A great friend of mine, whose family might blame me for hooking her on photography, was having some troubles with her camera. We walked through some questions on the ISO settings, and we discussed some things to check out. In the course of our online chat, she said it was so frustrating that she was thinking of just going back to Program mode and giving up on manual. She seemed very surprised when I told her that I shoot mostly on Aperture priority and not in manual mode. She had been listening to those photo snobs who try to tell you that unless you are constantly tweaking your controls in manual, you aren’t a real photographer. I don’t pick up a camera to play with controls, I use it to match what I see in my mind, what I see in my viewfinder with what comes out at the end.
Back in the day (A Wednesday, for those keeping track) when cameras had no brains, manual was the only way to shoot. It was certainly how I learned. Today though, we aren’t really using cameras. We are holding very advanced computers, designed by experts who understand light, image processing and photography. I absolutely agree that photographers need to intimately understand the relationship between shutter speed, aperture, ISO in getting a good exposure. But if you understand those things and your camera controls, you can focus on your subject more than on your camera. In selecting either Aperture or Shutter priority modes, you have already made the most important decision for that image.
You have determined that depth of field or the speed of the subject is what you need to get that image. They are going to give you a nice evenly exposed picture, but we know that is not enough. OK, how about controlling your metering mode. Just choosing point focus versus area focus completely changes how the camera sees the light. Then overriding those settings in ±1/3 increments with the exposure compensation gives me the precise control I need.
Don’t let anyone tell you what a “real” photographer does; unless it is to capture great images which freeze moments in time, reveal emotion and tell your audience how the world looks to you.