4 Reasons Not to Write off Shooting in Automatic

4 Reasons Not to Write off Shooting in Automatic


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!!

Bride 2.jpg Bride 3.jpg
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!

Happy Shooting!

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.

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Natalie Norton is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at www.natalienortonblog.com. You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • rob December 17, 2012 10:40 am

    I think the key to great photographs is learning about composition, trying to show what kind of emotion the subject is displaying. Happiness at Weddings which auto works just fine for. Photography is art, the art of composing a picture the way YOU and if your a professional your clients like it. It take practice to get good pictures.

  • Amelia Harris August 28, 2012 02:30 am

    Came across this article through another one on Pinterest. I am sooooo grateful to have come across it! I have just started a photography class and had a friend ask if I would do her engagement pictures. I'm sad to report I was so focused on only using the manual settings to get "the great shots" i wanted that they didn't end up that great. :( Luckily we did get a few good shots and were able to save them with photoshop. But after reading this I feel that I don't have to give up auto! I can continue to use it until I get comfortable enough with manual. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again! :)

  • Randy April 27, 2012 09:24 am

    I hate how some people act like snobs against those who shoot in auto. Not everybody is able to afford classes and have to self teach when it comes to photography. Jaderman, now what's wrong with editing your pictures on a computer? We ARE living in the digital age aren't we? While someone may not be as "talented" setting up their camera right, they may have the talent artistically in how to frame a shot AND edit them afterwards. I find myself editing a lot of my pictures not because they look awful beforehand, but because it's fun and it adds more of an artistic touch to my work. There's only so much that you can do shooting, editing (to me) takes your work to the next level.

  • MJones April 14, 2012 04:25 am

    thank you natalie. blessings to you and your business!

  • Allison March 5, 2012 11:29 pm

    I am so glad I came across this article. I have had my dslr for five months now. My comfort behind the lens is increasing, and I've been taking baby steps to learn manual mode.

    I have friends who have ventured into the photog business and have said that the only way to get good pictures was to shoot in manual mode. Well, honestly that has left me in tears a few times because I've yet to master it. I hated feeling that my shots were subpar even if I thought they were great.

    I've had a few people recently ask (and even pay) me to take pictures for them. I will take several shots in auto (so I can trust that I have some) and then try to mimic my camera settings in m for the same shot.

    I appreciate your thoughts very much! It's relieved a ton of pressure. :)

  • Andrea February 19, 2012 07:17 am

    Wonderful advice for people who are made to feel they're not true photographers if they don't talk and shoot like the pros. Photography is the art of seeing. I know photographers who can go into mathematical algorithms discussing aperature/ISO/shutter speed, but their images don't wow you.

    I now switch between aperature priority when I'm confident of the look and depth of field I want, and auto if I'm unsure in challenging lighting situations and don't have time for endless tweaking, rather than miss the beauty and "decisive moment" of the shot..

  • jeffreybaughman November 18, 2011 07:38 am

    This is some of the worst advice I have ever read.

  • Kym September 22, 2011 10:02 pm

    I primarily use manual mode now, however when I was trying to learn I shot in program mode to learn the settings, and I'd switch back to manual and adjust them by what program mode was telling me to do... It definately helps alot.... One thing that does drive me crazy however, is if I'm shooting in manual, and I forget to focus before adjusting the shutter speed... On my Nikon D80, the same dial you use for changing your shutter speed also scrolls through the pictures... So, if I don't focus first, and I change the dial trying to change my shutterspeed, I'm really going through all of my pictures on my lcd instead. And when you are chasing children around, through different lights, you don't have a second to figure out what your doing.. Drives me insane... Trial and error...

  • Cj September 11, 2011 10:41 pm

    Allot of merit in a great deal of what is said on both sides. I agree that is u r in a rush then sure, auto will help. But what everyone is forgetting here is the control u sometimes need to take an EXCELLENT photo. What if u want to blur the edges of a face or squash or enhance the depth of field.... How will auto ever help u do that? If u use auto all the time u will only ever get point and shoot photos and never have complete control over the final image. Also, what will u do in a tricky low light condition for example when the auto mode is telling u it can't take a photo?!! And finally... The cameras meter is not always right remember... It's just taking a reading and calculating what it thinks is best... What if u WANT to 'blow out' the light behind your subjects head in a portrait!? The auto mode won't allow that even if u set it to spot or partial metering as it will tell u the best overall exposure for the scene.

  • Jamie September 7, 2011 10:22 am

    Oh my goodness. Thank you. I so needed to read this. I have just been asked to shoot my first wedding and am starting to go a little crazy with all the pressure of making sure I shoot "real" photos. I think I've been under the impression that if you're not in the fancy camera modes, you're not a real photographer. Even though I plan to read up on aperture and shutter speed, it's really good to be reminded there's no shame in shooting in auto.

  • Pratik August 31, 2011 04:05 am

    I am currently thinking of moving from Auto to Manual, had a lot of pressure.
    Now Not!!!

  • Varun June 28, 2011 04:04 am

    Great article, and really helpful. Read it yesterday, went out of town today and wanted to click a few quick pics at this place we stopped at. It was cloudy and windy, and the lighting was changing between metering and clicking. I went to Auto ISO and got some great shots.
    A Newbie.

  • jamie June 18, 2011 07:02 am

    what a great article (and reminder) about ms. auto

  • Justin April 9, 2011 06:39 am

    I must say that this article helped me out artistically more than technically. And I'm glad to say that. To me, you weren't speaking to really TEACH someone about what auto technically does, but rather what it CAN do for those who undergo those very common scenarios. The idea of shooting a few in Auto for insurance is brilliant. I'd rather get a 'not quite' and work my adobe skills than have a sad example of my amateur (and ignorant) photography. I know that I'm a technical, very technical person, but I'm also an Industrial Designer so I'm slowly melting the artistry into the mix so that I can respect both aspects, and this is a commodity that will certainly give my technical photography a fighting edge!

  • meridith March 13, 2011 03:15 am

    thank you so much for this article, i've been so discouraged every since i got my dslr. i am beginning to think (especially from reading these comments) there are two kinds of photographers - the left brained folks that geek out on gear and the technical aspects and turn their nose up at anyone who doesn't "do it the hard way" and then there are people like me, the right brained that just love to take pictures and get so much joy from it but are not technically or mechanically inclined and don't have the money to buy more and more gear. i feel like this article is for those like me and i thank you so much for it ...... for inspiring creativity, freedom and encouraging us. this doesn't make me want to learn manual settings or the technical side any less.....it just takes off the pressure and gives me the freedom to go back to what I love .....taking pictures and finding the beauty in everyday life. different people learn in different ways and for those of you that can read a book, take one class or learn manual in an hour .......good for you.......but for me it's a process and because of this article and some i read yesterday at kenrockwell.com it's now a fun process again. thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • Joe February 14, 2011 03:54 pm

    Thanks for this article. I have read your other ones on Aperture,Shutter speed and ISO,and just today went out and tried what I learned.Shot in Apeture priority mode with 200 ISO on all my shots. Messed with white balance too. It felt good to use what I learned, yet I am not even close to where I want to be. I think I will use auto somemore and learn from that too. Thanks again, Joe

  • Kristina Guzman February 11, 2011 07:19 am

    Very helpful! I wish I had read this article BEFORE I ran into some dancers at a train station. =(

  • ignacio February 10, 2011 01:07 am

    I've just bought a DSLR camera (arrives on friday!) and I've been looking around for tutorials, articles, blogs and any resource that seems valuable to learn. This was really inspiring and helpful for a newbie!


  • Singapore Wedding Photography February 9, 2011 11:46 pm

    I love using the auto mode. Seriously, the cameras nowadays are getting smarter and smarter, so the auto mode are getting better and better. One word of caution though: beware of auto flash. There has been multiple times when the autoflash fires off when I absolutely dont' want it to.

  • Andrus Chesley February 8, 2011 01:08 am

    Just getting started in DSLR but did SLR Film lots during the 70s. Since digital , point and shoots only. I do 90% of my picture taking on the road on various trips and many from a moving motorcycle. You really don't have time to play with settings ( even the ones on high end P & S cameras) . At stops , I'll do white balance and sometime A or S and see what it does on my next moving shots. Thanks for the article and love the responses. Best rules are no rules. How many fantastic shots out there due to the photohog not knowing they were not suppose to do that? ;-)

  • Charles February 7, 2011 04:59 pm

    I have to express my disagreement with this article.

    When starting out I strongly feel that manual, center weighted should be required. The first time you use your camera you should go out with someone and learn how aperture and shutter speed affect a photo. Take 4 photos of a friend sitting at f/4 or f5.6 which a proper shutter speed, then take 4 phones with the aperture opened two stops, then closed by two stops. Shoot 4 photos with a normal exposure, then under exposed and over exposed. (Especially good if you can place them half in sunlight and half in shadow) Take 4 photos each of people walking at 1/125sec, 1/30sec, and 1/8th of a second to see the creative affects shutter speed can have. Learn that the camera's meter can often be wrong if your main subject is wearing white or something dark. (no details in the white, or dark goes to black) and how you can compensate for it. Learn how a bright or dark background can affect a camera's meter. Stick to one ISO (probably 400) so you can start to understand the light and get a natural feel for what aperture and shutter speeds you can use. Get a fast normal lens and stick to using just it.

    Manual isn't hard, but most people never take it out and shoot a sequence of photos to see how each setting changes the image. The camera's auto mode doesn't know what you are envisioning in your mind and without understanding how it makes it decisions you won't know how to adjust it. Composition is only one part of the creating a great photo. Aperture, shutter speed and being able to choose what to expose plays a huge role.

  • Katrina February 6, 2011 04:06 pm

    Thanks so much! Ive had a DSLR for a while now and thought I had got it all wrong, everyone was trying to get me to take there photos and I was scared I wouldnt get it right. Now Im heading off for a trip of a lifetime and thought I wouldnt be able to get photos quickly to catch the mood. I was told dont shoot in jpeg, picture quality blah blah but youve set me at peace again. I can enjoy photography again!!

  • Tiffany February 6, 2011 09:24 am

    This article is ridiculous. Everyone I know who owns a DSLR has absolutely no clue how to use it outside of auto mode. People do not need encouragement or justification to shoot in auto, they do it anyway. This article fuels the people who go buy a nice camera, have no idea how to use it, and call themselves a "professional". People are always fascinated about how I learned to expose manually. Uhhhh I had an old metal pentax camera from the 70's with no auto mode. If you didn't know how to expose, or use the light meter, you would pick up your pictures from the drug store with nothing there. The first thing I tell anyone when they want to learn to use their camera is to take it off auto. There is no way to learn anything on auto. I would rather get good results and expected results 100% of the time on manual than have a happy accident when auto meets my artistic vision. Have some pride people, learn how to use your camera! Nothing wrong with auto. But if you learn how to use your camera, you will generally never want to go back to it. If you want to always be an amateur, have fun in auto. But stop complaining about not knowing how to use your big fancy camera when you haven't got the discipline or inclination to understand the amazing technology sitting right in your hands. Save some money and stick with a point and shoot.

  • Wan February 6, 2011 09:03 am

    Thanks for sharing. Very good use of auto mode.

  • Reena February 6, 2011 07:05 am

    I see the point the author is trying to make. Shooting in auto can be good sometimes, however, if I do so with my camera (EOS 400D) I have to say goodbye to the RAW file. Any workaround around this? In manual it creates both JPG and RAW but not in auto, what is a real pity :(

  • Essy Mogul February 1, 2011 08:00 pm

    Thank you for this! It's really helpful an uplifting. As a beginner, Auto is my bestfriend and as you say ,I would embrace the thought that that will not make me any less a photographer. Again, thanks!

  • Janice January 31, 2011 11:02 pm

    This is a great post! Very encouraging to those who are beginners. Thank you.

  • Tony January 30, 2011 12:58 pm

    RE: C. Remley -I realize the camera cant read minds. Thats why using Auto for me is a pleasure - It's the final image that I care about. I am not a Professional Photographer - I think you missed my first sentence - FOR THE NEWBIE - I meant someone new to Photography. Picassa and iphoto are extremely low cost (sometimes free). They are both easy to use and allows the photographer to manipulate images and perhaps change some "Mistakes " in the final image.
    Not all pros fully know Photoshop(to fully know how to use all the nuances of photoshop takes approx. 2000 hours )- it was produced for graphic designers, not exclusively for professional photogs.
    BTW, I am a professional. I am a pastellist/watercolorist who uses Photographs to allow me to bring the outdoors and difficult subjects into my studio. I use HDR almost exclusively. I use photomatix and iphoto to manipulate the image to my liking for my artwork. I use a Pentax k-x for its high ISO benefits., light weight , and my satisfaction with it's hand feel. I have been a photographer/artist for over 40 years.My first SLR was a Canon A-1. Not all people are cut out to be professional photographers/artist. I was offering my opinion for new photogs. Good luck in your endeavours. -- Tony, HVL,VA,USA

  • C. Remley January 30, 2011 09:00 am

    RE: tony

    Even if the AI in auto modes improve over the years, that's still no reason to shoot in auto over Av or Tv mode. As a previous poster said, the camera can't read your mind. The camera has no idea the size of your desired DoF, nor what shutter speed is appropriate for the shot you're intending.

    Also, professional photographers are going to be using Lightroom and Photoshop... not iPhoto or Picassa. And by the way, Photoshop isn't utilized because it's extremely user friendly and easy to pick up, quite the opposite. It's used because once you learn how to use it, it's incredibly powerful and versatile in terms of the control you get in your post processing. The same can be said for shooting in manual. It isn't easy to just pick up and shoot in full manual mode, it's frankly daunting for the novice. But the payoff in terms of the raw control you have over your photography is easily worth the extra effort.

  • Tony January 30, 2011 05:07 am

    To C. Remley ---My advice to a photo newbie would be to shoot in Auto with the flash set to a permanent off setting - buy a cameras with a high ISO capability and learn to use post processing systems like iphoto or picassa . With the advent of dslr and computer manipulation the resulting photo is complete afer PP on the computer. Manufacturers of hardware (cameras) realize the market for dslr's will improve buy their improvemrnt of the Auto setting. It's easier, and the photog can concentrate on getting a image thats unique/ important / fun to him/her.
    My guess is that in 10 years Auto will be the preferred method and Manual settings for emergencies or for the photog's that their peers will call "old school" because manual settings have become superfluous.
    Tony G., HVL, CA. USA

  • Jaderman January 30, 2011 02:17 am

    DITTO to C. Remley! Exactly what I was saying, just better put.

  • C. Remley January 27, 2011 02:30 pm

    Man, I'm not going to deride someone for using auto mode in a pinch, say if you can't change your settings quickly enough to cope with a situation, but sticking to auto mode is just not good advice if you're a person interested in improving your photography.

    Even before I understood the concepts of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture, I knew I preferred using Program mode over AUTO because invariably AUTO would trigger the built in flash in any shooting condition other than broad daylight. The built-in flash for point-and-shoots, and even DSLRs, has the tendency to blow out your photos. You're almost always better served by taking your shots using available light.

    If you don't know how to do that in full manual settings, P or Aperture Priority will do the job. Under P mode you can change your file format (high quality JPEG, RAW, etc.), enable or disable flash, change your autofocus modes, and other things that auto mode often won't allow you to change. In Av, choose your DoF to get a blurry or sharp background, in Tv freeze a high speed moment in time, or show off speed and motion with a nice blur effect.

    In all of these modes your final exposure control is automated so you don't have to worry about manual light metering if you can't handle it in whatever shoot you find yourself in. But you don't have to sacrifice entire control of your shot just to get automatic exposure.

    And once you are comfortable enough using manual control that adjusting your settings under changing conditions becomes second-nature, your improvement will be reflected in the quality of your shots. But ONLY if you practice with it!

  • David Marlow January 25, 2011 01:46 am

    I shoot mainly in Auto as other half moans enough as it is over the time I take over photographs.
    It would be worse if I stopped to change settings for shooting in either AP or SP.

  • Michael Minick January 25, 2011 01:00 am

    I've been shooting since 1963 and I am returning to shootint in auto mode and here's the reason. I shoot mostly female models and in the 2 hours that we shoot, I try to get as many different shots as I can. Sometimes my brain gets tired trying to come up with new ideas:)

    I find that shooting in auto, where everything is set for me (especially the ISO), gives me a wide variety of 'looks'. I can move my camera a few feet to change the lighting slightly and I get quite a different shot from the previous shot. I like the unpredictable resultd and I get shots that I wouldn't have thought to try.
    So I'm a 'returning' Auto shooter who's finding new qualities in that mode.
    Mike Minick

  • Sell WoW Account January 24, 2011 07:48 pm

    using automatic wont hurt.:3

  • Nat January 24, 2011 04:18 pm

    I am also a beginner like many people in this thread and often rely on Auto to learn what settings I should be putting my camera on.
    Does anyone know of a cheet sheat which gives guidelines on what ISO, aperture etc should be used in what situations?

  • Shannon January 24, 2011 01:39 am

    I am so thankful that this was reposted. I always want to try auto again but feel like I'm cheating. When I do cave in I take my shots and switch it back to M real quick all the while looking around to make sure no one saw it. I'm taking photography classes and when we turn in our assignments they have to be M and I think that's carried over into my every day photography. I have an engagement session today and I think I'm going to do a little time on the auto.


  • Jaderman January 23, 2011 05:27 am

    Just for the record, I'm not a hater, I'm just a person that thinks photography should be "un-manipulated" by a computer program.

  • Jaderman January 23, 2011 05:18 am

    OK, auto might be good for a beginner photographer, but then if he's a beginner photographer, he should stick to a point-and-shoot until he knows how to take pictures and THEN get a DSLR and use it to it's full potential by using the manual settings for the majority of his shooting. I agree with using auto for back-up but that's about it I agree with. If you use auto, then most likely your pic is gonna look like junk and that what happens to everyone. Admit it. Look at your pics. They are all edited on the computer, that's we they look good. Not because you took a good pic. I'd say, stick to manual and stop using "computer manipulation" on your "auto pics".

  • Rabi January 22, 2011 05:29 pm

    I started on P, and I definitely don't regret it. These days I still often use A for the sake of convenience if my light is good.

  • Chris January 22, 2011 03:49 pm

    I want to share results of experiment I did.

    I wanted to compare the settings used by P versus AV mode.
    I chose the same ISO in both modes.
    When I made P use same aperture as AV mode by using program shift I found the shutter speed same.

    What it means is Program mode is the same as AV mode except that program mode uses big aperture to minimize handshake. And using program shift I can get same results as using Av mode.

  • art January 22, 2011 03:04 pm

    Just wondering how does auto work with an add on flash or two, three etc. cls.

    Can a off camera flash work when you use auto...

    might sound dum but I will ask anyway...lol

    Love this post and know I can stop driving myself nuts with settings........

    Is auto good in a studio setting with say allen bees....

  • kristine January 22, 2011 11:54 am

    Thank you for this post. In my first session of my first photography class (through the community), the instructor said, "First things first. Take it off AUTO." I love photography and think I easily have the artist's eye. But when the technical stuff was so over my head, I got frustrated, felt like a failure and also felt like I lost my style because I was focusing so much on the other settings. I even became so disinterested in my hobby that I stopped taking my camera places and then of course regret all the missed shots. Thank you for reminding me that that's not what it's about. A lot of my friends all think I'm great but I don't think so compared to all the professionals' work I see. This post reminded me that I've never actually been schooled in the industry and that it's okay for me to do what I love without feeling like my pictures are unworthy. or how I shot them. Excellent point that no one has EVER asked what setting I took a picture on!! Awesome!

  • Jim January 22, 2011 11:28 am

    I would never teach someone to start out in auto mode If you want to shoot in auto, stick with a point and shoot. You'll save a lot of money. You keep mentioning about kids running in and out. That is what Al Servo is for. As far as colors being off. Well, if you have to shoot quick, shoot in RAW mode. In case you are thinking that I'm a manual elitist, I am not. I only shoot manual when I feel I have too. Most all of my shots are made in Aperture mode or if it's a something like a waterfall, in Shutter mode.

  • Peter Hayward January 22, 2011 05:41 am

    Addition to my earlier post. I've said something similar before on this site about prime lenses. There are people out there that just like to think they are superior to the rest of us. They pretend they only use prime lenses but probably don't. It's the same with auto exposure. They pretend it's all they use, again to make them feel superior.
    All those that feel intimidated by these people, DON'T! You have no need to. Use whatever you feel comfortable with. Just learn as much as you can. It makes photography much more interesting. The main thing is to enjoy your photography. Work or hobby.

  • TJ McDowell January 22, 2011 03:39 am

    The only time we shoot in auto mode is with our point and shoot for personal pictures. Any time we use our SLR, it's full manual mode. I catch what you're saying here, and it really depends on your method of learning. I think if I were starting to teach someone to use their camera, one of the first things I'd start with was using manual controls. Different approaches, neither one is wrong.

  • Peter Hayward January 22, 2011 03:27 am

    When I first started taking photos, on medium format, there was only manual. Even when I changed to mainly 35mm I still used manual mostly. No-one had the luxury of digital and being able to check results there and then.
    Although I didn't use digital for long [from 2000] because I packed it all in and retired early it really was the best thing ever to happen in photography. [2004].
    If auto works for you use it but learn manual as well. Carry a light meter just for show, the customers think you know what you are doing!!!! I always had a bellows hood fitted on my 6x6 medium format camera because it looked good. Not because I used filters that much!!!!
    Seriously though it is good to learn all methods. I sometimes used to get keen amateurs ask me questions at weddings and I could always answer them.

  • Trevor Roberts January 22, 2011 02:46 am

    I am fully supportive of the idea of shooting in Auto if you are not sure. I wasted a whole day trying and failing to get pictures of whales because I had decided to shoot manually with my new DSLR and though that a combination of bright sunlight and a poor LCD screen was the reason I got nothing. Literally hundreds of extremely underexposed pictures, not residuable by even the most vigorous of Photoshop techniques. So much for being a purist failure!

  • Jessie January 22, 2011 02:40 am

    I agree with a lot pf the people posting. I loved shooting manual with my old camera but, I have a new one now till I get the hang of it Auto has been my best friend. Its not worth losing the shoot because I am fumbling with the settings. Later I will get back to playing with the settings when I am more comfortable with this camera. Thank you for the encouragement!

  • Arun Prabhu January 22, 2011 01:07 am

    I have been on DSLR for nearly 4 years and today I almost always choose the manual or the aperture priority mode most of the time. But yes the AUTO mode does help at times, especially when,

    1. The lighting (outdoors) is indifferent. In this situation I take a sample shot in AUTO mode, have a look at the preview and then tweak the controls to my liking.
    2. When timing is the essence and I do not enough time to tweak the settings.

  • mike January 22, 2011 12:13 am

    Ahhh come on... It's not like it's rocket science. Auto mode just robs you of so much creative control.

    If you want to stay in Auto, why bother with an SLR. Less 'technical' cameras will du you just as well.

  • mike January 22, 2011 12:13 am

    Ahhh come on... It's not like it's rocket science. Auto mode just robs you of so much creative control.

    If you want to stay in Auto, why bother with an SLR. Less 'technical' cameras will du you just as well.

  • Arundhati January 22, 2011 12:00 am

    Awesome article..!! thank u soooo much... It meant so much to me..and i'm to a lot of others too... :)

  • Jez January 21, 2011 11:55 pm

    yeah,,,this is straightforward..i guess every aspiring photographer starts at AUTO....hope you will continue to have articles on AUTO with tricks and tips!!!

  • Eugynn January 21, 2011 09:29 pm

    OMG! Thanks dude. This article just took a huge weight of my shoulders. I mean, I was starting to doubt whether I made the right choice in getting me a DSLR in the first place. All that money spent, and here I'm stessing over settings and stuff. Auto FTW! (for now)

  • vicki January 21, 2011 03:56 pm

    Thank you thank you thank you for your article on using Auto... I have recently decided (because of grandchildren) to get a DSLR and am very happy with it but still am quite confused on all the settings.. so have been back and forth into auto and frankly my auto pictures look better. So, thank you for giving me permission to feel ok shooting in auto!! Vicki

  • Kelly Husted January 21, 2011 03:51 pm

    Thank you so much for this article!! I'm just at that stage where I'm learning about aperture, shutter speed, etc.. but it's nice to know that I can still take great shots with automatic when I'm not quite sure.

  • Xtlman January 21, 2011 03:01 pm

    With a new camera or new to Digital SLR's it is probably best to use the Auto mode, but not to the exclusion of the other programmed modes. Also, if you are starting out in either the P or Auto modes, when you download the photos, read the camera information. If you like the way a certian photo looks, make a written note of the settings. But make sure to write it down. You will start to acquire a good idea of what apertures and shutter speeds work best for the camera you have/use. (I do graduation photography for a large firm and use a different camera at work than I do for personal use, and though made by the same manufacturer, the same settings produce different results between the two cameras). After you compile notes from different situations, you can then worry about what you are shooting, knowing that the setting you have selected will produce the best results.

  • Sohel January 21, 2011 01:36 pm

    I just loved reading this post. I bought my first DLSR recently. So far, for learning GOOD photography, I took an oath - 'only in manual mode'. Trust me, I was getting frustrated everyday to see the craps I have been coming back with. You post makes me think twice about my oath. I think, I will cont to shoot only in auto for next six months and then try to contact you. Please keep posting.

  • Jenni January 21, 2011 12:11 pm

    I agree with Rick wholeheartedly! What is the point of owning a DSLR if all your gonna do is shoot auto and not bother to learn your camera! DPS... you really shouldn't be promoting an article like this :( Its just encouraging photographers to be LAZY! Learn your camera and how to use the settings properly! I see "professional" photographers clicking away in auto and charging prices that are ridiculous!

  • Mandy January 21, 2011 11:18 am

    THANK YOU for this article!! What a boost in confidence. It's more about the eye and the passion for the shot, not HOW the shot was taken. What a breathe of fresh air!! THANK YOU!!!

  • Michaela January 21, 2011 11:16 am

    @rick - Gee, tell us what you really think! Far from being 'nonsense', this article has raised some good points. The writer is not forbidding manual mode but is merely offering some valid reasons why auto doesn't necessarily equal evil. I guess the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and while I see some beautiful photos the author has posted as proof of her arguments, I don't see yours, Rick! Great article. Thanks.

  • Gary January 21, 2011 10:49 am

    My camera is parked in manual 99% of the time unless switched to Ap or something, forgot the camera even had auto settings! Been asked to do some shoots that were outside my comfort zone and in testing to see what settings I should be shooting in I found like you said about chasing kids, impossible to make all the changes fast enough (action shots, changing light). I`ll try it again in auto and see..... THANKS!

  • Ann January 21, 2011 09:40 am

    Bravo! Great article. Many people do not learn well when they have too many things to consider at once. Auto gives you a way to break the process down a bit while still getting some quality pictures AND learning to compose.

    I too have seen photos that are technically fine but so poorly composed or stiff that all that technical perfection is wasted. In my experience clients prefer a photo with some life and spontaneity (even if it has a tiny bit of burned highlights or some other imperfection) over a technically perfect but boring/stiff one. Also, I love the idea of getting a quick "auto shot" when things are moving fast and you are not sure of the settings. With people and animals, things do move quickly and you simply cannot plan out every single shot, especially if you shoot in a more documentary style.

  • Denise January 21, 2011 09:09 am

    How refreshing! Today I shot some fashion photos using the no flash setting the entire time and one Lightbank 350 single head kit. My client, who knows I'm not a professional, asked why I was able to give her so many great shots while the professional she previously hired shot for six hours using three pro studio lights and a top of the line DSLR yet wasn't able to give her a single shot she wanted to use. It was a complete waste of a day. Well, it was because he had a terrible eye and no clue as to what a fashion shot should - and most importantly - could be. His £15,000 kit couldn't save him! I've always believed that it's all about the eye, sense of composition, a captivating subject (or creating one) and effective light. If you have all of that you're 3/4 of the way there.

    I still do intend to know my camera inside and out, but in the meantime it's great to know I needn't feel great shame for using settings!

  • Debbie January 21, 2011 08:52 am

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you. I have been released from the pressure of thinking, if I dont learn all about manual, aperture, shutter, etc, my photos would be sub-par. Now on to "Auto" to start. Yeah!!!!!

  • Tallulah January 21, 2011 08:47 am

    The frustrating part about learning the manual operations is that, on my DSLR at least, every command is on a menu, or sub menu, or sub,sub menu. Unlike a standard SLR where everything is on the outside of the camera and you can turn dials and adust things, now I have to memorize the manual before I can use the menus. I can't easily find what I'm looking for because I may not know the short form term for it. It is very frustrating and spoils the creative mood considerably.

    If it wasn't for the ease of downloading photos directly from the camera, and seeing the shots before they get printed off, thereby saving a lot of money in printing costs, I probably wouldn't have bought a digital camera, and just kept on using the two SLRs I have.

  • TOM T January 21, 2011 08:33 am

    You have no business shooting a Wedding unless your a Pro. This is the most impotent time in a Woman's life and if your a beginner and have to shoot in Auto, then let the Pros do it and stick to shooting Bugs & Flowers till you get up to the point where you understand what your doing before you go out and tackle this kind of event.. Sorry, but I have been there and Auto can not produce Quality photos for a Wedding..

  • gturner January 21, 2011 08:23 am

    The only trouble with auto is that you take 80% of the creativity out of the shot.
    It is certainly fine for happy snaps and saving a moment where you can't get things balanced.in short time, but once you learn the basics of metering, aperture and exposure triangle you will want to have far better control of the image.

    As a learning tool, if you use auto settings, take a note of what the camera is calculating and use that as a starting point to explore the manual settings. You images will improve significantly

  • Ethan Kavet January 21, 2011 07:52 am

    I've made my living over the past 34 yeas mainly shooting in the AP mode..There are times I switch to Manual mode but AP saved my butt too many times.
    I mainly shoot police department and Fire department action shots and don't have to time, when I'm in a race to get the shot, to shoot in manual.

    Allow the camera to take all the guess work out of the shot. I admit in certain situations where AP doesn't quite get the exposure right, I switch over to Manual mode. That's why we pay so much for our cameras.

  • violetta January 21, 2011 07:38 am

    Thank you! That was a useful tip -I kind of thought that I had to use 'the settings' once I got my DSLR. LOL! :)

  • Justin donie January 21, 2011 06:48 am

    I don't know if you'd consider this a 5th time to use full auto or a variation on "Your subject won't sit still", but I also sometimes use full auto when it's me and not my subject that can't be stilled. When traveling, sometimes the mode of transportation I'm on doesn't allow me time to set up a shot in manual mode. I see the desired shot and I have little or no time to react before it's gone. Whoosh. Full auto (or program) has saved many a great image that I probably wouldn't have gotten at all if I'd tried to set up in manual.

    I like the tone here that we're suggesting that we use the mode which gets the job done best and not commit ourselves to some sort of strict set of rules which don't enhance the final result. One of the reasons I like this newsletter so much.

  • Suzanna January 21, 2011 06:46 am

    Thank you for that article. Often, I feel like I am cheating if I use automatic and while I am glad to be learning how how use manual, it takes the pressure off to hear a "real photographer" say it is okay to use automatic.

  • John January 21, 2011 06:44 am

    One gem of good advice after another. Thank you. The very word "candid" means one lacks the time to engaged in analytical calculation. By the time you are done debating the photo op is history. There is a difference between setting up a scene and capturing a moment it time. Half Dome will wait for Ansel Adams to evaluate all the variables but a sparrow dodging a hawk will not.

  • Mariel Escudero January 21, 2011 06:43 am

    You've returned the fun into shooting. Thanks!

  • Joe Sherrill January 21, 2011 06:26 am

    I started with auto and let it teach me what the camera wanted to do. I then studied the settings and used that as a start to learn the advanced features. I keep the camera on auto so that I will not have to think when a quick decision is required to take a shot that I was not prepared to take. I took a shot of a Bald Eagle taking off behind my house. If I had to manually set the settings, I would have lost the shot. I always use manual when I have the time to set it up.

  • Peter January 21, 2011 06:18 am

    Great article. Everyone learns differently and some believe in "sink or swim" and others in taking your time. Either way, if your not comfortable with your equipment you can't let your eye find and frame the shot you want.

  • Joe January 21, 2011 06:17 am

    First SLR I used was a Minolta SRT101 back in the 60s. After a a few months doing the settings and focus for each shot became sorta 2nd nature and manyt shots came out nicely.

    But a good modern camera with auto settings in my experience produces better results more of the time for the non pro.

    The only two things I insist on when I look for new cameras is of course a viewfinder so I turn off the LCD screen and pretend its not there, and I still enjoy manual zooming.

  • Tony January 21, 2011 06:14 am

    I use Auto with Flash Off 95% of the time. My Pentax K-x has a very high ISO and there are rare times I might shoot in another mode (museum, Portrait Nigh)t. Frankly, using auto means I can spend most of my time framing and looking for the next photo. Any changes (minor or major) can usually be corrected in PP (iphoto and Photomatix for me ) - I also figure that the manufacturers spend millions to improve the Auto Photo setting and the results are obvious.
    Some pro's I know comment on my "eye" not my settings.
    Tony, CA., USA

  • Celesta January 21, 2011 05:43 am

    I want to add that the Auto mode comes handy when I do HDR. I usually take 1 shot in Auto mode after the series of manually selected exposures. I picked up HDR recently and am still learning, which must be the reason why some of my manually taken exposures sum up to a somewhat dull picture. The 1 shot I take in auto often changes the picture completely, and I get that touch of perfectness that was missing.

  • Mike January 21, 2011 05:32 am

    I think most of the people on DPS (if its true most of us are amateurs) are here because we want to take our photography to the next level as we have probably spent plenty of time on P&S cameras. Ive been on this site for a few weeks and boy, the technical stuff is overwhelming me a bit. I keep looking back at our trip to Africa last October at the Masa Mara game reserve where I my wife and I switched between a small cannon p&s and her Powershot IS3. I was trying to use the P & AV settings like "the experts" emphasized.

    Sometimes I was not able to remember all the technical stuff and couldn't get a good pic off at the right setting before a lion cub moved, or a awesome scene became ho hum... So I switched back to Auto for some of those shots and some of our best shots were in the auto mode. So, I think while we are still learning and trying to improve our skills and knowledge and figure out all the technical aspects of the creative settings, using Auto intermittently is still good especially if we come across a scene that is rapidly changing that would make an awesome photograph. Now that I got a new T2i three weeks ago, I find myself stressing out about not being able to fully understand all the various setting combinations like many of you do... but its nice to know that... I will get there... so articles like this take some of the pressure off while we are still trying to learn.

  • Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead January 21, 2011 05:29 am

    For important shots - I shoot for a book I am working on and my shots are mostly landscapes and views from mountain tops, ancient monuments, unnoticed relics of the past, bridges, and everything that cemetery enthusiasts are aware of - so I take all my time; scouting the best spot spot etc. I carry my lunch and Thermos flask; by the way, nobody seems to evoke this, but out there photography makes me hungry. MY FIRST SHOT IS ALWAYS ON AUTO. I then invariably switch over to A-priority which in turn leads me on to manual. I under and over expose manually most of my shots.
    Tiberman - Mauritius

  • Sheryl January 21, 2011 05:26 am

    I frequently shoot in auto I am not ashamed to say. I know about shutter priority and aperture priority but most times I want to be sure to get it right and quite often I don't have time to make the necessary adjustments in Aperture or Shutter. I do a lot of street photography and almost every shot in street photography would require resetting if I did not shoot in Auto. Now if I want have more control over lighting or depth of field, if I need a long shutter speed or a slow one- I then change to Aperture or Shutter Speed priority. But I am not too proud- for those must have right now shots to shoot in Auto. It has saved many a shot for me.

  • John Parli Photo January 21, 2011 05:25 am

    I'd have to agree for the most part. Auto (P Mode) is a great all-around walking down the street gotta catch this shot fast before it's gone kinda setting. Seems like many discredit it but if I were to choose between getting the shot and not because I was checking the meter and such then I would say, grab the shot before its gone. Its a failsafe. I still love my creative modes though, but 'P' you hold a special place in my heart : )

    All The Best!

  • Tallulah January 21, 2011 05:21 am

    @ gail peck.... well said! A seasoned photographer once told me that it doesn't matter whether you're using the cheapest box camera, or the most expensive of cameras with all the bells and whistles. What matters is whether you have "the eye" for the shot. A good phtographer, one who has "the eye" can capture a great image regardless of what he/she uses.

  • Tallulah January 21, 2011 05:11 am

    Thanks for this article! It is very positive and inspiring for those of us still learning.

    When I got my first 35mm years ago it was totally manual, and I needed to learn quickly how to use it as I was a reporter and needed to take photos for my stories. I still have that Yashica and use it whenever I need a really good macro shot, as my tamron 70-210 lense w/macro won't fit on my new digital camera. The problem with my manual camera is that I really never grasped all that it could do. My main focus was to get the shot, and hope it was a good one.

    I got my DSLR a couple of years ago and it has really opened up the creative aspect of photography for me. The main thrill is I don't waste film on bad shots. I do shoot in auto most of the time, but lately have wanted to try manual. Problem is, it's so complicated to figure out what this camera has and does. I am not the most technically-minded soul, but I am trying, hence my being at this website... and thank goodness for this site!!

    For me, the main reason I take photos is to capture the images that inspire, or speak to me in some way; images that may also speak to others. I use my camera as an extension of my creative tool box. There are images I see that I could never capture if I tried to paint them, but the camera 'paints' them for me. I've sold some of those images, so I know I am not doing too badly, even if I have used my auto setting to get those images. This image was taken using auto and it has sold a couple of times:

    Thanks, Natalie, for letting me feel better about still using auto. I know I'm not alone! :-)

  • Elizabeth Jury January 21, 2011 04:59 am

    Thank you so much. Very timely. I have just been beating myself up over all this. I am new to it all and am in the process of making a little business of it. That bit of encouragement I need to keep moving forward and not give up! :o)

  • Frances Mathews January 21, 2011 04:45 am

    I am definitely and amateur photographer and I love my digital point and shoot - While it has several modes I mostly just use auto. With the editing abilities of IPhoto, you can correct most of your errors. Besides that you can take dozens of shots of the same subject and almost always come up with one good one. While not a contest winner, I like this shot taken with my point and shoot on auto. Pictures/iPhoto Library/Originals/2009/Jan 17, 2009/IMGP0190.JPG[/img]

  • Judy January 21, 2011 03:48 am

    Thank you for re-posting this article. I'm a new photographer (in my spare time) and after reading this I feel much better about shooting in auto. I have been reading all about the features of my camera and how to use them that sometimes I get bogged down in the settings and I just want to take the picture! Now I realize its ok to have a great camera and to use auto - atleast until I get used to photography and find my niche.

  • Gail Peck January 21, 2011 03:41 am

    Well said. I know many photographers who know their way around all the camera settings,so although their photograph might be technically perfect it often times lacks soul. Always remember, no one wanted to know what kind of paint brush Van Gogh used. An artist, is an artist, however they get there.

  • Matt Needham January 21, 2011 01:44 am

    It seems to me that the first three reasons are the same. It's easy to come up with excuses not to try. :) People don't need any help with that.

    I would encourage anyone to read up on what the light meter is telling you, and then switch to M. It's not rocket science. You'll figure it out pretty quick. Today's fancy cameras and internet experts make it seem much trickier than it really is. Read the instructions that came with your camera, and spend some time practicing. Digital, with the instant feedback of the LCD and histogram (read up on it, it's another really simple but useful tool) makes it easy to master in an afternoon.

  • James Merrifield January 20, 2011 10:25 pm

    Thank you for confirming my thoughts. I shot a reception with about a 100 people in a small area. I was all over the mode dial and making adjustments trying to stay away from 'auto'.. Next time I'll do some 'autos'.....i

  • Mei Teng January 20, 2011 04:57 pm

    When I started out learning to use my slr, I never really started off with using Auto mode. I played around with AV and then moved on to TV and eventually Manual.

  • ScottC January 20, 2011 04:06 pm

    Does time spent with a point & shoot camera count?


  • Lucy January 20, 2011 12:10 pm

    I've been learning about photography more and more over the past 12 months, mostly shooting in AV or TV modes depending on the circumstances and subject, and fiddling till I get the image just right.

    I established long ago, with my P&S ixus and through my 300D and now 50D that I don't like on-camera flash. Full auto mode invariably wants to pop up the flash. So I don't like full auto mode.

    However, from reading your piece here I thought I would have a fiddle with setting the camera on auto but no-flash mode. with the few shots I have taken using this mode, I wouldn't use it all the time because I want and am comfortable with more control, but I can see this as a good learning opportunity to align my 'gut instincts' with a guide as to what settings are good for an image. Maybe this can help refine my photography by improving my ability to judge a situation based on what the camera suggests after comparing manual shots with auto.

  • Geren W. Mortensen, Jr. January 20, 2011 11:29 am

    Yeah, sometimes P really does stand for Professional. In a Canon world, I prefer Program over Auto, because I still have two important, quick-to-use exposure tools at my disposal -- program shift and exposure compensation. Not to mention, I can set the ISO myself.

    I remember a long time ago, when there was no digital, but there was automatic exposure. Auto back in those days was mediocre at best. And, a lot of photographers got a bad taste in their mouths back then, causing an entire generation of photographers to emphatically and categorically state that automatic exposure was terrible and only for amateurs. I used to be one of them.

    Since then, camera manufacturers have worked with some more adventuresome pros to develop really, really good automatic exposure algorithms that really, really work well, and are only getting better.

    Now, I very rarely shoot manual, unless I've determined that I want the exposure "locked down" for some reason (like when I'm using off-camera flash, shooting panoramics, etc.).

    If you're one of those photographers who has poo-pooed the auto modes on a modern DSLR, give them a try. You may be very pleasantly surprised.

  • Rick January 20, 2011 11:13 am

    Get out of auto mode and learn the exposure triangle NOW. The sooner you do that the sooner you'll really have control over your camera. This article is plain nonsense.

  • hfng January 20, 2011 09:50 am

    Wow 100 comments!

  • Bob K. January 20, 2011 09:40 am

    Gotta love the few stuffy photo snobs that still turn their nose up at anything but full manual. This is an excellent article - as attested to by the many, many positive responses. Yes, program (P) is a more versatile form of auto - other than that, I find the article to be outstanding. The few diehards who won't touch auto modes are welcome to cruise along in their happy little elite world, but everyone else can feel comfortable making use of ALL of the various settings offered on their camera - including auto! Thanks for an excellent and well written piece.

  • Chris January 20, 2011 09:32 am

    I disagree with this article. Auto mode is great for beginners but other than that it has little use. The aperture priority and shutter priority modes are much better than straight automatic. They still allow the camera to do most of the thinking and take a good picture, you can put limitations on ISO and shutter speed usually (to keep the camera from jacking your ISO up to 3200 which, unless you have a D3S probably doesn't look that good on your camera), but they don't force you to give up your creative control of whatever setting is most important for the photo you are currently trying to take.

  • GradyPhilpott January 20, 2011 09:26 am

    I've been the "photojournalist" of my club for two years now. No one ever tried to do what I have been doing in terms of documentation of our progress restoring aircraft.

    I started with a Canon point and shoot and used scene modes. One day I realized that the P&S just wasn't going to cut it anymore. I needed something more responsive and more flexible, but I had never used a DSLR in my life.

    Based on some research, I decided to get a good entry-level camera and some good glass accommodate my shooting milieu and go to work. More research convinced me that the picture is the thing and that composition and lighting were far more important than the technical particulars of the camera, so I studied the artistic elements of the craft first and foremost.

    I accepted the fact that my camera at that stage of the game was smarter than me and my motto became, "Get the shot regardless of what it takes" and that meant to me at the time that auto settings were fair game.

    I'm still not that good at the technical aspects, but I do keep trying and sometimes surprise myself by the results, but the fact is that when people see my work, they are often impressed and as the author says, few ask about settings. Some do, but rarely.

    Thanks for an article that puts it into perspective so well.

  • Lon January 20, 2011 08:48 am

    On my Canon XTi in auto mode I can't select ISO, can 't shoot in RAW, can't choose focus points and I don't think it even allows exposure comp(?). If lighting is good and you don't care about DOF then shoot away, but there is nothing more annoying then the camera lagging while it decides it wants to pop up the flash... urgh. So just put it over to program mode (and double check the ISO) if you don't want to think about your exposure settings but still want to take advantage of some of the basic features offered by a SLR.

    On the other hand I was at a birthday party and the father tossed (literally) me his D40 so he could join the action, not being familiar at all with the controls and needing to get some shots in quick, auto came in useful.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer January 20, 2011 08:23 am

    I would have to completely disagree with most of the points in this post, especially regarding teaching people new to photography and how the author says she requires them to stay in auto-mode for 3-6 months!! Of the 90+ one-on-one DSLR photography lessons ( http://jasoncollinphotography.com/blog/category/photography-lessons ) I have taught in the past two years, I IMMEDIATELY get each and every person off auto mode, even if they just came from Best Buy with their camera still in the box!

    Composition and style I believe are developed by the person on their own. What they need to know first is to actually know how to use their DSLR. Really no point in lugging a DSLR around in auto-mode. If you want to teach people composition and style first, let them tote a small P&S.

    Thus, I disagree with using auto-mode on a DSLR, ever, especially for professional work of any kind.

    If anyone thinks they have to stay on auto-mode and cannot make the jump to aperture priority or manual modes, and you live in the Tampa Bay area, in less than 2 hours I'll have you off auto mode forever.

  • Jeff W January 20, 2011 08:09 am

    Here we go again ... I truly believe that if you REALLY want to learn, take your camera out of auto and learn about aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Yes, you can get great shots in auto -- but have no idea how you did it in some cases. You can also mess up what would have been a great shot by missing the exposure, getting motion blur, getting too much or not enough depth of field, and get extra noise for no reason.

    And yes, if you feel rushed, if you need a grab shot and aren't sure what to do, or if the light is fluctuating, by all means switch to an auto mode as a fallback—nothing wrong with that. But the FIRST thing I teach to newbies is to learn the exposure triangle and experiment with it. Once you get that, everything else makes sense. QUIT BEING AFRAID TO LEARN! Pixels are free!

  • pnolte January 20, 2011 07:52 am

    Who cares how you got the exposure. That is only a small piece of the results. There is nothing wrong with shooting in AUTO.. I bet many of the manual snobs shoot in auto and do not admit it. Doesn't a light meter just give you a recommendation on a shutter speed and f stops. Why not just have that meter connected to the shutter and lens and let the camera control it.

    If you understand what your camera is doing, if you understand light and shadow, DOF, dynamic range etc. then let the computer in the camera decide what is best and make your adjustments from there. If you are shooting an event where the light does not change but action is fast, then a manual mode may be better so that the computer does not waste time trying to calculate an exposure for every capture.

    The photo snobs of the world make new users feel inferior because their camera was on auto. They need to get over it and realize that with post processing, many mistakes can be corrected. Just reading the responses here you have to realize that is happening. Photography is about the image not how you got the image.

  • bryan January 20, 2011 07:46 am

    never ever ever shoot in auto i agree with Klaidas learn how to use the other basic functions take control

  • Gabbie January 20, 2011 07:35 am

    Thank you so much for this... I felt so bad everytime I switch to auto (specially in low lights... I suck at those!), I'm just getting started, and I'm so conscious whenever I'm close to someone who is a pro, and looks at me with some pity because I'm in auto mode :(

  • Greta S. January 20, 2011 07:05 am

    Yay for Auto mode! I was stuck in auto mode from 2002-mid 2010! I was just too busy with kids to figure it all out. Then I realized, yes I CAN figure it out. So I did! I like manual mode, but its hard with moving subjects. SO I usually use Ap. Prior. mode. But, at times I DO go back to auto mode. It's great to know there is a trust back-up plan if all else fails at the moment. Some of the very BEST photos I took was in Auto mode! Auto mode does not make you less of a photog.

  • Chris January 20, 2011 06:52 am

    Ansel Adams wasn't built in a day, but he didn't have auto mode either! He had 8x10 cameras with manual focus, manual exposure via a light meter, then based exposure off the zone system...

    Auto ISO can save your bacon wonderfully if your subject is moving in and out of light while you are using Av mode. AUTO mode doesn't realize that maybe you would like a broad aperture, and might just decide to put the whole scene in focus, causing a considerable loss of exclusion in the composition. For instance, see the second bride picture. The flowers and greenery in the foreground would have gone a lot better in they were a wee mite out of focus (this may be a lens issue also - maybe the lens lacked a broad enough aperture?). To me, this is a great image, yet a little marred by the distracting foreground.

    AUTO mode is great if you never want to learn. To the beginning photographer, I would say if you want to be smarter than your camera, figure out what an aperture is, what a shutter is, what ISO is, and learn the relationships between them. This will greatly improve your pictures because they will look how you want them, not how your camera wants them to look.

    Yes, framing is important. But great framing with an overly deep or shallow depth of field is still not going to cut the mustard...

  • michelle mcdaid January 20, 2011 06:35 am

    That was THE LEAST pretentious and ego-centric article for new photographers by a professional photographer I have read in a long time. I have become a lot more comfortable with manual in the last year of my journey as a photographer and, as a general rule, tend to get more consistent results in Manual or Aperture Priority these days. However, I shoot kids (and have a 2 year old) and like you said - they often don't sit in your perfect lighting waiting for you to set exposure just-so. I have found myself going back to Auto, or more often, P mode, these days in changing light situations or when in a hurry to get a shot. In fact, the more confident I am getting in my photography, the more I realize that all the modes have a purpose - it's learning what that purpose is and using it appropriately. THANK YOU for this article.

  • Lynet Witty January 20, 2011 06:29 am

    thank you for this!!! i am a newbie and those buttons just intimidate me!

  • Chris January 20, 2011 06:10 am

    Very nice article.

    A nice follow up article would be to compare different auto modes, full auto, no flash auto, Program modes.
    I think the controls these modes depend a lot on the camera so may be article can be focused on canon and Nikon DSLRs. I only recently discovere dthat in program mode I can control ISO which I cannot do in full auto and no flash modes.

    Yes, beginners like me can read all about exposure, aperture and everything but until we know what that does to the shots and how to adjust, auto and semi auto modes are great tools.

    Take my case for example. I read all about AV, TV modes before my first Vegas trip.
    But when I started shooting in AV mode and TV modes on low ISO the shutter speed was slow and my shots came blurry. In a crowded place like Vegas tripod is not the best idea so I did not know how to adjust.
    So I switched to no flash mode. The mode bumped my ISO up and took some very nice pictures (grainy but not blurry).
    Granted I could have bumped up my ISO and chosen just enough ISO to get non blurry pictures
    But I did not have the time and there were crowds around.
    So I disagree with some posters that you can read up some articles and start using Av, Tv modes.

    My advice to beginners is to use auto modes as trainign wheels until you get some experience.

  • Julia January 20, 2011 06:07 am

    I usually shoot in Auto as well. However, there are times when the light is a little off or I'm going for a more artsy shot that Manual is fun to use and even that has taken me about a year to get comfortable with. Great post and shots!

  • maggie January 20, 2011 06:06 am

    Thank you--I just shot a babyshower for the first time with lots of little kids and it was a total nightmare for me! I'm used to manual, long exposure landscapes, etc and never even THOUGHT to put it in manual! I also appreciate the freshness of your writing. Cheers!

  • Becky May 9, 2010 10:58 am

    I'm off to shoot my first engagement session and this was incredibly helpful. Thanks Natalie!!

  • Beccah March 16, 2010 04:19 am

    Thank you so much for this! I've just bought my first ever SLR, and I've been feeling overwhelmed seeing people talking about all the manual settings that I don't understand. I'd never even heard of some of them before! Thanks for making me feel happy about using auto. I'll definitely be using auto for a few months while I find my feet, then I can learn about manual settings a bit at a time. This seems a lot more manageable now.

    Thanks again! ?

  • Ben December 12, 2009 07:18 am

    Great article, and going back to images there turned out great OR badly and examining the EXIF data can be valuable, then you can try to understand and why the camera did what ti did, and what you did or didn't like about it. I do think P is better than Auto, but maybe thats a good stepping stone...

  • Chris December 10, 2009 10:45 pm

    While i do see the benefits of being able to shoot away and not worry about setting i dont see what the great deal is about auto mode. If anything use program as its pretty much the same thing but still gives you control over what you want. Im reading about a handful of people talk about how theyre not confident about using different mode when shooting but it honestly only really takes an hour of reading to get the basics and once you have them you can experiment until you become familiar. I think the best way to learn is from you mistakes. Whenever i take a bunch of photos i look at them later and try and think of what im doing wrong and most times i never do it again. Its all part of the learning process and people should try and just throw themselves out there.
    No offense to the poster, i thought it was well written but it just didnt agree with whats going through my mind

  • Bojo September 30, 2009 03:30 pm

    I knew there was hope for me! Thank you for this!

  • Nichole September 12, 2009 03:09 am

    Thank you so much for this article. I have been learning and trying with manual as much as possible to better my skills, but it is just hard to "play with settings" with my kids and all of their adventures. I am glad to know that not all fellow photogs think it is wrong to use auto. Makes me feel loads better. :)

  • Sarah May 9, 2009 07:04 am

    Thank you, thank you thank you. I just finished up a beginning photo class where were were forced to shoot ONLY in manual!! UGH. It was so frustrating since it was the first I have taken. I love photography but it is so easy to get discouraged. You are right though, no matter how the shot is captured, a good shot is a good shot. Thanks for the encouragement!! :)

  • C.R. April 11, 2009 07:00 pm

    If you were here, I'd hug you! I've been cramming to learn av and manual for a family wedding i'm shooting and I get the AV and M settings, but was not sure if I would be fast enough to use them. I've been a bit stressed about the wedding hoping to get the settings right than the shots, instead of the shots than the settings! Wow, what a relief to just not worry about it! I loved, loved, loved your article, did I mention I loved it? :o) I am fantastic at photos and know I will do great at the wedding but was so concerned about my settings instead of the shots and now I can breath a sigh of relief and just not worry about it. I won't pick that day to practice AV mode LOL. Not that I won't use it, but I will do at times when I have a moment. Thank you! What a wonderful article. :o)



  • Lucian February 25, 2009 10:39 am

    Love the article and I agree with it. Most of the time the camera takes the same decisions you would have taken yourself (given good light and no object between you and the subject ). It misses one thing though: the learning. If you stay on Auto, you will never learn to react on the special conditions: bad light, where should you get the light measurements, what ISO to chose, how to control dof etc ... so using Auto you'll remain an Auto person. You need to create the reflex for the settings you need, otherwise all the books and articles you've read mean nothing when you need to take that special shot. Once the reflex created, you can switch back to the 'composition' mindset. But indeed, you may never need it.

    I personally used Auto for many years, although had an SLR. But now I'm forcing myself to use manual modes (AP mostly, sometimes M, always RAW), exactly because of the reason above. And I felt serious improvement in the last 6-12 months. Good enough to be able to decide to switch to Auto every now and then :) ...

  • kate September 24, 2008 07:45 am

    thank you so much for this post...actually this whole site!
    i am just now getting back into photography after a few year hiatus and i really appreciate all the helpful explanations of the different settings and modes. i did not have the luxury of that last time :)

  • Aamir Chaudhry September 13, 2008 07:03 am

    I think I agreed with all who commented in favour of this article. This is the fact that if you start taking photos in Auto Mode then slowly you will gain experience, confidence and excitment to explore more and more in your camera and through your camera.

  • Mandy August 6, 2008 07:02 am

    I've just graduated up from a point and shoot to my first DSLR, and considering the price I paid for the DSLR I felt a bit of a fraud using it in auto.

    Thank you for letting me see it in another way, and one which I whole heartedly agree with, it's the image we create that matters and not how we did it!

  • Rene Skrodzki March 28, 2008 10:59 am

    Although I tend to like AV SP and Manual mode I can see how auto can somtimes help in a pinch. After all I dont ever remember my clients saying "Hey you used AUTO you hack". I think it is what makes you comfortable thats important. Start with AUTO and move when your ready. Nice article, a little against the grain hehe.

  • disco~stu March 19, 2008 11:38 pm

    what a brillaint article, well written and very true....=D

  • HH14 March 19, 2008 09:46 pm

    Thank for giving me hope. I just got into photography and dived right in by getting a Canon 40D. I was starting to think that I've made a really bad and expensive mistake as I has no idea what I was doing even after reading the manual! Thank you again.

  • Bilka March 19, 2008 02:16 pm

    Over 40 years a pro and I shoot about 75% of my images in Auto with the meter in Matrix mode(Gasp!)

    I typically use manual and more spot metering when in tricky lighting situations or when I need more control of the image.

    Remember! It is not the camera, it is the mind and the vision behind the camera that counts. Do not be afraid or ashamed to shoot Auto.


  • Suzanne March 18, 2008 11:54 pm

    Great article! I shoot most of the time in Program Auto mode and for many of the reasons you stated. Loved the humor in the article as well.

  • Larry March 18, 2008 08:38 pm

    Great post. I'm a photographer who has been increasingly deriving more and more of my income is coming from my photography. While I don't shoot in Auto a lot these days I do use Aperture Priority a fair bit. While some might say that it's 'cheating' I think that it's about using the tools that you have to the best of your ability.

    Here's how I've developed - when I started using a digital SLR I shot mainly in Auto, I didn't know much else. However what I decided to do was to analyze the settings that my camera chose in Auto mode for me to see how it worked. I then began to emulate those settings when I started to work in Aperture priority mode, in a sense I used Auto mode to teach me to get a little more manual. In time I became more comfortable in Aperture priority mode.

    More recently I've done the same thing again and am analyzing the settings that my camera selects in Aperture priority mode and have begun to experiment with full manual settings. I'm not sure I'll ever go fully manual (the result I get in Aperture priority are amazing) but for me it's about learning more every day and stretching my abilities.

    If you've got the capability to shoot fully in manual mode - go for it, but for the rest of us who are learning our craft use the features of your camera that will complement your own abilities.

  • Natalie Norton March 18, 2008 07:38 pm

    I know no one will probably see this comment, but I have to tell all who will something awesome. I'm at WPPI right now (huge photog convention in Las Vegas), and I just have to say there are a lot and I mean A LOT of big name photographers who shoot in Aperture Priority (these are totally people you've heard of who are getting paid out the wazoo for their work). One today even talked about the importance of shooting automatic in the beginning so that you don't loose sight of the ART among all that technical stuff. He talked about how important it is to find your individual artistic voice without the noise of technical details getting in the way. Take that all you nay sayers. :)

    Don't forget why you started taking pictures in the first place.

    Happy Shooting.


    Natalie Norton

  • Jane March 17, 2008 11:01 pm

    this is such a smart post - i've been trying so hard to keep it in aperture priority, but am sometimes disappointed in the results - I like the reasoning of shooting a few in AUTO to cover your back :)

  • ryan de gracia March 17, 2008 08:46 am

    this is a humble post...
    your right .... certain moments happen for a few second..
    if u'll be to slow to adjust ur settings.. u will miss that,
    or yet end up with a bad picture..

  • marcel lemieux March 16, 2008 11:49 am

    i have been doing photography for let say a few years...i am member of a few clubs....i have canceled to view my tools on many sites...i admire you document..because i come from there...its a pleasure to read your article..thank you for being so frank...i have won many awards ...but i keep reminding myself to stay humble and to continue to learn...its refreshing to read such an article.....thanks

  • PRH March 16, 2008 10:02 am

    When you are a beginner there is no comfort zone. Its a steep learning curve when you consider the number of things to master (lighting, composition, let alone using the camera itself). This article is all about controlling one thing at a time and mastering it before moving to the next step.
    Here are my thoughts on the learning process from novice to competent photographer:

    1. Learn composition: Hardest thing to learn so it's best to start early. Follow the basic "rules" (there are plenty of articles in DPS to get started)
    Experimentation is all about moving in close, pulling back, changing your angle. How light affects the subject (time of day; inside vs outside). Best of all you can start leaning all of this with a point and shoot or an SLR on Auto.
    2. Get an SLR (or DSLR) and READ THE MANUAL!!! Still take most photo's in Auto while your learning about what aperture, speed and ISO mean and how to change them on the camera. Doing various courses (online or at your local community college) helps.
    3. Start experimenting with these different settings (using aperture or speed priority) on subjects that don't loose patients ie still life, architecuture, landscapes. If you start experimenting on these aspects for protraits then you'll find that you'll loose the mood of the moment as your subjects waits 5 min for you to work out how to set the camera!
    4. Start breaking some rules. Sticking with the rules works 80% of the time as does correctly exposing the subject. But I've seen some amazing images that throw away the rule book as well as go to the extremes of under or overexposing a shot to great effect. This is where you really need to know your camera well and be comfortable with the fully manual settings.

  • Janey March 15, 2008 09:41 pm

    Nat, a great article, but I would like to thank you for that poem you wrote for your brother, it says it all when you have lost someone, I lost my beautiful 21 year old son
    4 years ago, and this poem is incredible. Thank you.

  • Stewart March 15, 2008 05:23 pm

    I wish I'd read this fantastic article a year ago when I first got my camera. I spent 2 months not taking photos because I couldn't understand the manual and thought auto = cheating. I actually decided to use auto or semi auto modes when shooting anything other than still scenes which I could take a lot of time over. Then I enrolled on a course to learn about the camera. I've learned more with my camera phone about what makes a great picture than I ever did with my posh camera. this is a superb article.

  • mel March 15, 2008 06:15 am

    Natalie, thanks for a great article! I am new to photography, and it's already shown me a whole new way to look at what I thought was my ordinary world. I've made connections with other people that I normally wouldn't meet in my (mostly technical) career, and helped me express my creativity in a new area - and all this is just from using the auto settings on my (first!) digital camera. I am really looking forward to learning more about manual settings.

  • jeff c March 15, 2008 06:14 am

    God Bless you. Thank you sincerely from the bottom of my heart.
    You made me feel so much better.I was feeling very discouraged.


  • enrique March 15, 2008 03:40 am

    Natalie, what a way to talk about a matter that has been written many hundred times. Your writing not only gives us useful tips; it transmits feelings, good feelings about the joy of taking pictures for just our own satisfaction.

    Thanks you very much.

  • David Reed March 15, 2008 01:50 am

    This is a common sense post. I feel comfortable using my camera in all modes. Sometimes like Natalie said above shooting children you do the best you can to capture them and have a pleasing image. Fiddling with the camera doesn't work under most conditions when it's more important to get the shot in a crucial split second and get that expression. Nice work BTW.

  • daimon March 15, 2008 12:52 am

    unfortunately, the low-end p&s cameras have rather poor detection code for their Auto mode, so I found myself quite early in the process switching back and forth between auto and manual (pity I can only adjust exposure compensation and iso speed, while the aperture is auto no matter what). there are always those beautiful days when you just can't resist the pleasure of snapping away, without a worry about the settings you're using .. but usually I must go manual.

  • Laura J. March 15, 2008 12:36 am

    Hurray for someone who reminds us that photography is supposed to be FUN and ENJOYABLE! If you're constantly beating yourself up over not being Ansel Adams straight out of the box (I know, I did), you'll get frustrated, end up hating your camera, and stop taking photos (was tempted, but didn't) ... I'm taking a class through my college's continuing ed dept. right now and while we are learning P, Tv, Av, M and all that good stuff, our instructor keeps emphasizing "HAVE FUN!" and if you're pleased with the shot, it doesn't really matter what anyone else thinks (unless, of course, you're getting paid by someone else ...)

  • Nick March 15, 2008 12:00 am

    Having taken many pictures on my old Olympus OM-1 (fully manual), when I got my first DSLR I loved the fact that it had semi-auto modes such as Av and Tv, so I didn't have to focus as much on twiddling with the camera before shooting. The problem is that in full Auto, the camera will not shoot RAW. Thus, you'll usually find me in Av mode. But this article opened my eyes to moments when I might need to use auto, despite its limitations. Thanks.

  • Amy March 14, 2008 11:22 pm

    Thanks for a wonderful article Natalie! I am just learning and really don't quite get all the settings. I have experimented with them but always feel like a failure when they don't turn out as hoped and I switch back to auto mode. This really makes me feel better. I can experiment any day of the week but when I know I need to get a shot of my child blowing out birthday candles, auto is my best friend! I would rather have that memory from an auto setting than to have wasted the moment and a great capture because I was experimenting. Thanks for the boost of confidence!

  • Keith March 14, 2008 10:48 pm

    My biggest objection to auto mode is that I can't shoot RAW. My camera only allows JPEG when it is in the auto mode. The program mode does however allow RAW.

  • Tim March 14, 2008 09:11 pm

    Another reason to shoot in Program (P) mode, which is basically Auto, is that on Canon DSLRs, it's the only mode that meters the scene you're shooting assuming that it will use the flash to illuminate the subject. If you shoot in Av or Tv mode, it calculates a normal exposure as if you weren't using the flash, then puts in just enough flash to illuminate your foreground. If you want the camera to calculate proper exposure using the flash, it's good to use P mode.

  • Lerxst March 14, 2008 08:51 pm

    Thank you for this this article, excellent!

    I just got my first DSLR camera (after playing with a friend's 20D and falling in love with the possibilities) and right now I'm having a lot of work (and fun of course) learning all the new things about exposure, aperture, ISO, shutter speed etc etc etc. Seeing all those beautiful pics at Flickr and other sites makes me feel I will never get to that level, but after reading your article I decided to stick to Auto most of the time (except when I get in "experimenting mode") and focus on developing the photographer's eye first, get better compositions, pay attention to the light, to the story I am trying to tell, etc. Just like I focused on riding in a straight line first, before I started doing tricks with my bike :)

    Thanks again. This site is awesome, it's in my favorites bar already.

  • Fred March 14, 2008 05:52 pm

    I picked my K10d amon othr things because the program mode still lets you tweak aperture and speed with the front and back dials when you aren't happy with. Likewise in priority or manual modes, its "green button" instantly creates an automatic setting. It's very convenient.
    I suppose other brands have added similar commands by now.

  • Richard March 14, 2008 05:10 pm

    Correction: AND accessible to all.

  • Richard March 14, 2008 05:09 pm

    It is important to acknowledge that the author doesn't seem to be knocking Manual settings at all. It also doesn't seem to me that they're promoting photographers shoot exclusively in Automatic. It seems the author is saying that there is a place for Automatic and particularly for beginners. I agree. Especially as far as artistry is concerned.

    I've been an award winning photographer for 10 years and am so refreshed to find someone brave enough to ditch that awful "photographer's ego" so many are afflicted with. THANK YOU!

    This is useful information, particularly for beginners. . . besides, this is Digital Photography SCHOOL, isn't it? Here to demystify photography so it's not Rocket Science accessible to all?

  • YIKES March 14, 2008 04:57 pm

    I would NEVER suggest shooting in Auto. I teach photography lessons on a regular basis, and I do suggest my students to try shooting in Av mode to start out. That gives them a good basis at being creative, while choosing their apertures and learning to use their histogram. Save auto for the point and shoot.

  • NikonnooB March 14, 2008 04:52 pm

    In the past, I'd always felt I had a decent eye for composition. But, since getting my DSLR, I've been feeling like I'd lost something in that area. I just haven't been satisfied with my compositional choices, and I wasn't sure why. Now, you've told me! I've been so "focused" on getting familiar with exposure, and aperture, and speed, I've been forgetting about composing first! This article is exactly what I needed. A kick in the... um.... to forget about all that technical stuff every once in a while, and just go out and compose and shoot! Thank you!

  • GEli March 14, 2008 02:33 pm

    I must voice my disagreement with this article.

    My main point is that Av is infinitely better than auto in every possible situation, including the ones given. Your aperture dictates your DOF, which is one of the most important variables that only you can set in your photo. Your camera, no matter how good the AI, cannot read your mind, and therefore cannot set a proper aperture. Only the photographer can specify whether they want the background out of focus or a sharp scene throughout and so on. It takes very (very) little knowledge to properly set your aperture for any given scene, and your camera is still doing all the other exposure calculations for you. For a very small increase in the amount of thought you have to put into your photo you get a huge increase in the quality of your result. Going into full auto is the photographic equivalent of hitting the "I'm Feeling Lucky!" button and hoping your camera guesses an appropriate aperture for the scene before it.

    Encouraging the use of full auto mode, especially on a site dedicated to further photographic skill, is rather odd. It's a massive step in the wrong direction.

  • Lance March 14, 2008 12:28 pm

    Auto is very useful I agree.

  • DT March 14, 2008 12:19 pm

    Thanks so much! I just got my first dslr not too long ago and I was going crazy trying to figure it all out - iso, aperture, priority. Even when I understand it, translating it into a picture is a totally different beast to tame. Pressure = gone. Focusing on framing and composition with a sigh of relief...thanks again.

  • Andrea March 14, 2008 11:04 am

    Sorry to be a buzzkill, but in the wedding photos shown above, the highlights on the bride's dress are completely blown out -- a big no-no in wedding photography. Someone probably paid way too much money for that dress, and good professional wedding photographers know how to shoot white without turning it into a blob of nothing. Whether you were satisfied with the effect later is a different question, but I doubt it was done deliberately, and I don't consider those to be good examples of auto exposure.

    Also, I don't understand the caption that says "I wasn’t quite sure how true I could get the color of the shoes by shooting manual." You have the most control over color balance if you set it manually, since (as others already posted) auto white balance often gets it wrong.

  • Daniel March 14, 2008 11:00 am

    I'm not new to photography but I leave my camera in Auto mode and change it to Manual when I'm going out to specifically take photos.

    In manual mode simply turning 90 degrees to take a photo often requires reviewing and modifying many settings (even in semi-auto modes). In many social situations you simply don't have the time to do this as you will miss photo oppotunities.

    The less time you spend playing with the settings and reviewing shots the more time you spend pressing the shutter release. In these social situations its generally better. Sure the camera settings might not be optimum but it still beats no photo at all.

  • Lilia March 14, 2008 10:06 am

    Love the way this was written and the advice. I'm still very shaky with manual so it feels good to hear that auto is ok ;)
    It has such bad stigma the poor thing ;)

  • Karla March 14, 2008 09:26 am

    Great article! Thank you so much for this post.

  • Ash March 14, 2008 08:46 am

    Have never understood the point of program mode. I started off shooting automatic, then I moved to Ap and shot RAW+Large JPEG so that I could see what the camera was doing in the JPEG converstion. Then I started doing a mixture so that I could compare my control compared to the camera's.

    In the end, Ap or Tv modes are still semi-automatic, so if anyone critises the use of anything other than M, and then follows it up with "I shoot Av", then it's no big deal - the camera is still doing the metering for you, because metering is a combination of focal length, aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

  • octosink March 14, 2008 08:35 am

    WHAT? No!

  • Leah March 14, 2008 08:23 am

    Spectacular article. It's so easy to get snobby on the internet, but this one really gets it right - it's about what you shoot, not how you shoot it. It's the same reason my Photography 101 class in college said we had to use a p&s - she didn't want us getting all hung up on the technology of it. And then once you have those abilities down, you can experiment and learn from them.

    That is why the shoot-some-auto-as-backup is such brilliant advice! :)

  • Mike March 14, 2008 07:17 am

    @ Klaidas:

    if the place of shooting is closely examined, and some test shots are taken, it’s not too hard to use [something]-priority mode, if not manual...

    I think this is the opposite of the situation that the author's describing. If you haven't been able to closely examine all parts of the site in which you ultimately must shoot, haven't been able to do test shots, and the circumstances require you to compose and shoot quickly in novel lighting conditions and a distracting environment, then Auto mode can save your bacon.

    Yes, if you can recognize the proper exposures for a variety of conditions (via the f/16 system, for example) and can manipulate your camera controls quickly and without looking at them, you'll be less likely to ever need to use Auto. But it is still nice to have the advantage at the margins, which is what I believe the author's on about.

    And that's just from the snobby "I shoot manual" perspective. While I wouldn't advise friends just starting out to shoot only automatic, why shouldn't they get some decent shots at the outset, while learning about manual exposure in a variety of ways, including by analysis of the EXIF data from automatic shots.

  • AlaskaTeacher March 14, 2008 06:57 am

    Thank you for including some of your images. It was nice to be able to see what can be accomplished in auto mode.

  • Mandy March 14, 2008 06:48 am

    It's nice to know it's OK to shoot in auto...

  • Arturo Martinez March 14, 2008 06:45 am

    Needlesss to say this is a useful article.

    Second thing I did after being an auto mode photographer for a while was to use the "C" mode where I recorder my most frecuent used "P" mode (Canon S3 IS).

    This way I'm still in auto mode but can change settings quickly from a known status, and a plus: This mode always reset to that known status when coming from another mode or when the camera is turned on.

  • Shelly March 14, 2008 06:29 am

    I find myself waiting for your posts because of your down-to-earth, practical, and fun to read articles. The comments above are evidence that you hit a chord with photographers who are honestly trying to take fun, quality photos, and your advice is often met by advanced photographers with "how refreshing"! Or, "I needed to be reminded of that!" I'm referring to this, and past articles you've written. Thanks for keeping us novices out there trying to excel, and feel good about it!

  • geotography March 14, 2008 06:25 am

    Good Article Natalie!! Thank you. I don't shoot in automatic...I mostly shoot in Av and Tv (aperature and shutter priority, respectively); The semi-auto modes. Another advantage of using the camera's chip is to learn by what the camera would do. After a while you can start to put together the puzzle pieces of understanding exposure. One more thing that has helped me very much when I want to be "quick on the draw" or I cannot logistically manual focus (because I am in some contorted body position) is use auto-focus. Personally I like to manual focus but when I am on the street shooting random people, I go with auto-focus; otherwise I would miss many shots. Thanks again Natalie for your great contribution!!

  • WolfEyes March 14, 2008 05:40 am

    I loved the article. It does help me as a beginner feel not so overwhelmed with the settings. I know that my camera can take great pictures, and once I get more comfortable I'll still be able to produce the results I'm getting right now in Auto-mode.

    Thanks for the article.

  • Fiona March 14, 2008 05:27 am

    What a refreshing article! And absolutely brilliant for those who are trying to learn. Working with all the technical mechanics pushes us into our left brain--and the artistic right brain is taken out of commission. Better to train the artistic side first (isn't that what photography is--ART?), then, once we've mastered that, move more and more into the manual--the technical! It's all a matter of mastery, one step at a time. To have a pro take the pressure off, thereby giving "permission" to learn in this way is brilliant. Thank you Natalie Norton. I always look forward to your posts!

  • Eric March 14, 2008 05:26 am

    My advice to people getting into photography has always gone something like this:

    80% of the time, I'm shooting in full auto mode, because 80% of the time, the camera is making the same decisions I'd be making about an exposure. (Shooting RAW and exposure bracketing also helps here.) Instead I can give my attention into composition, framing, and focus.

    (Actually, I use a Nikon D300 and the camera has a better eye than me most of the time, especially given the array of parameters I can set for automatic mode).

    The only time I drop into manual mode is when the lighting conditions trip up the camera, or if I'm intentionally trying to get something different than an optimally exposed shot. Learning to recognize when the auto mode will fail, and what the correct settings are in those circumstances is just learning the art of photography, and something you gain by experience more than anything else.

  • David Dyer-Bennet March 14, 2008 04:35 am

    Klaidas: sure, you can study the light in the venue, do some meter readings (used to do that) or test shots (as I do these days), and control things manually. And that works well much of the time. But people cast shadows, wear hats, light matches, sit nearer or farther from candles, and generally mess around in ways that make your original readings only approximations. That was the way I worked a lot before I had any auto, because keeping up with things was the key to getting the photos; but I get better results letting the camera help me, and sometimes helping it in turn, these days.

  • Natalie Norton March 14, 2008 04:34 am

    I'm glad I got you all thinking . . . most of you happy thoughts. . .some of you not so much. . . ha ha!

    Happy Shooting!

  • David Dyer-Bennet March 14, 2008 04:31 am

    You tell 'em! I'm an old-school amateur (I got my first SLR in 1969, I date my being "serious" about photography from then), and didn't own any auto-exposure equipment until 28 years after that. And make considerable use of auto, even the dreaded "program" mode, these days. You have to know when it will fail, and know how to get the rendering you want when you need to take full control, but lots of times auto does fine, and being able to following changing action/lighting faster is a big win.

    Now, tell everybody that "chimping" (checking your digital results on the LCD while out shooting) is okay, please, especially for beginners, but for everybody. For a beginner, you can find the right exposure (of a static scene, or very patient models) by trial and error even if you don't understand how exposure works very well at all. And for a pro, passing up the chance to verify you got it right (when you have time) is a job-risking proposition; you can't afford to not have gotten it!

  • Katie March 14, 2008 04:09 am

    Great article! I usually shoot in Av but I also like program. And I'm going to try some auto shooting next time I have a chance to see how it compares. Thanks for removing the auto stigma. =0)

  • Charity March 14, 2008 03:30 am

    Your point about getting your framing style down is an excellent one. Your pictures shot in Auto clearly demonstrate that you have an eye for composition. No sense killing yourself trying to learn more advanced settings till you figure those out!

    I've been taking a page from Ken Rockwell's site and shooting in P mostly lately, with Auto WB and Auto ISO. I've been enjoying the results!

  • NormMonkey March 14, 2008 03:25 am

    Some of the reasons this article gives for shooting in Automatic are the same reasons I like to shoot in RAW. There are of course downsides to RAW and I certainly don't want to open the RAW vs. JPG can of worms.

    However, since this article is targeted at ways of keeping it simple and changing focus (heh) from worrying about settings to concentrating on capturing a good photo, I'd like to point out that RAW can help with this.

    By using RAW, when you're shooting you don't have to worry about white balance (note: cameras often get the white balance wrong in AUTO mode), sharpness, contrast and brightness settings, colour filtering settings and some others, too.

  • sandra March 14, 2008 02:54 am

    I was thinking that I was about to stop taking pictures because I was only using Auto and I was a failure with my new camera.
    Thank you for the pressure release.

  • Kris March 14, 2008 02:54 am

    I was working with a Canon S110 point and shoot compact camera for five years before I decided my skills had outgrown my camera enough to justify the purchase of a DSLR. I got to know that little camera very, very well indeed, and all the quirks of its various modes (auto mode and "manual" mode, which was not particularly manual). I took thousands of pictures and learned from all of them, and when I started doing sessions with people, I learned a lot about how to work with people who aren't really comfortable in front of a camera. I bought a DSLR when I realized that I really desperately wanted a camera without so much shutter lag and with the ability to set aperture and shutter speed.

    I still use a compact Canon as my walking around and vacation camera, and a year later I'm still learning from my DSLR all sorts of things about the interaction between aperture and shutter and ISO. And no, I haven't even begin playing with off-camera flash yet! I'm a slow learner. :)

    I use Program Auto a lot, especially when I'm shooting pictures of dogs. Dogs at the park do *not* stand still waiting for you to change your settings!

    Oh, and the other plus of learning on a small point and shoot? People are much less intimidated when you're pointing a tiny camera at them than a great big lens.

  • Dzintra March 14, 2008 02:41 am

    Great advice about backing up your photographs with some Auto shoots. Simple and great. Will use it certainly. Thanks.

  • Alissa March 14, 2008 02:29 am

    I love you so much right now! I use auto mode often (well, P mode, which is auto minus the flash) and it serves me well. Actually, the only time I ever switch it over to manual settings is if I'm doing long exposures or trying to get a clear(er) photo in dim lighting. I just can't change settings on my camera quickly enough in manual to get the photos I want of my children or of wildlife or even a landscape if the clouds are moving quickly. I know how my camera works, I know HOW to use the manual settings, but my camera does such a nice job that I don't usually bother. I do, though, adjust white balance and iso...

  • Bob March 14, 2008 02:27 am

    Great article. With the firmware in most newer digital cameras today, they are taking better pictures than ever in AUTO and PROGRAM mode with no input from the user.

    The approach of working on the basics, composition, etc., first before tackling the myriad of settings available, even on "point and shoot" digital cameras, makes a lot of sense to me.

    If using AUTO offends your sensibilities and/or ego, then don't use it.

  • Sam (Stock photo review) March 14, 2008 02:24 am

    I think this is true unless you want to shoot without flash and Auto forces the flash to pop open. that's when i started shooting in other modes.

  • Jill March 14, 2008 02:14 am

    Natalie!!! Thank you so much for this article...it is so freeing. I use a Canon S3IS and it does have manual abilities, but I still use mainly auto...sometimes portrait, sometimes AV, once and a while a few other modes. I think I get some pretty darn good shots for an ameteur and have sometimes actually felt bad that I haven't gotten the hang of manual shooting.

    My main subject is my daughter and I do a lot of scrapbooking (you can see my photos and some of my layouts on my blog - www.amatterofmemories.com). Honestly, is she ever going to give a hoot 'how' I took those photos?? I seriously doubt it. I think she is just going to appreciate that her mom has recorded her life in this way.

    (Klaidas - I think you have some serious superiority issues...get over yourself. Your attitude would discourage prospective photographers from even picking up a camera!)

  • kian March 14, 2008 02:09 am

    Quite a brave article. Very contrary to some previous ones that would jibe on using auto as being sissy. I hope she'd been more explicit, though, of the underlying premise that Manual settings are there to make you more powerful. Don't write off auto but DO explore the other features of your DSLR. There are simply a lot of things than cannot be achieved by Auto. :)

  • Klaidas March 14, 2008 02:03 am

    PP, I understand what you're saying, but still: if the place of shooting is closely examined, and some test shots are taken, it's not too hard to use [something]-priority mode, if not manual.
    Sure, the most important thing (after having good pictures) is having fun, and if auto is the fun way, then I don't see any problems :] yet I don't think that a website like DPS should "advertise" the auto mode :)

  • kate March 14, 2008 02:02 am

    this post made my day. When I read the flickr wedding photography forum everyone shoots in aperture, yeah I get it, but I'm not there yet and I'm not going to screw up on a wedding playing with it. I'm really trying to focus on artistic shots at this point. what a relief, thanks.

  • Reznor March 14, 2008 02:01 am

    I prefer program mode to auto mode. I set the ISO manually (I hate noise and try to stay as low as possible) and let the camera choose the appropriate combination of aperture and shutter speed. Don't want the camera to crank up the ISO by itself.

  • Hick March 14, 2008 01:41 am

    This is truly a freeing article. Mostly I shoot manual or aperture, but I'm a closet auto and program user because of the very reasons she mentioned...shooting events and people that move around, in and out of shadows, etc. I also use the preprogram modes (ie, landscape, snow/sun, macro, night portraits, etc.) They are no-brainers and can be learning tools when I look at the Exif. (And, I shoot RAW so I can fix the exposure and white balance.)

    I just never tell anyone.

  • PP March 14, 2008 01:40 am


    I do not ALWAYS use auto mode of course.
    But when you are in the action, you have to shoot quickly.

  • Nathania March 14, 2008 01:39 am

    Thank you! You CAN take great pictures in Auto and you can take great pictures with a point and shoot camera too.

    I saw a special about behind the scenes of Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue a few years back. They hired a pro photographer who uses only a point and shoot camera.

    The key is to do what works for you. Don't mess with all the settings just because "everyone else" does.

    Shooting in auto forces you to really pay attention to existing light, which is essential to great photography.

  • heidi March 14, 2008 01:37 am

    Hey there,
    I'm just soo new on this photo thing, and your article has relief me a LOT!! honestly I don't even knew I liked to shoot pictures until not even a month. I just started my own photoblog but I was starting to get a little anxious about the other bloggers "phototerminology"
    I'm in the beging process, and is good to know I'm on the path as you said.
    Thanks for all the tips

  • --Deb March 14, 2008 01:36 am

    This is a great post . . . especially considering I don't really have much of an option. I can't yet afford a digital SLR and take all my photos with my Canon Elph (which at least is small enough I can carry it in my purse--which is better than not having a camera with me at all) and a Canon S2, which has some of the options of an SLR and at least lets me play. Though, still, my best pictures still come out of the Auto feature, which bugs me to no end! (grin) At least after reading this, I don't have to feel so guilty.

  • Canadian Mum March 14, 2008 01:34 am

    Great Article!
    As a beginner, this is about the first article I have read that encourages me to stay in Auto. I have been trying to venture into different modes and get frustrated. I appreciate your view on using auto first... then venture on.
    I have taken many photos on auto, then take notes on what settings the camera chose, before trying to emulate them on my own.
    Thanks for the encouragement!!

  • Klaidas March 14, 2008 01:28 am

    Oh, come on!..
    New to photography? You'll be using some manual controls (on DSLRs) anyway. Oooor, just staying in the auto-make-believe land anyway.
    Not quite sure? Do Tv or Av modes.
    They mean nothing to you? Stop reading this article and read other articles on DPS :]
    Won't sit still? Use AI Servo focusing.

  • PP March 14, 2008 01:25 am

    I love to shoot in auto mode, I'm not an expert so I can concentrate on the subject.
    If I'm not happy with the settings, I can always change them 'on the fly' with the 'magic' wheel.

  • Jonathan March 14, 2008 01:06 am

    Thank you, I really liked point number 1, thank you.

    I also like taking pictures in Auto, and then checking the EXIF. It tells me what setting the camera "suggests" I use. I can try learning from that, or then go onto AP or SP and make small adjustments.

  • AC March 14, 2008 01:06 am

    Quite agree with the tips. Some stunning snaps in there. One more thing Auto Focus is good for (esp for beginners) is that it gives you a ballpark figure that you can start experimenting from rather than figuring out the ISO, Aperture and Shutter values from scratch.

  • Laura March 14, 2008 01:05 am

    I agree. Although I don't shoot in auto, usually manual simply because if I can shoot in that, everything else seems like cake, but I may use auto a bit more just to take the pressure off. Woo, glad to know it is ok to do that now.

  • Des Adam March 14, 2008 12:55 am

    At last some common sense, and some stunning images to boot :)

  • Matt Brown March 14, 2008 12:51 am

    That is the best article I have read in..... I don't even know how long.

  • Mike Empuria March 14, 2008 12:34 am


    I've just got my first "real camera" and I've been driving myself crazy (and getting downhearted) trying to use the settings and only taking awful pictures. I feel much better having read this post and will stay with Auto for a while until I'm ready to learn more.