In this post Natalie Norton from natalienortonphoto.com explores why shooting in automatic can sometimes be worth doing.
Sometimes photographers have a complex about shooting in automatic. I shoot primarily in Aperture Priority (and am not here to knock manual settings AT ALL), but I have a tender place in my heart for ol’ Auto. Here are 4 reasons not to write her off too quickly.
1. If you’re relatively new to photography.
If you’re relatively new to photography, Auto can give you a great opportunity for exploration, frankly because it’s less to think about. You have the freedom to “go out on a limb” artistically speaking that you wouldn’t be able to were you going mad metering light, selecting shutter speeds and fiddling with apertures. I really believe that photography takes a certain amount of training of the eye to fall into your personal artistic niche- you’ve got to be free to do that, no strings attached. You can’t surpass the limits of shooting Auto until you become familiar enough with your camera (and photography in general I must add) to know what they are. I shot in Auto for over a year before making the transition over. Shamelessly! The images were superb and it is very rare (like it’s NEVER happened to me once) for anyone to look at a great image and say, “Wow, but did you shoot that in Auto?” No one cares. A good image is a good image is a good image. Period.
ANY friend of mine who comes to me early on in their photography “career” asking for lessons is forbidden from shooting in any mode other than AUTO for at LEAST 3-6 months. In my mind that’s enough time to get your framing style down to the point where it’s just, for lack of a better word, automatic. . . second nature. When that happens, THEN you’re ready to explore other settings. I’ve known too many photographers who are technically off the chart but can’t frame an image worth poo. Don’t fall into that trap by plugging up the artist in you by focusing too much on the technical aspect. It will come. It will. I PROMISE.
This is from the first wedding I ever shot. I shot the whole thing in Fine Quality (as opposed to RAW) and Auto.
2. It can save you when you’re just not QUITE sure.
I have a little “trick” that I use every so often.
If I’m busy shooting away in manual or AP and I’m just not 100% sure I’m nailing the shot, I’ll fire off a few frames in Auto just to be safe. That way if I’ve muffed my shot, there’s still hope. It’s been amazing for me, as it’s saved me a few times over. It’s also been great because it’s given me confidence. There’s nothing like the insecurity of not knowing if you’re really capturing what you hope you are. Yes, I know, LCD screens are helpful. But let’s just face it, they could be a whole heck of a lot bigger. Plus, if you’re shooting anything other than a 100 year old woman who couldn’t move if she wanted to, you don’t have time to check to be sure you got the shot after each frame. You’re rippin’ shots off just about as fast as you can and don’t have time to check to be certain you’re nailing each and every one. There’s nothing as depressing as coming home, uploading and finding that an entire batch is totally underexposed.
Over time you’ll come to where you’re generally happier with the images where you were the boss of your camera rather than the other way around. Mmm. That feels good.
I wasn’t quite sure how true I could get the color of the shoes by shooting manual. I knew the bride’s maid was going to grab them and put them back on at any second, so I chose to grab the shot quickly in Auto and “take my chances.” Score!
3. The terms: Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual mean nothing to you.
Awesome! Less pressure! Just don’t mess where you aren’t yet comfortable. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither was Ansel Adams. Just keep pressing forward. You’ll feel inclined to learn when you’re ready. No rush. Just don’t pick your son’s first birthday party as your day of camera setting exploration. . . set a time and run a test shoot. Play it safe!!
I shot this bridal shoot back when I had little idea of what the word Aperture even meant. I shot RAW, and in AUTO.
4. Your subject won’t sit still.
Sometimes I run into issues shooting in manual when I’m doing candid shots of kiddos. They’re constantly running in and out of the light, and up and down and around and through and over and under and. . .you get the picture. I can’t switch my settings fast enough to catch them before they’re on to the next adventure. When that’s the case I click over to automatic and thank my lucky stars! She’s so good to me!! Sure if I had time and patience I could fiddle and faddle around to get the precise setting, but generally I’m working against the light, against the clock (a 1 hour sitting) and against the patience of a two year old! I’ve gotta be quick so that I have a broad selection post shoot.
Example: I shot the most darling little boy the other day at a beach that also has forest, caves and cliffs. He’s just the coolest little kid ever AND he’s got enough energy to put my 3 year old to shame (and if you know Cardon you understand that that’s REALLY saying something. . .REALLY). He was EVERYWHERE. I couldn’t fire off a shot before he was on the move again. I was going haywire trying to focus. The changing light as he would run in and out of thick forest (remember I live in Hawaii, the canopy is dense) and climbing up onto bright cliffs, was really throwing me for a loop, so I hopped on over to Automatic and yippee! She saved the day.
This sweetie kept on wanting to tug on her hood. I had to fire off a shot quickly without having a chance to even think let alone mess with settings. Auto to the rescue!
I just want to reiterate that shooting in Auto doesn’t make you any “less” of a photographer by any stretch of the imagination. Ignore anyone who tells you otherwise. We’re all at different stops along the path, but every one’s destination is the same. Images that speak to us, that make our hearts sing and our spirit’s soar. . . images that make us feel and cause us to wipe a tear from our eye. Whatever you have to do to get to that point, it just doesn’t matter. So, give yourselves, and good ol’ Automatic, a break!
Note: this post was originally posted in 2008 but has continued to get regular responses from readers – so we decided to republish it for those who may not have seen it.
Natalie lives and shoots on the North Shore of Oahu, HI with her wonderful husband and 3 crazy sons. See more of her work and writing at natalienortonphoto.com.