What DSLR Auto Settings Can Teach You About Shooting Full Manual

What DSLR Auto Settings Can Teach You About Shooting Full Manual

You hear this a lot if you follow pro photog blogs:

“You should ALWAYS shoot manual mode. Get off Auto!”

Well, I’m no pro, and I’m here to tell you that those auto settings serve a significant purpose – teaching you HOW to shoot manual. (Plus, in a pinch, you’ll still get the subject if not the special effects…)

My photography puttering in the garden today was a great example. I wanted to practice my bokeh skills (topic for another post) so I put my EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 lens on my APS-C body, mounted it on my tripod and headed out to the glowing flowers in my backyard. (None of the images below have been through post-processing adjustments.)

Lessons Learned

I discovered something I haven’t heard spoken about often enough, that practicing with a variety of partially or fully auto settings can teach you how you want to set your manual mode when you work with it. For example, the shot on the left is at ISO 100 and the right is 200 (higher ISO makes the sensor more sensitive to light).

Then there’s manual versus auto. Left is manual with my best guesses as to what would work. Right is full auto, so the settings are what the camera’s computer chose. I’m not delighted with either result as you can probably guess from the range of differences.

What You Can Do Differently TODAY

First, pick a subject and take as many pictures as you have the time and patience for. Don’t change the subject or framing, only the settings. It’s easiest if you follow a pattern. For example, on my Canon EOS Rebel T7i, I try Av (aperture priority), then Tv, then full Auto, then Auto no flash.

THEN, based on what I’ve learned reviewing the images on my LCD screen, I move to Manual on the camera and shoot more images. Finally, I turn off my lens’ autofocus and take even more.

The last step is comparing the results on a computer screen. Did you know that the photo viewing function on your computer comes with a ‘File Info’ or ‘File Properties’ tag? Ditto for Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. Check the settings for the same framing on shots that turned out and ones that didn’t and examine the differences.

I’ll circle back to this again – you need to practice to understand how not only the setting combinations work in general, but how your camera and lens combos handle conditions. My older Canon produced different results with the same settings. My telephoto zoom and my standard zoom overlap in focal range, and they each produced differences at the same aperture and focal length.

This weekend pack your patience, your camera, and your lenses, and find a subject with complexity and depth. The practice (and the results) may surprise you!

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