Still taking most of your photos on Auto and too scared to make the move to Manual? You probably already know that in order to get the shots your camera is capable of, it really needs some guidance from you! The good news is that your camera has some features that allow you to begin to very, very gently move away from Auto and start to gain a little more control, which will in turn greatly improve your pics - all whilst you pluck up the courage to switch over to full manual control! (Go on, you know you want to!)
What's Wrong with AUTO?
First off, it's best to understand what your camera is going to do on Auto. In this mode, all your camera can do is have a look at the light available and try to come with the correct exposure by setting the aperture, shutter speed and ISO for you. The problem is, the camera doesn't know what you are trying to photograph so it aims for a middle ground - middle of the road aperture, and middle of the road shutter speed - to try to cover all eventualities. This is why you will often end up with photos that have a "snapshot" quality to them - middle of the road settings is going to give you middle of the road photos most of the time. (OK, you might luck out from time to time but you know what I mean!) I have also noticed that cameras will also frequently give you a shutter speed that is far too low, resulting in blur in your shots - it's so common when shooting indoors in low light. However, some very quick changes on your dial mode can improve your photos enormously, so here goes.
Start with Scene Modes
"Scene modes" are basically a way of telling the camera what you are photographing so that it can determine what is the most important setting, and it will work out an exposure based on that. Perhaps you are photographing a running child where you want to freeze the action? Then choose "Sports" (or "Action") so your camera knows that shutter speed is important, and it will choose a higher one to stop any motion blur. Or perhaps you want to take a photo of someone and have a nice blurred background? Then choose "portrait", and it will assume that the most important setting is aperture, and it will select a lower one to help give you that blurred background. It's basically giving your camera a small clue as to what is going on so it can make some changes to the settings for you - it's not ideal or perfect, but it will get you a lot closer. Whilst I'm not a fan of staying on these too long, perhaps they can be of help when you are very, very first starting out, as you can see the changes that the camera makes in the same lighting situation between each modes. Ultimately though, you are still more clever than your camera is even in Scene Mode, which is why you should to try to next use…..
These modes are like the halfway house between Auto and Manual, and might be the next step in your journey to manual mode. These modes allow you to choose what your most important setting is, and the camera works out the correct exposure by setting the remaining two for you. The two main modes are Aperture and Shutter Priority. I pretty much always use Aperture Priority if I am going to use a semi-automatic mode (not often) as I believe this gives you the most creative control for shooting children generally. If you are in a situation where a constant high shutter speed is vital - say a football match - then feel free to use Shutter Priority. In addition to helping you get better settings, using semi-automatic modes will also start to allow other settings in your camera to come into play - for example you can turn off your flash or shoot in RAW.
Are you getting the feeling that I've been building up to this?! Well, yes I have! There is no substitute for taking FULL control of your camera, and it's the best way to get the images you dream of (Here's just 10 reasons why). My opinion is the sooner you get started, the sooner you'll get good at it, so best get going now :)
Is there a learning curve? Yes. Will you stuff up a few times? Yes. Will you fumble around trying to get your settings right? Yes. But only for a little while - soon, shooting in manual mode will become second nature to you so you don't even think about it. Although I occasionally switch to a semi automatic mode, it just feels weird to me to now, and I miss the control, so it's a last resort!
Honestly, just do it: make the switch NOW and I promise you won't look back.