Why Your Camera’s Auto Mode Is Evil (And Why You Should Avoid It)

Digital SLRs are like handbags. You either carry one around because you want to impress people with it or you have a utilitarian need for it.

These days, everyone seems to have a DSLR and I often wonder which category most people with them fall into. I have a faint suspicion that 95% of people are in the former category and for them a camera is simply a fashion or image statement. In the odd chance that you are in the latter category – and you bought a DSLR because you consider yourself an artist – this article is for you.

And when I call you an artist, I don’t mean that you’re into wearing skinny jeans and/or stripy stockings, like everything “vintage” and have a habit of using words like “rad” and “babes”. Because that would plant you right back into the former category again. I mean that, on some level, you are driven by a yearning to create something. And you bought a DSLR as a tool with which you plan to accomplish that.

So, let’s get started.

The first control you’ll probably notice on your camera is the PASM dial. It’s the fiddly round control that sits on top and left part of your camera body. And it’s called that because it’s an acronym for the main four modes that your DSLR has: Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual. Some cameras will give you a choice of additional modes, but you don’t need to worry about them for now.

Program Mode is an automatic mode, which is a feature for people who are recovering from a lobotomy. Don’t use it. If you look carefully, you’ll notice that there’s another automatic mode, aptly labelled Auto. Forget about that, too. Which leaves you with 3 other modes, in which you can grow your skills as a photographer and an artist.

family photography

So, why am I against you using automatic modes? Well, it’s the same reason why, when your closest friends come over for dinner, you might be tempted to make the dinner yourself instead of calling in take-away.

It’s because you want to make the art you’re producing – be it cooking dinner, taking photos, making coffee or manning a reception desk – your own, and it’s important to you that the recipient of your art experiences that there’s a unique element of you that has influenced the final outcome.

Art is unique. it’s an expression of something important to the artist. It is not something that can be created by a machine. Which is why “automatic” and “artist” are always at odds with each other.

Using automatic modes will help you take sharp, well-exposed pictures. And that’s important. But photography, at its core, has nothing to do with that. A good photograph is one that communicates. It tells a story. And you, as an artist, are someone who shares your stories through the photographs you create.

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Think of your camera as more of a fancy pen rather than a visual instrument. If you had a pen in your hand instead of a camera right now, what story would you write? Who would you write about? What would your angle be? Which emotions would you want to elicit in your audience?

And would you want the pen to just write the story for you?

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