Getting Out of Auto

Camera Controls

The sun is out, the temperatures have warmed up, and the kids are playing outside. For many of us, this is the time we want to start pulling out our cameras more and trying to capture the fun of summer through our lenses.  And the more we play with our cameras, the more we want to learn.  Maybe this is the time you have decided to get out of auto mode.  However, there is one little problem.  You don’t know what any of those other little pictures mean!  That little green camera image has been your friend for so long…you just don’t know if you can leave it.  Well, I am here to tell you that you CAN.  You can do it!  You can explore the world of little men who look like they are running and that cute little tulip picture.  Come on, you know you want to try.

I remember the first time I turned that little dial away from green. I was sitting on the beach with my family and decided to give portrait mode a try.  I read that it helped keep your foreground in focus and your background blurry, and that is totally what I wanted.  For a LONG time I thought this was the coolest shot ever. Three years later I shoot in full manual mode but it took me a while to get there.


Most camera dials look somewhat similar — many of the icons are the same regardless of the kind of camera you have.  Let me briefly explain the three types of shooting modes and then I am going to send you to a great article that explains each of the choices within each mode.

1. Fully Automatic:  This is that little green square/camera that you love so much.  The camera chooses everything for you.  It chooses your focus, white balance, ISO, and more by taking in the information it gets from your viewfinder and doing its best to take the picture that it thinks you want.  Sometimes it works great, and sometimes it makes you want to cry.  At least there were no decisions involved (well, except where to point the camera — it can’t do everything for you!)  Within this mode are the choices of portrait, landscape, night, macro, sports, and sometimes even ones like beach and fireworks.

2. Semi-Automatic: These choices include Aperture-Priority Mode, Shutter-Priority Mode, and sometimes Program Mode.  With each of these options the camera allows you to choose one dynamic of the photo (shutter speed or aperture) and then the camera chooses everything else in order to get a correct exposure.

3. Fully Manual: This options is just what is says — fully manual.  You, the photographer, choose everything. You decide on your ISO, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, and focus.  This is a powerful mode that allows you to get the exact shot you want — assuming, of course, that you know what all these things mean and you know how to make them work together.


For a great (and simple) article on learning what each of the individual dial choices mean, check out THIS tutorial at Digital Photography School.  The author does a great job and explaining each of the options.  My hope is that those of you who want to learn more about their camera and want to try something out of auto will feel like they learned enough to give it a shot (pun fully intended).