Getting Comfortable With Auto

Welcome back to SimplifyingPhotography. Our goal is to get everyone comfortable with their camera in a simple to read and understandable fashion. In our last post we asked you to take your camera out, review the manual that came with it, and get comfortable with the dials and buttons on it.

Since most people likely have a digital single lens or full frame camera, we will use that as the basis for our exercises. If you have a point and shoot, many of the exercises will still be applicable, you might need to review the manual or onboard documents to find some of the settings.

Now that you have checked that your batteries are charged and you have room on your memory card, pick up your camera. As a safety precaution I ensure that the neck strap is around my neck. Hold the camera in your left hand, and on top, you should see a dial that has letters on it such as A, S, M, Auto, P, and depending on the manufacturer of your camera maybe a few others. Turn the dial to Auto or whatever the complement is for your make.

Next, let’s minimize as much image distortion as we can using some other settings. The two big one’s are on the lens itself, especially if you have a lens that covers multiple focal lengths. Yours might be 18 – 55MM or 55 – 200MM, or some other variation.

First, there is normally a switch labeled as M / A. The M is for manual focusing on the subject. The A is to allow the lens to coordinate with the camera body programming and let the camera auto-focus. Set it to A. Next, on your lens is a switch for image stabilization. If your lens, especially those with longer focal lengths, make sure it is turned on. Even though you think you are standing still, there are always slight variations and movements in posture, hand and arm shakes, and even breathing. Today’s modern cameras and accessories are very sensitive. Turning on image stabilization allows the computer software to compensate for this. Note small movements can be exaggerated with longer lenses…in part because they are heavier to hold.

In future posts we will get into more detail, but for now, find something that you want to take an image of. Indoor, outdoor, doesn’t matter. With our camera on Auto mode, what we are asking our camera to do is control all of the functions that we might set for shutter speed, aperture size (amount of light the lens lets in), and ISO or light sensitivity. We are also going to allow the camera software to compensate for the ambient light present. Basically, if we are in a room with incandescent light, which gives a yellow tinge, the camera will compensate and attempt to lessen the amount of yellow present in the image.

In full disclosure, I am not a fan of Auto, but most people I interact, with some really expensive gear, only use Auto, and have never read their manual. I am using this to get us started.

Exercise: Take a picture three times, at different times and lighting conditions. Take the image. Either through your viewfinder or using the monitor, note the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture for each picture.

Review: With the three images, compare the shutter speed, aperture setting, and ISO for each image. As the lighting changes, these metrics will change. This indicates that the camera is making decisions on how to best take a picture under the conditions presented. If comparing bright afternoon light versus evening or low room lighting, the ISO might be higher, indicating that in the evening we needed more light sensitivity. Maybe too, the shutter speed changed, like going longer in low light.

Look at your images. What do you like? What would you change if you could. If you took a close up of a child or a flower or tree, was everything in crisp focus so that it distracted from your subject? If something was moving, was it blurred or not?

To understand the impact of changing ISO, if you can, print or look at the images on your computer screen. A big screen really helps for this. The image with the lowest ISO setting should be relatively crisp and clear. The image with the highest ISO setting, when enlarged, will show some grain. Imagine if you wanted to blow this up to poster size and hang it on a wall. Well, you’d be disappointed.

Every adjustment you make on a camera impacts something else. The art and technology of taking images is knowing how the key settings of ISO, shutter speed, and aperture interact with one another. We’ll start to handle this in our next post when we concentrate on shutter speed, or shutter priority.

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