Many people think that just because they learn how to operate in Manual mode (M), that they need to keep it there to get the best shots. I can’t even begin to tell you how many great photos I would have missed if there were any truth to that.
The simple fact is, the other modes are there to help you get important shots when time is a factor, such as with wildlife. I’ll certainly use M if I have the time to set up something like a landscape. If I’m out shooting wildlife, however, I keep my camera set to Time Value (Tv), also known as Shutter Priority. This way, if I happen upon an animal, my camera is already set to a shutter speed that I know I can hold steady for crisp shots. Then all I need to do is pick up the camera, start shooting, and let the camera figure out the aperture. The ISO I’ll typically set on my way out the door depending on weather conditions or when conditions are changing.
Another handy trick is to reprogram some of your buttons. It may sound scary and too uncomfortable to bother with at first, but the benefits enormously outweigh the disadvantages. On most cameras, the default method for achieving focus is to push the shutter button halfway down. If an animal is moving toward you, or at some kind of diagonal direction, this means that by the time you push the shutter down, your shot will already be out of focus. Most cameras nowadays will allow you to set different functions for your buttons, thus allowing you more flexibility when you need it most. On my Canon 7D, I switched the AE Lock button to be my focus button. I combined that with switching out the Depth of Field button to switch the focusing mode to AI Servo. Since I normally leave it on One Shot by default, I can now instantaneously swap focusing modes to capture action should a bird take flight, for example, or if I didn’t even see it coming, as was the case with the above photo. Had I not had these settings ready to go, this shot would not exist.
It takes a little practice, but it’s a new combination that when done repeatedly will feel completely natural. Another advantage to swapping out the functions for the buttons is that now you can hold down the focus button and it will constantly focus, allowing you to snap away all you want and get the shots that make it all worth it.
Learn it, use it, and have a great weekend with it!