What mode do most professional photographers shoot in?

There are certain times when shooting in Manual is the best choice, but other times when it is not. Even the most seasoned veteran photographer may use a pre-programmed mode occasionally to concentrate immediately on a shot rather than take the time to calculate exposure and miss the opportunity for the great image. But if you are a beginner at photography or want to advance your photography skills beyond Auto mode, begin by adventuring away from the green box.

When you set up your camera to capture an image, there are four necessary results to consider: wide depth of field, shallow depth of field, motion blur, or freeze motion. How do you know which Mode to use to control these basics of photography? Let’s take a look. If you need advice on your wedding photography, check out our photography packages and services at Wild Romantic Photography.

So if you’ve ever been told that you need to shoot Manual, it’s time to rethink that advice. Each Mode is there for a reason, and they all have benefits.

Knowing which Mode to use in different situations will help you succeed in getting the best exposures, among other bonuses. It pays to learn about all of them, so let’s get to it!

Real Photographers Only Shoot in Manual Mode – NOT!

What mode do most professional photographers shoot in?

So you already know my thoughts on this, but let me expand on why I believe it is a mistake to think this way and take this advice on board.

Manual Mode can be too overwhelming for a beginner.

When you’re already stressed out just trying to figure out how to use your camera, adding Manual Mode shooting is like learning to drive a car with a manual transmission!

Taking baby steps and learning one thing at a time is a much better plan of action. Get the basics down first, drive in Automatic for a while (pun intended) and take it one step at a time. Maybe progress to Program next, then one of the semi-automatic modes explained below.

When you’re comfortable with your camera’s essential functions and have been using it for a while, you are ready to tackle Manual Mode. Looking for wedding photography Melbourne? Look no further! Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

Manual Mode isn’t always the best choice!

Believe it or not, most pros do NOT always shoot in Manual Mode. Instead, they choose the best shooting mode suited to the subject they’re photographing. I’ll explain this in more detail below as I go over each Mode down, but the short answer for when to use each one goes like this:

  • Use Aperture Priority when you want to control the depth of field.
  • Use Shutter Priority when you want to control motion (freezing action or creating blur).
  • Use Manual Mode when you have plenty of time to shoot and check your exposure and reshoot if need be, the lighting and your subject aren’t changing, OR you are using a tripod.

Manual Mode and Manual Focus are NOT the same!

Many beginners make this mistake and get confused between shooting in Manual Mode and using Manual Focus. It’s easy to get confused because they have very similar names. But they do NOT do the same things.

  • Manual Mode – this is about the exposure, and in this Mode, you must set all three pieces of the exposure triangle; the ISO, the shutter speed, and the aperture.
  • Manual Focus – this is how your camera achieves sharpness on the subject.
    • With Autofocus activated, the camera will attempt to focus for you, and if you choose the right settings, it usually does a pretty good job.
    • Manual Focus means YOU must turn a ring on the lens to attain sharpness. It’s tough to do without assistance like using the zoom feature on the LCD screen (impossible for a moving subject or without a tripod) or focus assist/peaking if you have a mirrorless camera.

So please understand that the two are NOT mutually exclusive.

If you are shooting in Manual Mode, you can still use Autofocus, and if you are shooting in Automatic Mode, you can use Manual Focus (but why would you – let the camera do its job).

Camera Shooting Modes

There are five main shooting modes on most cameras:

  • Full Automatic Mode (usually shown as a green square or box on your mode dial)
  • Program Mode (traditionally shown as P on your dial, and no, it doesn’t stand for “Professional Mode”)
  • Aperture Priority Mode (shown as A or Av on your dial)
  • Shutter Priority Mode (usually shown as S on your dial or Tv for Canon)
  • Manual Mode (M on your dial)

The difference between these modes is how much work the camera is doing for you and how many settings you choose yourself. 

The Great Flaw of Shooting “Icon Modes” on Your Camera

We always get the same question about shooting modes: “Why do I need to learn how to set my camera’s settings manually when my camera already has built-in modes for sports, portraits, landscapes, etc.?” These are referred to by photographers as the icon modes because they have icons of the shooting situation on the mode dial.

This example will explain why these icon modes won’t work for those who want to become a “real” photographer.

With your new photography skills and your new fancy camera, your family members nominate you as the official photographer at your family reunion. It comes time to take the giant group picture with over 60 people in it. What Mode do you set the camera to? The little portrait icon, because it’s a portrait, right?

There is a problem with that, a huge problem. Your camera’s portrait mode automatically makes the aperture low because it thinks you want shallow depth-of-field in your portrait. But in this instance, it’s such a large group of people that you need full depth-of-field so that the people in the back aren’t out of Focus. The camera doesn’t know your intentions with this portrait, so half of the group looks blurry.

And thus, we see why the little automatic icon modes (the landscape, portrait, sports modes, etc.) will not work for photographers who want to learn to take professional-quality photos. Planning your dream wedding and don’t want to miss out on the special moments on your big day? Worry no more, Wild Romantic Photography has you covered.

Auto (Green box)

In Auto mode, your camera will automatically set the shutter, aperture, ISO, white balance, and even the pop-up flash for you. In this Mode, your camera makes ALL the decisions for you, and all you have to do is press the button. Not only does it choose all the exposure settings, but it also sets the focus mode and points, White Balance, drive mode, etc. It determines everything for you. So you have no options, but it’s usually going to give you a decent exposure with little fussing around. 

The options on the same side of the dial marked with tiny icon graphics like the lady, mountain, flower, runner, etc. – are all options and variations of Full Automatic. They have particular uses depending on the subject you’re photographing.

Do NOT feel like there is something wrong with you if you need to use those modes! It’s perfectly acceptable to do so. Read your camera manual to see what they each do and use them if necessary. However, these auto modes may not produce images with the look or effect you want. So if you’re ready to take over a bit of control, let’s move on to the next option – Program.


This is an excellent option for beginners with a digital camera – but don’t become dependent on it! Only use it until you learn to take control of your camera.


In certain lighting conditions, the auto settings may produce undesirable images. For instance, a portrait that is heavily back-lit might have a silhouette. In low-light, you may end up with blurry and grainy photos; also, in low-light, the camera may choose to fire the flash to give more light, and many camera models don’t provide a way to disable the moment if you don’t want it.

When to use: 

Any time you want to use your camera just as a point and shoot camera, this is your Mode.

Program Mode (P)

Program mode is the next step up from full Automatic. You can see it on the dial as a “P”. In Program Mode, the camera will choose the three settings that control the exposure for you; ISO, aperture and shutter speed. But it will allow you to set other things like the White Balance, Focus mode, and Drive mode.

You can also dial in a setting you want to use, like an aperture of f/4, for example, and the camera will adjust the other settings to give you a good exposure. So it’s a beneficial mode for helping you learn about direction.

Use Program Mode as a learning tool. Let the camera pick the exposure, then look at what it chooses and dial in those same settings yourself using Manual Mode to practice.

Go back to Program any time you need to get a shot fast and haven’t got time to fiddle with the settings. If the light is changing too quickly, if you have a moving subject that you might miss, if you take too long, those are good times to use Program if you aren’t sure what to do.

In Program mode, your camera will automatically set the shutter speed and aperture but allow you to choose ISO, white balance, exposure compensation and flash options. Create lasting memories through your Yarra Valley wedding photography that will be cherished forever.


This is a significant next step for a beginner who wants to take a little more control of their camera and improve their images.


As in Auto mode, certain lighting conditions may lead to unpredictable results due to the partial automatic settings, which leave some products to chance.

When to use: 

Use this Mode if you want to take a good first step to ultimately taking complete control of your camera’s options.

Shutter Priority (TV – Canon) (S – Nikon)

What mode do most professional photographers shoot in?

In Shutter Priority mode, you select the shutter speed, and ISO and the camera will automatically choose the proper f-stop for what it determines to be the correct exposure. 

So when should you use Shutter Priority? We recommend using it in a couple of different scenarios:

  • When you’re doing planning and shooting a moving subject
  • When you’re shooting with a flash indoors, you want to capture as much natural light as possible (but this is advanced photography, so don’t worry about it right now).

The first one above is pretty straightforward. If you’re shooting a cyclist or a moving car, for example, and you want to blur the background by panning, then you want to use Shutter Priority Mode and set the shutter speed low.


Great for controlling freeze action and motion blurring of moving objects. Using Shutter Priority allows you to choose the shutter speed, and the camera will select the aperture needed to make a correct exposure.


In this Mode, you control your shutter speed, so you must be careful that your camera can choose an f-stop to give you the proper exposure. The type of lens you have available to use comes into play here. Most cameras can shoot at breakneck shutter speeds, but if your lens doesn’t have a large enough aperture to match that shutter speed, the resulting image will be under-exposed. For example, if you are shooting with a shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second, the proper exposure for the subject’s rate requires an f-stop of f/2.8, but the widest opening on your lens is f/3.5, the image will be under-exposed.

When to use: 

Use this Mode when you want to control the motion of the object you are photographing. Use a fast shutter speed if you’re going to freeze the action, or use a slow shutter speed to blur the motion. This Mode is also useful when using large mm lenses to set a fast shutter speed to avoid blurred images due to camera shake.

Here are some suggested shutter speeds for Shutter Priority:

  • Freeze swift motion – 1/3000th of a second
  • Athletes in action – 1/500th to 1/1000th of a second
  • Birds in flight – 1/1000th to 1/2000th of a second
  • People walking – 1/250th of a second
  • Panning moving objects – 1/30th to 125th of a second
  • Blurring fast-moving water – 1/8th of a second
  • Blurring slow-moving water – 1/2 to 1 second

Aperture Priority (AV – Canon) (A – Nikon)

In Aperture Priority mode, you select the aperture and ISO, and the camera will automatically choose the proper shutter speed for what it determines to be the correct exposure. It provides the flexibility to shoot without continually monitoring the exposure levels for every single shot.


Other than Manual Mode (next paragraph), Aperture Priority is the most popular shooting mode photographers use, mainly because it controls what is in focus in your image. And in most cases, the item you have in Focus is the element that will make or break your image’s success.


In low-light situations, your camera may choose a plodding shutter speed that will produce a blurry image, either because of movement by the subject or camera shake.

When to use: 

Use this Mode when you want to control the Depth of Field (DOF) of your image. The larger the aperture, the more light reaches your camera’s sensor and the shallower the DOF. Reversely, the smaller the gap, the less light reaches your camera sensor and the deeper the DOF. Beware that changing your aperture will also affect your shutter speed. More light from large gaps requires a faster shutter speed and less glare from small cracks requires a slower shutter speed.

Here are some suggested f-stops for Aperture Priority:

  • Landscapes -f/8 or higher for more DOF
  • Portraits – Large aperture (f/2.8) for shallow DOF to blur the background
  • Macro – f/8 or higher for more DOF

Manual (M)

Manual Mode allows you to change both the shutter speed and aperture settings independently from each other. The camera will automatically set no settings. Your camera’s built-in light meter will guide you on the exposure it determines to be correct. Still, you have complete control to adjust the shutter and aperture separately to get the exposure you choose to be right for the image you are creating.

Before you use the manual Mode, it is recommended that you have an understanding of the exposure triangle (shutter speed, aperture and ISO) and how each will affect your final image. Starting to think about hiring a wedding photographer? Check out our range of Mornington Peninsula wedding photography here.


This Mode gives you complete creative control of the image you are capturing.


While this Mode has many creative advantages, you must always check the exposure with every image, especially when shooting in fast-changing lighting conditions.

When to use: 

After you have learned to use this Mode and learned the effects and results of the settings and how they work together, you will use it almost every time.

Here’s a shortlist of the kinds of things to shoot in Manual Mode:

  • Night photography
  • Long exposures (waterfalls, car trails, star trails)
  • HDR (bracketed images to merge later)
  • Posed portraits (if the light is not changing, the subject isn’t moving, and the camera isn’t moving)
  • Macro photography

Scene Modes

Scene mode is very similar to Auto mode. You choose the scene you are shooting, and the camera will choose settings for you optimised for that scenario. Different camera models may have different scene modes, but listed here are some of the most popular:

  • Sports – The camera will increase ISO and use a fast shutter speed to capture immediate action.
  • Landscape – The camera will use a small aperture to maximise the DOF; flash may also be disabled.
  • Portrait – The camera will use a large gap to throw the background out of Focus. Some models of cameras will also use face recognition in this Mode.
  • Macro – The camera will choose a small aperture to give as much DOF as possible.
  • Advantages: As with the Program mode, these Scene modes are a beneficial starting point for beginners and will often provide a better result than shooting in Auto mode.


While these settings can produce desirable images, the results may vary and will not be reliable.

When to use: 

While these scene modes may be a step up from Auto mode for beginners, use these options as a starting point to learn your camera, understand its workings, and upgrade your photography skills.

So which model is the best?

It is entirely up to you which Mode you feel most comfortable using. But suppose you are using the Auto, Scene or Program modes and want to improve your photography, learning how to set exposures using the shutter’s exposure triangle. In that case, aperture and ISO will help you make the best possible choices to create better images. The two most popular modes used by professional photographers are Manual and Aperture Priority. Remember, professionals were once beginners too. Enjoy your camera experiences, no matter which model you choose! If you’d like to work with professional photographers for your wedding, book with us at Wild Romantic Photography.


To sum this all up, the bottom line is that you certainly do not need to always shoot in Manual Mode. If anyone tells you otherwise, kindly thank them for their advice and do your own thing.