Why I've never shot manually on my Canon camera

Clive Booth EOS R shoot
(Image credit: Clive Booth)

Last year I hosted a live stream interview with legendary photographer Martin Parr, and one of the questions asked was about his camera settings. To the great surprise of many of our audience, he proudly announced that he used Programme ‘P’ and the chat box lit up, one viewer exclaiming ‘P’ is now for Parr.

I agree with Martin, as I too am an advocate for letting the camera do the work, allowing me to focus on the creative. I don’t use ‘P’ but for my entire career, I’ve shot on ‘AV’ aperture priority (opens in new tab). For me, this gives me control of the one thing I value above all others and that’s the depth of field. I’ve built a career using fast prime Canon lenses at very wide apertures. My assistants often laugh when I shoot at f2.8, exclaiming that I’ve stopped the camera right down.

As a photographer, filmmaker and Canon Ambassador, I’ve been involved in many brand firsts. I thought I’d seen it all, until 2018, when I was involved in my biggest Canon first, the launch of the most intelligent camera system I’d ever experienced. The EOS R mirrorless system (opens in new tab) was the biggest brand announcement in thirty years and my shoot was shrouded in secrecy. Smartphones switched off, non-disclosure agreements signed, security at the studio doors. 

The brief, for Birmingham Royal Ballet, was ‘Fire and Fury’ (opens in new tab). My task was to create an in-camera illusion of a ballerina on fire. To achieve this, I shrouded dancers with silks, satins and chiffons and, using wind machines, they appeared as if immersed in a cauldron of flames.

Clive Booth

(Image credit: Clive Booth)

Using the EOS R system for the first time

With the Canon EOS R (opens in new tab) and RF50mm f1.2L USM in hand, as I started to shoot, I immediately knew why this was such a big deal. In fact, it was nothing short of revolutionary. For the first time in my career, I could see exactly what I was shooting via the OLED electronic viewfinder. I knew if the exposure was correct by making minor adjustments to EV using another first – the RF lens control ring. 

With this, I could accurately see the color temperature and even get a quick glimpse of each frame as I shoot. In addition, I could move my focus point around the frame by simply touching the LCD screen, shooting either through the viewfinder or by simply touching the back of the camera.

A year after the launch and Canon added face tracking and eye detection. In 2020, it was animal AF and then last year, vehicle detection and eye control AF. The latest Canon EOS R6 MKII (opens in new tab) takes things a step further with ‘auto’ mode, the camera deciding and applying its best algorithm based on the subject detected. For me, shooting mirrorless is liberating, and after learning to trust this hardware and software technology I am completely confident in handing over control to the camera.

There’s a T-shirt knocking around that says, and I quote “Everyone is a photographer until ‘M’”, intimating that being able to use a camera manually (opens in new tab) makes you a photographer. For me ‘M’ stands for mirrorless. If you still want to shoot manually you can, but why would you?

In conversation with Martin Marr

You might also like the best Canon camera (opens in new tab)s and the best Canon portrait lenses (opens in new tab). Plus, discover the Canon R6 vs R6 Mark II (opens in new tab).

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Clive Booth
Professional photographer

After 20 years as a graphic designer working for clients such as Toyota, British Airways and Adidas, Clive decided to follow a lifelong ambition of becoming a pro photographer and filmmaker. The British Canon Ambassador is now a leader in shooting atmospheric fashion, beauty and portrait imagery.

With contributions from