Most people getting started with photography begin with their camera in Auto mode. In fact, everybody does.
At some point, however, the thought begins to creep into your mind that you should be shooting in some other mode. You begin to see others’ photography and their control over the camera and would like to do this as well.
You may have even dipped your toe in the water and moved to another mode. Doubtlessly, the pictures were over-exposed, blurry, or pitch black. So you quickly scurried back to the safety of Auto mode. We have all done this.
How do you take this plunge then? You know you need to make this switch to improve your photography, but you cannot bear the thought of your pictures being ruined while you figure this out.
Here is my 5-step program for ending your addition to Auto Mode:
Step 1: Pick a week in which you plan to take absolutely no pictures.
Obviously, the big family vacation or a kids birthday is not the time to experiment and risk having all your pictures ruined. So pick a week where you are not planning to take any pictures anyway as the time you move out of Auto Mode. Go ahead and mark your calendar now!
Since you were not going to take any pictures this week anyway, the fact that the pictures you are about to take this week will all be ruined is of no consequence at all. Now you have no worries about screwing up your pictures (and, yes, you will screw some of them up).
Step 2: Switch the camera to Manual mode.
When that week arrives, it is time to make the switch to Manual mode. Not one of the creative modes. Not any other mode. Go with full Manual. You can switch to one of the other modes if you want later. But if you master Manual mode now, you will have the camera figured out.
Step 3: Refresh your understanding of Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO.
If you are not already familiar with exposure concepts like shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, which are the 3 settings you will be adjusting in Manual mode, go back and read the tutorials on this blog.
Or if you want to be an over-achiever, read Bryan Peterson’s book “Understanding Exposure“.
Step 4: Practice for 7 Days.
Practice just a little bit every day until you’ve got it figured out. My guess is that this will take seven days. You don’t need to practice more than 10 minutes a day (although it wouldn’t hurt).
It is important that you do this every day. You cannot get your mind around this in one sitting. It is confusing at first, there is no doubt about it. The numbers measuring shutter speed go up and then down. The aperture numbers are reciprocals.
You need to walk away from it each day after having made a little progress. When you come back, you will be surprised at how much better you understand it.
Step 5: Do not switch out of Manual mode for any reason!
For this 7-day period, you must absolutely refuse to switch out of Manual mode!
You will want to go back to the safety of Auto mode. You will long for the good pictures you used to take. Remember that you were not going to take any pictures during this time anyway, so there is no sense worrying about the quality of the pictures you are taking now. Don’t give up!
At the end of this period of seven days or so, you should be starting to get the hang of it. Don’t worry if you are still messing up. That happens to everyone.
Once you’ve got the hang of this, you will definitely notice that you have a great deal of control over the camera. You should notice an improvement in your picture quality.
You can switch to other modes now if you want. Be careful though, as you are not cured yet, and the odds of relapse to Auto mode in this initial period are high. In particular, try Aperture Priority mode. Many pros shoot in this mode, and it is easier to use than Manual. Or you might find, like me, that you actually prefer Manual Mode.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that I haven’t mentioned the specifics of using the controls in manual mode. That’s because I have already written about those items here:
Check out those posts to help you with your specific settings. And good luck We’ll be waiting for you on the other side.