Case Study: How I Went From Auto to Manual Mode With Auto to Awesome

One of the things I love seeing is the change in people’s photos as they are learning photography - where you can literally see the difference in the “befores” and “afters” - and I know this is inspiring for many of you too!

So today I’ve got a case study for you that I think you are absolutely going to eat up :-)

It's from one of my amazing Auto to Awesome students, Erica, and she’s put together some amazing before and after photos for us, plus some of her favourite photos. It shows two things - how learning photography doesn’t just happen overnight, and also that with the right training, you can absolutely take amazing images with an entry level camera. (Although she has since upgraded, Erica shot most of these images with an entry level DSLR and kit lens - proof that you don’t need the most expensive gear to take great photos)

For those of you who are already in Auto to Awesome, I hope it inspires you to keep going through the program! And if you’ve been thinking about maybe enrolling in Auto to Awesome, this is one blog post you’ll definitely want to read.

Photographer Case Study with Erica - How I went from AUTO to Manual Mode with Auto to Awesome.

One more thing before I hand you over to Erica. If you are learning photography I have a free download that I think you’ll find incredibly valuable! It’s my 90 Day Photography Learning Blueprint - and you’ll get the EXACT steps you need to take to learn photography. GO OVER HERE TO DOWNLOAD it, then come back here and jump in with Erica!

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, and why you wanted to learn photography in the first place?

Hi! My name is Erica. I live in South Florida and am married to my high school sweetheart, Justin. We have two kids, Benjamin (2.5 years old) and Caroline (2 months).

In the very beginning of my photography journey, I took photos on either my point and shoot camera, flip phone, or the camera on the front of my Macbook. It wasn’t until my husband and I got married in 2012 that I upgraded from a flip phone to a smartphone. At that point I began to solely used my smart phone for photos because it was just so convenient.

However, I knew we eventually wanted kids and I cringed to think of their entire childhood documented with low quality cell phone photos. This was the biggest motivator for me to want to learn photography!


When did you start to learn photography, and what did you try first?

In 2014, as an anniversary gift, I got a Canon Rebel t3i and was so thrilled to begin taking “real” photos!

I started in complete Auto mode taking photos of everything I could get my hands on—our backyard, my husband, fruit bowls, and our dog, Logan.


Really early on, I decided I wanted to learn more about my camera’s capabilities beyond Auto mode and decided I was going to learn Manual Mode. A quick google search led me to Live Snap Love’s blog. I was immediately hooked and read post after post. I also searched some other photography websites, watched YouTube videos and just took out my camera often to apply what I was learning as best as I could.

While I was able to piece together the theory of manual mode, I really struggled to put it into practice. Often my photos were not looking like I wanted or expected. Looking back, while I understood the exposure triangle, I did not understand how to properly choose correct settings to meet my needs for a variety of situations. Often I would end up with a properly exposed photo but it was blurry because my shutter speed was too low, or my aperture was to wide. It was a guessing game to get my settings correct and I never really knew what I was going to end up with.


Beyond the exposure triangle, I majorly struggled with other huge aspects of photography: white balance, composition techniques, toggling focus points, and editing. I really was missing so much information!

After reading and referring to Audrey’s blog for nearly 2 years, I finally signed up for the free Beginners Bootcamp challenge. I was 2 months away from giving birth to my first child, so I wanted to know how to use my DSLR camera I had owned for years and only somewhat understood how to use.

When my son was 9 months old, I decided I wanted to learn more and truly cement my learning so I finally decided to join Auto to Awesome. It was the best decision I ever made and I wish I hadn’t waited that long to sign up!


Almost immediately, everything just began to make way more sense. My photos were closer to what I expected them to be because I was able to make decisions about my settings that matched my vision.

The course took me from only understanding photography in theory to confidently knowing how to put it into practice. I can now quickly make decisions about settings to get a technically correct photo before even lifting my camera. I don’t get frustrated with taking photos because I don’t sit there fumbling with dials and settings hoping eventually to get everything correct.

After completing Auto to Awesome, I decided to take the Launch into Lightroom and Photoshop Fundamentals courses and this when I really started to feel more confident in my photography. It was then that I could then take my technically correct photos into editing and fine tune them. I’ve really come to love the editing process - it’s now my favorite part of photography! I love being able to feel like my photos are truly finished, sometimes I do a quick clean edit and other times I really enjoy to creatively manipulate my photos.


Let’s move on to the present. What gear do you shoot with? Do you have a favourite lens?

I started with my canon rebel t3i and kit lens.

I eventually added a Canon 50mm 1.8, Canon 35mm 2.0, and Canon 85mm 1.8 to my lens collection. Recently I upgraded to a canon 5D Mark IV, but the majority of the photos I’ve shared were taken with my Rebel.

My go-to lens is my 35mm. It’s perfect for shooting in tight quarters around the house and it allows me to stay close to my kids when we are out and about. I would love to add a telephoto lens to my collection for the gorgeous bokeh it provides, but I currently am not comfortable with letting my 2.5 year old get so far away!


Is there any advice you received or read that stuck with you?

Pick up your camera and shoot as often as possible. It’s the best way to cement your learning.


How do you get inspired and stay creative?

I am majorly inspired by my kids to continue taking photos. They are both changing so quickly and I want to capture every little phase they are in as best as I can. I look for creative moments to capture our everyday. I don’t want to forget how my son loved to “help” me cook breakfast by mixing up the eggs, how he sucks his thumb for comfort, or how he looks out our windows for the garbage truck in the mornings.


I don’t want to forget how my husband looked at our daughter as he held her for the first time, or how much she has changed in her first few months of life. On the days that I am uninspired to pick up my camera, I can usually find inspiration in something my kids are doing.


Additionally, I find that following other photographers on Instagram has helped me develop a style and approach for taking photos. When I feel like I’m lacking creativity, a quick scroll through other photographers’ work helps encourage me to pick up my camera and try new things, whether it’s new lighting situations, locations, or perspectives.


Do you have any advice that you would like to pass along to new photographers?

Shoot photos as often as you can! Figuring out your camera settings begin to feel like second nature. Once you’ve figured out the basics it gets a lot more fun because you can focus your energy on creativity, composition, new ways to use light, and the editing process.


What’s next on your photography journey?

I would love to begin a photography business. Capturing my own family has brought me such joy that I hope to be able to do the same for others.



Hi! I’m Erica. I was an elementary school teacher, but became a stay at home mom in 2016 after my son was born. I am a self-proclaimed “momtog” and am obsessed with documenting my two children. Photography has been such a perfect fit into my current life. As a mom to two littles, it’s hard to find time for myself. However, photography has allowed me to peruse a hobby, have an ongoing personal project, and continue to learn and grow as a photographer while simultaneously connecting with my family and capturing the details of our lives.



Huge thanks to Erica for taking the time out of her busy life to share her story, her before and after photos, and some of her most recent absolutely freaking gorgeous images! I hope her story motivates you to learn your camera, and inspires you to get out there and start shooting your own life. Before we go, remember to download your own photography learning blueprint right here!

Photographer Case Study with Erica - How I went from AUTO to Manual Mode with Auto to Awesome.