Just recently we celebrated my son's third birthday. A major milestone for him was giving up his pacifier. It was difficult, and required some persuasion and a few nights of sleeping with mom and dad, but in the end he gave it up, and now he sleeps much better.
What does this have to do with photography?
Just as toddlers develop a dependency on some security item, such as a blanket or a pacifier, it seems like many photographers develop a dependency on using only their camera's automatic controls.
A sign of "growing up" as a photographer is freeing yourself from this kind of crutch and gaining control of your camera.
Brian Lindsey of the Pro Photo Business Forum recently wrote an blog post on shooting manual. It can be nerve-wracking at first, trying to remember to set the controls each time you enter a new lighting situation.
However, manual control enables you to be the boss of that lighting situation. Maybe you want to expose for the light in the room, rather than the light coming in a nearby window. On the other hand, you may want to expose only for the window light and leave a large area of the photo in darkness. Both of these can be beautiful effects, and you will never discover them unless you turn that little dial away from the "A," the "S" and the "P" and onto the "M."