I’ve had some people get in touch with me recently to say they are shooting photos in auto but would like to know how to use more of their camera functions to get the most from it. Some people have DSLRs, others have bridge cameras or similar. All of these have an auto mode. Also phone photography is 99% shot on auto as well. There’s a lot of photography on auto mode going on.
If you one of these “stuck on auto” photographers, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are taking bad photos. It is possible to shoot great photos on auto. Perhaps you understand the limitations of your camera and work well within those. Or you might just be lucky.
Auto mode is designed to make you lucky. Somewhere in the world there are labs full of software engineers busting a gut to make your camera really damn lucky!
Is Learning Manual Mode Important?
A lot of people find that learning manual mode is a bit of a slog. It’s not a quick win; it does take quite a bit of time to get to grips. There are three things to control at once, which are the “exposure triangle” of ISO, shutter speed and aperture. On top of that you’re thinking about your composition and focus. By the time you’ve done all that the butterfly has flown away or your child is tired of smiling and you have missed the shot.
If you’ve got an expensive DSLR then I think you really should plan to learn how it works. Don’t squander your investment. If you have a cheaper camera or even just use a phone, it’s worth learning this too. Once you have this knowledge it will serve you well when you’re using any camera in any mode, because you will understand how light is captured. You can have lots of insight into all the modes on your camera, and also better understand how your camera is “guessing” in auto mode.
Starting with Auto Mode and Improving from there
While learning all about your DSLR is on your “to do” list, there are plenty of ways to improve your auto mode photography. I’m going to share a few of my favourite tips over the course of the next few weeks.
Today I have some tips on how to hold your camera right. This is really worth thinking about.
Get a level photo.
If your horizon is wonky, your photo immediately looks faulty. It’s off-putting to the viewer. I do this all the time and I joke that I have right-hand dropsy disease. In fact it’s really easy to fix. Every half decent editing programme has a rotate function. Often it’s within the crop function, like on Lightroom. On my phone I have Snapseed, and it’s under Tools->Rotate.
Get a steady photo
Hold your camera as still as you can. Keep your feet firmly planted, your elbows close to your body. It could still be blurry if there is not enough light. In auto mode when it’s gloomy, the camera will leave the shutter open for long enough to pick up tiny shakes from your body. So make sure there’s good light.
Camera shake happens at a different point for different people and situations. Some people just have steady hands. Also if you use zoom then you will risk more camera shake. A wide angle shot – such as you get with your phone – is less likely to have camera shake. I’ll write more about using shutter speed for sharpness in future. For now the first step to solve this in auto mode is to use plenty of light.
Hold your camera lower
Your waist can really transform your shots! Chest or waist level is usually a better place to hold your camera than at eye level. It makes for a more interesting perspective, and it also eliminates some strange diagonal effects that come from looking down on subjects.
A lower angle will give you a more interesting composition. Test this out next time you’re taking a photo of a table laid with food. Take one shot from eye level and another from your waist.
Next week I’ll have some more tips for better photography with auto modes. Keep following for more tips in this series.