When just starting out in photography the typical person will begin their journey with the camera set to Auto. Using this mode tells the camera to choose the ISO, shutter speed, aperture, flash and focus.

To be honest, the Auto mode has gotten much better over the years, and it can really lead to nice photographs. But the photographer still needs to think about composition and focal length.

There is so much more to photography than simply clicking the shutter button and moving along. It’s an art and with the art comes choices. Decisions have to be made for the creative endgame.

Each decision you make when setting up a photograph has an effect on something else. For example, a higher ISO means more sensitivity to light which means you can use faster shutter speeds or smaller apertures. But it also means more noise or grain in your photograph.

For the rest of this article, I am going to share my advice to get out away from Auto step by step.

5 Steps to Get Out of Auto

Step 1: Switch to Program mode

The P mode on your camera is similar to the Auto mode where it will choose your aperture and shutter speed. However, typically unless your camera is also set to Auto ISO, you will have to choose your ISO, and whether to use the built-in flash. Depending on your camera and its lens, you might have the ability to switch to manual focus while in P mode as well.

The P in this mode stands for Program and is intended to provide slightly more flexibility of control to the automatic exposure. In fact, in P mode you can even use exposure compensation, which looks like +/- on most cameras. Using exposure compensation allows you to digitally raise or lower the exposure from what the camera chooses. (This button can be used in manual modes too.)

Program mode is a good step away from Auto as it allows you more creative control over your photograph. But it’s still technically automatic, so let’s keep stepping away from that, shall we?

Step 2: Switch to Aperture Priority

Aperture Priority is the mode on your camera that allows you to set the aperture of your lens. But while in that mode, the camera will decide on the shutter speed.

While in Aperture Priority, your camera acts like Program mode, but with even more control because of what I just stated above.

This means that you can still control the ISO if you want, you still control flash if you want and you can even use Exposure Compensation if you want.

But you cannot control the shutter speed. That is what you give up by using this mode.

An example of when you might consider using Aperture Priority is a portrait outdoors. If it is bright enough your camera will automatically pick a fast shutter speed to go along with whatever Aperture you specify.

Switching to Aperture Priority will unlock new potential because now you’re deciding the depth of field of your photographs. You can choose if the background will be slightly blurry, or extremely blurry.

Neat, right?

Step 3: Switch to Shutter Priority

Just like in Aperture Priority, this mode is partially Program mode and partially Manual. Shutter Priority is exactly as it sounds. You are giving yourself control over the shutter speed of your camera.

But like Aperture Priority, you’re letting your camera control something for you. In this case of Shutter Priority, you’re letting your camera decide on the aperture to be used.

An example of when Shutter Priority might come in handy is a sports game. If your child is playing soccer you can set your shutter speed at 1/1000 and either choose a low ISO or put your camera in Auto ISO. Then the camera will choose the aperture to go along with the frame.

But the great part is that at 1/1000 you’re unlikely to have any blur in the motion of your photos. Especially if your child is running after a ball.

So the advantage is control over movement in your photo, but you give up the depth of field. Because your camera might pick a shallow depth of field (more background blur) when you might want something deeper (less background blur).

Learn More About Cameras

Step 4: Learn more about cameras

Experiment with scene modes, if your camera has it, but do this only to pay attention to what settings are turned on for each of the modes. For example, portrait mode will pop up the flash and turn on red-eye reduction. It will also try to use a small aperture whenever possible.

Now I want you to browse the Photofocus website, head over to YouTube and attend some photography workshops.

Learn everything you can about aperture, ISO and shutter speed.

You can learn for free, so please don’t skip.

Once you increase your knowledge, it’s time to put it to the test. Experiment — especially if you use a digital camera. One advantage of digital is you’re not wasting film and not paying every time you click the shutter button.

It’s OK to make mistakes because you can learn from them.


Step 5: Switch to Manual mode

Now that you’ve experimented with Program, Shutter and Aperture modes, you should have an understanding of how more of your camera settings work. You should now have a better understanding of:

  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed
  • ISO
  • Flash
  • Exposure Compensation
  • Focus
  • Focal lengths

And so much more!


Don’t end your training here, though. Keep experimenting, keep learning and keep making art. That’s the only way you’ll learn.