I have had quite a few people come on the photography walk-shops that I teach through DJB Photography School, and when I start the lesson, I always ask everyone in the group what it is that they would like to achieve. The most common answer bar none is "to take my camera off of automatic mode". Learning to use a camera in Manual mode, should be one of the main priorities for anyone looking to improve their photography, as it gives the photographer absolute control over the image, and allows the photographer to achieve any look they desire, or compensate for tricky shooting environments. "Take my camera off of automatic mode" is of course an excellent answer and a very good target to have, but I thought I would write a few little notes about automatic mode, because it is often a bit misunderstood.
What is automatic mode?
Simply put, your camera picks for your settings for you. Usually this means your camera picks the ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture, and often the white balance as well. Whilst the sorts of scene selection screens below can make it appear as if your camera has all these super complicated ways of taking each of these types of pictures, the big secret is WAY more simple than that. Each of these options simply changes the same 3 or 4 settings (Iso, Aperture, Shutter Speed, White Balance) and prioritises one or another depending on the type of shot. Its that simple. For example, if you select "landscape" your camera will try and find the correct exposure, whilst prioritising the aperture to ensure a long depth of field.
Camera will likely set the aperture to wide open (F4 or less) to achieve a short-depth of field and blurry background, and adjust the other settings around that.
Camera will prioritise and select a fast shutter speed to make sure moving subjects are not blurry, and will adjust the other settings.
The camera knows that the subject is likely in low light, a
nd will select a high ISO in order to allow for the use of faster shutter speeds in low light.
Why its not always that bad:
The thing is, if you are just getting in to photography and are not yet confident using your camera on Manual mode just yet, manual mode can be a good fall back to make sure you don't miss your shot. Say for example you are on a walk on the beach and are a bit confused about to take a good picture of a sunset, using these preset automatic modes are great fall back to have. You can get your shot which will likely turn out just fine, then once you have it saved on your memory card, play around to your hearts content fine tuning it in manual mode. Also, for scenes shot with good lighting, such as a sunny afternoon in the park or an evening beach shot, using automatic mode will likely turn out pretty good. Knowing how to get the absolute best shot using manual mode takes time and a lot of practice, so don't miss out on the good pictures in the meantime.