Get out of Auto Mode!



This blog post is for the thick-skinned.  No sugar-coating here.  Read only if you want a little aggressive push to get to the next level.  This article is not about whether shooting auto is good or bad, its just fine.  This is about how to move on to the next step in photography, shooting manual.

Do you have a photographer that you envy, one you look at with great admiration?  Of course you do!  We are human and always see growth in the distance. Ever wonder when you will get to that degree of artistic quality? There is a reason that the work of others is catching your eye.  They are somehow delivering results that you wish to accomplish, and there is NO REASON why you can’t be as good as them!  This isn’t about good, bad or impossible.  This blog is about knowing your equipment.  As photographers we all have the artistic eye and the capability.  So this is not about how to see art, it’s how to capture it.

If you are taking photographs on Auto, you will never achieve what you see by professionals.   Auto is what your camera thinks is RIGHT.  Auto is LIMITING for that purpose.  Your camera is a smart piece of equipment and when it is allowed to make the setting decisions it will work to ensure you have the BEST focus available.  Is that artistic?  Well maybe, if your style says so.  Mine begs to differ.  Out of focus areas are dreamy, they invite question, they are everything I strive to achieve, they make your subject appear to be the most important piece of the art – Yep, that’s what I want!

Yes, you are going to frustrated at first.  Everything you ever knew was done for you by your camera.  While learning you will want to throw yourself on the floor, scream, cry, get flustered … it’s all normal.  Push past it!  Your friends, your family and your clients are going to seriously wonder where your head has gone … just let them know YOU ARE PLANNING to be the next big photographer and there is no time for baby games!  So if you have to take 20 test shots to get the perfect exposure before beginning your session, so be it.  You are about to make some AMAZING art!


Take notes, cuz this is some awesome information!

  • Get a coffee cup, yea it’s a strange request for a learning session but do it. Coffee cups are the perfect prop for this session!!!
  • Put it on the counter a few feet in front of you.  Make sure that nothing else is too close to it.  Anything behind it needs to be at least 15-24 inches BEHIND.  You are trying to make a “depth of field” … remember that name it’s the basis of your profession.
  • Take one photograph and look at the play back of it.  We will talk about how to fix any exposure problems you had in this first test shot.
  • Now look at your camera settings you will need to make three adjustments!!!
  • There are 3 settings that make up the exposure of your photograph –  Shutter Speed, ISO and Aperture.  Know these in and out.  Study them.  Memorize them.
    • Shutter Speed is like your eye lids – the faster you blink the less light goes in, the slower you blink the more light comes in.  This is the same for the camera.  The shutter is the blinking … if your first test shot was too bright that means you brought in too much light so you need to “blink” faster … turn UP your shutter speed a few.  If your first test shot was too dark it means you need more light so “blink” less – turn DOWN your shutter speed.
      • Conclusion:  Lower shutter speed number = MORE light.  Higher shutter speed number = LESS light!!!!!
      • Shutter speed is the first thing I adjust on my settings to get the best exposure.  This adjustment (higher or lower) may be all you need to do.  After taking that first test shot look at the picture and ask yourself is it too light or too dark.  Change your shutter speed using the above directions in response to that question.  Remember if you go too low because you need more light, below 80, you may get some blurring because your hand is a little shaky.  If you need to go below this number don’t … move to adjusting your ISO which will also bring in light.
      • My standard shutter speed:  there isn’t one.  My shutter speed is ALWAYS different because this is how I control light.
    • ISO– Think of the ISO as being the curtain at a theatrical play.  When the curtain is low you don’t see a lot of stage lights, when the curtains are high you have those beautiful lights beating down on the stage.  Like the curtain, the lower the ISO number the less light you see.  The higher the ISO number the more light you see. So if you are in-doors your ISO will always need to be set higher!  Pull up the curtains!!!  However, if you are outdoors your ISO will need to be low, pull down the shades that sunlight will blind you!
      • Conclusion:  Lower ISO number = LESS light.  Higher ISO number = MORE light!!!!
      • Note:  The higher the ISO number the more grain you will introduce to your image.  Don’t go too high.  Use your shutter speed more often than your ISO as a tool for bringing in light.
      • My standard ISO speed:  I keep mine on 100 or 200 when I am outside.  I don’t like to adjust this if possible.  If I am inside I will take it up to no more than 2000.
    • Aperture– YOUR BEST FRIEND!   I always shoot ‘wide-open’, that means I have my aperture set at the LOWEST f-stop my lens will allow.  Aperture is what makes that depth of field, that blur, that dreamy yummy goodness photographers strive to achieve.  I do not like a lens that won’t let me shoot lower than 2.8 f-stop. Note:  This is just my preference because I like a great deal of blur.  Please use whatever f-stop you like.
      • The larger the aperture the more light comes in.  The smaller the aperture the less light comes in.  However, to adjust aperture you have to change F-stop on your camera.  Here is how to understand aperture in relation to the f-stop adjustment on your camera.
      • For this explanation think of the APERTURE as your pupil of your eye and the F-Stop setting on your camera as the whites of your eye.
      • The larger the pupil (Aperture) equals smaller whites of the eye (F-stop). This makes the camera sharp ONLY where the focus is on and everything else is blurry.  So to achieve this, turn DOWN your F-stop to the lowest setting possible.  By turning the F-stop down you are actually making your aperture larger.  This is what shooting wide open means, it creates blur on anything not in the focus point. My favorite. (Conclusion:  Larger aperture = smaller f-stop #)
      • Smaller pupil (aperture) equals larger whites of the eye (F-stop). Everything will be in focus.  So to achieve this, turn UP your F-stop to the highest setting possible. By turning the F-stop up you are actually making your aperture smaller and making everything in focus, the higher the f-stop number the less background blur you will get. (Conclusion:  Smaller aperture = larger f-stop#)
      • Note:  I don’t use my aperture to adjust my light because I am strict about shooting with it all the way open (smallest f-stop possible) but you can use it for light by using the above explanation.  Also, because aperture controls depth of field if you are shooting a group of people you will not want to go as low as I describe here.  You will need to have your f-stop at 2.8 or above (depending on the size and distance your clients are). 
    • Ok so you have learned what these three settings are and how to use them to create more or less light.  Take many test shots and begin making camera adjustments to these three things.  I want you to start with just adjusting your shutter speed.  If this is all you need to do to get the perfect exposure than you are done.  If after adjusting the shutter speed and taking a new test shot you still need more or less light, then go to the next step which was the ISO. Try to let the aperture setting stay consistent.  I do not adjust this much ever.  I keep mine between 1.4 and 2.8 – never higher.


Thank you,

Stacie Jensen




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About stacie

Simple Gal with a camera and a passion! I have loved art since I can remember. I excelled in art classes, so quickly I realized I had to make this a career. When I graduated in 1996, I immediately jumped into web design and then naturally went into graphic design and photography. I can’t seem to stop the creative idea’s from flowing. I want to create, create, create! xoxo Stacie Jensen

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