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Getting out of Auto mode is something that nearly every new photographer aspires to. “Automatic” is perceived by many to be a bad word. And photographers who know what they are doing would never shoot in Auto, would they?
Auto mode has its place in photography. It’s a way for novices to dip a toe in the image making pool, and it allows seasoned shooters to forget about settings and focus on just getting a shot.
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But there comes a point when Auto mode is simply too limiting. When you want or need more control over your camera, you’ll need to look to Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or, dare I say, Manual mode.
For those new to the game, those camera modes might be the source of some anxiety, but successfully using one of the more advanced shooting modes isn’t terribly complicated.
These three simple exposure-related principles will help get you out of Auto mode forever.
1. Use Aperture Priority To Control Depth Of Field
Understanding aperture is one of the first steps you can take to get more creative with your photography.
Aperture controls depth of field; depth of field, in turn, describes the section of an image that is in focus and is typically referred to as being either shallow or deep. When a relatively small portion of a subject is in focus and the rest falls off into a soft blur, the photo exhibits shallow depth of field; portraits are often made this way. Conversely, deep depth of field is is exhibited when much of a subject is in focus, as commonly seen in landscape photographs.
When you select aperture priority, you choose the aperture you want and the camera will choose the shutter speed.
Of course, there are multiple factors that affect depth of field — lens to subject distance, lens focal length, and sensor size — but manipulating aperture gives you easy, direct control over depth of field. A small aperture (large f-number) will result in deep depth of field; a large aperture (small f-number) will result in shallow depth of field.
2. Use Shutter Priority To Control Motion
Shutter speed is simply a measure of how long the camera’s shutter remains open.
By using shutter priority you’re prioritizing motion effects rather than depth of field. Choose your shutter speed and the camera will select the aperture.
There are two primary types of motion effects: freezing motion and motion blur.
Freezing motion is common in sports photography, for example, and is accomplished by using a fast shutter speed — at least 1/500th of a second. The goal is to craft a meaningful photo that showcases a particular gesture; the proverbial decisive moment matters in these situations, as you want to freeze the moment that is the best indicator of the activity at hand.
Motion blur is a fascinating way of conveying movement because it allows you to “see” motion while also incorporating a degree of abstraction. Motion blur is achieved by using a slow shutter speed. Exactly how slow will depend on the subject and how much blur you want to capture.
When working with long shutter times you will typically want to use a tripod in order to avoid having everything in your shot turn out blurry. One exception, however, would be panning, a method of capturing motion by tracking your subject’s motion with your camera. This keeps the subject relatively sharp while blurring the background in such a way to invoke a sense of speed.
3. Use ISO To Keep Working When The Light Fades
No, there’s no ISO priority mode on your camera’s mode dial, but it’s likely your camera has an auto ISO function.
Auto ISO works in conjunction with aperture priority, shutter priority and manual modes and it does exactly what the term suggests — ISO will be automatically adjusted by the camera based on how you’ve set either aperture or shutter speed.
This allows you the freedom of not having to worry so much about lighting conditions that might be in constant flux.
What About Full Manual Mode?/Final Thoughts
knowing how to work in manual mode is a skill all photographers should possess, not because it represents some sort of creative authenticity, but there will simply be times when total control over exposure settings is the only way the capture a shot the way you envision it.
By starting with the semi-auto modes of aperture priority and shutter priority, you’ll have an easier time transitioning into manual mode. And you can still enjoy the convenience of auto ISO.
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