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Leaving your camera's auto mode - The Photography Express

Leaving your camera’s auto mode

Today’s question is from Ann. Her question is about leaving your camera’s auto mode and I’ve provided her exact wording right here: “I do not want to shoot all of my photos in auto. Sometimes, I get very confused as to the best settings for certain situations. The “Sweet Sixteen” was helpful but I still get confused.”

Hi Ann first of all thank you for your email! From your question looks like you wants to get out of the Auto zone and learn how to use manual exposure in different lighting situation. Let me break up my suggestions for you (I know the email is a little too long I hope you don’t get too intimated by this).

1) Understand ISO, Aperture and Shutter speed and the relationship between them:

ISO – Your camera’s sensitivity to light. You can adjust it on your camera if you have a DSLR. The lower the number (eg ISO100) is less sensitive your camera gets. Which also means ISO100 is great to use outdoor during sunny day and ISO 3200 is good for indoor lowlight situation. You may ask why don’t we just use high ISO all the way? The big disadvantage is that it makes your photo looks noisy (more grainy)

Aperture – How much light travel into your camera. You may probably heard of the term F stop. F stop is a number that measures how much light goes into your camera sensor. For example, when you hear people say f1.8 and f8, what is the difference? Well, the lower the f stop (eg. f1.8), the more light travels into your camera. It just means the aperture blades (or the hole) inside your lens is larger so more light travels through it. On the other hand, the higher the f stop (f8) the less light travel into your camera because the hole is smaller in your lens.

In summary if you are shooting in a darker situation, use a lower f stop (eg f1.8). If you are outdoor in a sunny day then use a higher f stop (eg f8)

Shutter speed – How long your camera sensor is exposed to light. The more time it’s exposed, generally the brighter your photo gets. A shutter speed of 1/60 is longer than a shutter speed of 1/100. When you get to say shutter speed of 1/1000 that’s really fast and you can stop motions in that kind of speed. On the other hand a 1 second exposure is quite slow and you will capture movements in your photographs.

For more information, read my 10 steps here: http://www.thephotographyexpress.com/start-here/

Especially try my little quiz on step 5 to truly understand the relationship between ISO, Aperture and shutter speed. http://www.thephotographyexpress.com/step-5-putting-it-all-together/

2) The “sweet sixteen” tips that you heard is probably referring to using f16 for most of your photographs. This is more a standard aperture people use in your photography. I don’t recommend that because every situation is different. The best way to start leaving the Auto mode is to use Aperture priority mode. So that you only need to set aperture while your camera set everything else. With the Aperture priority mode (AV for Canon, A for Nikon) I’ve the following suggestion:

Sunny day outdoor- Use f11

Overcast day outdoor – Use f4

Indoor – Use f2.8

Low light indoor – f2 or below

This is just a general rule I use from my experience. It may be different in each situation. I hope this answered your question but feel free to contact me again for further questions! Cheers!

About Gary

A passionate photographer with goals to fulfill your photography passion and motivate you to take pictures even when life is busy!


  1. I just stumbled upon you through Pinterest and have already read through a bunch of your posts. You have so much usefull and excellently explained information. I LOVE your site!

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