Five photographs that would have been impossible on AUTO

When I talk to other parents about how they photograph their children, almost all admit they hardly ever take their camera off the safe, easy, not-too-scary AUTO setting.

As anyone who has attended a Small Beans photo class will confirm, while you can get some great results on AUTO, the magic REALLY begins to happen when you take back some control from the camera and start to explore some of the other settings and dials available to you.

Some of my favourite photos just wouldn’t have been possible using the AUTO mode on my camera, and the easiest way to explain why is to show you some examples:

Taken on Aperture Priority Mode, f/2.2, 1/100 sec, ISO 4000

I love this photo of my son and his friend on their first ever night camping out in the garden, age six.  If I had taken it using the AUTO setting, the flash would have automatically fired and I would have lost the lovely silhouetted effect which to me makes the picture.

Taken on Aperture Priority Mode, f/1.8, 1/50 sec, ISO 500

I intentionally wanted this photograph to be dark so that the fairy lights would be the main light source. I love the way they illuminate my daughter’s face softly and warmly.  I used Aperture Priority (A or Av on the camera’s mode dial) and set the exposure compensation at -2 EV to trick the camera into keeping the light low. On AUTO I couldn’t do this and the results would have been brighter, similar to this version below:


Still a nice image (you may even prefer it!), but not what I wanted in this instance. So this is another example of how getting off AUTO allows you to take back control and to get the results you require and not what the camera deems ‘correct’.

Taken in Manual Mode, f/3.3, 1/160 sec, ISO 160.

My camera’s AUTO setting would probably have struggled with this photo too.  Camera’s exposure meters read mid-tones in a scene really well but if you are taking a photo with lots of very dark colours in it (a close up of a black horse, for example) or lots of white (a snowy scene) then you can get strange results in AUTO.  Snow can look grey and murky and the black horse can end up too light in your final picture.  Because I shot this using Manual mode (M on the mode dial) I was able to override my camera’s light meter readings and ‘overexpose’ the image to get nice white true-to-life snow.

Taken on Aperture Priority Mode, f/2, 1/160 sec, ISO 800

I wanted a very shallow depth of field on this photo to give my daughter’s skin and hair a lovely blurry soft effect. Because I was in Aperture Priority mode (A or Av on the mode dial) and not AUTO, I was able to select an aperture of my own choice ( in this case f/2). I was also able to choose my own focus point (something not available to AUTO users on most cameras) to make sure the small area in sharp focus was my daughter’s eye (in AUTO it would have almost certainly focussed elsewhere – possibly her nose or the lock of hair closest to the camera).  Getting off AUTO gives me the precise control I need to take photos with a very shallow depth of field like this one (if you want to learn more about aperture and depth of field, I highly recommend a Small Beans class).

Taken on Shutter Priority Mode, f/4, 1/25 sec, ISO 3200

For this photograph taken in a theatre I wanted to blur the motion of the hula hoop the dancer was spinning to give a feeling on movement. Using Shutter Priority Mode (S or Tv on the mode dial) I was able to choose a slow shutter speed (1/25 sec).  I also used exposure compensation (-1 EV) to keep the light as low as it was in real life. In AUTO the flash would have fired and I wouldn’t have had any control  over the shutter speed, and the hoop probably would have appeared frozen and static.

I suspect most AUTO users reading this will be scratching their heads in confusion over many of the terms I have referred to here…what on Earth is aperture priority mode, shallow depth of field, and exposure compensation?? If you are keen to demystify these terms, get off the AUTO setting and really start to unlock the enormous potential of your digital camera, then a Small Beans Photography class is perfect for you.  We specialise in teaching parents and other family members in a clear and straightforward way to help you build a photo collection to be proud of.