not true. I know, I tried this. It doesn’t work at all.

Now, coming back to the “Everyone’s a photographer, until M.” It’s the same thing. As if, if you know how to shoot in manual mode, you’re more of a photographer than someone who doesn’t.

It’s irrelevant. A camera is a tool. Just because you know all the technical settings doesn’t make you a better artist. It should be fairly obvious, yet so many photographers refuse to get it.

E.g., for me, it doesn’t make any sense to shoot in manual mode. At all. I know how to do it, but I never do.

I get it; a lot of photographers take pride in it. Look, at the end of the day, no one cares if the photo was shot in manual mode, aperture priority, shutter priority, p-mode or whatever else mode. The result is what counts. Shooting in manual mode won’t make the photos any more valuable.

Besides, if you don’t have to spend time and energy on fiddling around with all the knobs, the more time you have to think about composition, perspective, lighting, etc.

One of the best photography wisdom I got from Eric Kim was to shoot in P-mode. Now, this is mostly only applicable to street photography where shooting in manual mode is quite tricky as the people move in different speeds, your lighting changes (as you might move from light to shadow) and all that — too many variables to keep in mind. You would constantly have to readjust and can’t focus on just shooting.

I set my ISO to 1600 on a bright sunny day and choose automatic aperture and automatic shutter speed. If it’s cloudy, I might amp the ISO up to 6400. Now, ISO 1600 sounds super high on a sunny day, but since it’s so high, the shutter speed will also be quite high. Usually around 1/500″ – 1/1000″ and above which makes sure the pictures will be sharp as there won’t be any motion blur.

This basically converts the camera into a point-and-shoot. This is all I do. I point and click the button. Super easy. I rather have some noise on my image than blur.

Of course, when I shoot landscapes or portraits or something that doesn’t act unpredictably, I can choose auto ISO as I won’t need high shutter speeds.

Manual mode doesn’t mean anything. It’s possible to take professional pictures without using manual mode. I mean, if you give a camera to a professional and tell him or her that he can’t use the manual mode, he or she would still produce great images. Then again, you can give the camera to some engineer who knows the camera inside out and calculates perfect ISO-shutter speed-aperture increments in his head while considering the light and white balance and he might not produce excellent images at all.

The simpler you can make things, the better. Usually. I still choose a manual gearbox over an automatic one any day, even though the latter is “easier.” But then again, knowing how to use a stick shift, doesn’t make one a better driver.