Enlighten // "Say NO to AUTO"

This is the first post in the Enlighten series of how-to photography posts I’m writing for friends who want to learn how to take better photos! So if you’re excited about taking pictures and wanting to know more, then you're in the right place!

photo tips

I've loved teaching photography to up and coming photographers for the last five years through my Kids with Cameras program & along the way there have been many of friends who have expressed interest and told me that they wish they could take my class. While I would love to be able to teach each of you in person, my hope is that I will be able to help even more people though this series of blog posts than I can one on one.

So here it is; the first instalment of Enlighten for all you photo taking enthusiasts!

Let's get started!

When you look at the top of your SLR Camera there should be a mode dial with all kinds of letters and icons on it. Each of those represents a mode which will allow your camera to perform in a specific way. Most people never realize the incredible potential their camera was designed for because the only mode they ever use is automatic, or as we affectionately referred to it in photography school: the evil green box!


Well to sum is up in one sentence; the evil green box allows your camera to think it’s smarter than you!  Auto mode basically means your camera has full control and gets to call all the shots; the result being consistent, mediocre photos. Auto mode turns what can be a very powerful tool into a bit of a monster. 

In other words setting your camera in auto completely eliminates your own creative genius by putting your camera in charge. I promise you; you are smarter than your camera.

If you’ve ever had anxiety over what might happen if you switch your camera out of auto mode, it’s time to realize that there’s nothing to be afraid of! First of all let me assure you, you’re not going to break it! And you can always switch back if you need to.  But I’m betting you probably won’t, because once you unleash your potential to take completely incredible photos…who would ever want to go back?

To grow past our fears we need to face them. So the first step is to decide you want to go beyond just pressing the shutter button and learn what your camera is really capable of. In order to create amazing photographs, you are going to have to learn to tell your camera what to do.

Now if I'm being honest, it is true that once you begin this journey not all of your photos are going to turn out perfectly.  And that’s OK! I guarantee you’ll learn way more from your mistakes then you ever will shooting in auto! So feel free to make a few. 

Now if you're a practical person you might be thinking. Ok, so if I'm not supposed to use auto, what mode should I use?

Well, that's a good question, but there really isn’t a short answer. We will look at the most common modes and when/how to use each one in future blog posts, but if you want to get started today here are a few you might want to try: 



Program – Program Mode is just a baby step up from auto, so really you won’t notice too much of a difference. Your camera is still making most of the choices for you, but there are some handy differences! For one thing, your flash will no longer pop up automatically whenever it feels like it. You will be in control of when and if you want to use it! In some of your camera's switching to program will also allow you to move your focus point around manually, instead of the camera always choosing what to focus on. This is really helpful when it comes to learning composition. Last but not least you also have the power to choose your own ISO & white balance. If you don’t know what ISO or white balance is, no worries, that’s something else we will cover in future Enlighten posts.


Portrait – One of the questions I get most often is, "How do you get that blurry background look in my photos?" Well there are about three different factors all of which can help create a background that is out of focus, so once again it’s a blog post in and of itself. But in portrait mode your camera will know that you want to separate your subject from the background. So it’s going to choose a large aperture (smaller f-stop #) in order to achieve what is referred to as a shallow depth of field [meaning the background will be blurry]. This is a great all purpose mode, especially when shooting a single subject.


Landscape – If on the other hand your not shooting a single person or focusing on just one thing, you may want to try landscape mode. For group shots or (you guessed it) landscapes; this mode is going to tell your camera to do the exact opposite of portrait mode. It will choose a small aperture (larger f-stop#) in order to create a large depth of field, which basically just means both the background and the foreground will be in focus.

A or Av

Aperture Priority- this is my favourite mode to recommend. But it does require you have at least some prior knowledge of photography. If you understood my references to camera settings in the sections about Portrait and Landscape modes, then you probably know what an f-stop is and how it is related to your camera’s aperture. If you know that much, then turn your mode dial the A and select any aperture, your camera will instantly match it with the appropriate shutter speed to achieve a correct exposure and your good to go! You can change your aperture at anytime and your camera will react by changing the shutter speed for you.

Please note there are so many different makes and models of camera’s, and some manufacturers have chosen to set things up differently, so you might need to consult your camera manual if something I’ve written isn't making sense. The camera manual is a photographer’s best friend!



As we wrap this up I also want to make sure you know what I’m not saying: I’m not saying, "Never shoot in auto again - Ever."

There are times when putting your camera in auto mode will help ensure you get a usable photo. And that’s important.  Especially if you are responsible for capturing a once in a lifetime moment; so if you’re documenting a birthday party this weekend or taking a family photo with grandma or shooting in any situation that causes you to feel pressured for time, go right ahead and shoot in auto until you've had a little more practice. Kudos to you for having your camera in hand recording life’s beautiful moments! Please never stop.

That being said, if you’re ready to really jump in and explore the world of photography then it’s time to take the first step out of your comfort zone.

Spin that mode dial, and say no to auto!


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