Semi-Automatic Control – Creativity Even in Auto Mode

auto-camera-settingsIt occurs to me, that if I mention the phrase f-Stops, there are a growing number of young photographers who don’t know what I’m talking about. That’s not bad, if you know what they do.

In the old days, when someone mentioned “f-stops”, we knew they were going to talk about “Depth of Field”. To those of you who have never seen an f-16, don’t worry, it’s not your fault. In this world of automatic cars and power windows, it stands to reason that automatic cameras, would some day dominate the market. That day has come.

In most cameras you now see several “automatic settings”. These include: the green rectangle, the small child’s head, the mountain with a cloud, the small runner, a flower, and a person with a star over one shoulder.

The green rectangle means go. Quick, don’t think about the settings, just start shooting. Unfortunately, this gives you very little creative control. It is a great mode for snap shots or someone who is too intimidated by cameras in general.

The girl’s head is a portrait mode; meaning the camera will pick a small f-stop, giving you a small depth of field. Before I go too far, let me explain the idea of depth of field better. Hold a pencil out at arms length and stare at the tip. Now look beyond the pencil. As the sharp pencil tip becomes soft and the soft background becomes sharp this is “Depth of Field”. The human eye can only focus on one point at a time; but how wide that area of focus is, does vary greatly.

If I want to take a picture of my cute granddaughter who’s playing beside the garbage can, do I want all the garbage can in focus? No. I only want to see my granddaughter, so I choose a “Small” Depth of Field.

If on the other hand, this cute kid is playing in Zion’s National Park in front of a waterfall, do I want both child and water fall in focus? Yes. That’s when I use a landscape mode (the small mountain and cloud), because that’s when the camera would pick a “Large” Depth of field. The easiest way to remember this is: small child equals a small amount in focus. Large Mountain equals a large amount in focus.

auto-camera-settings2The small runner is a sports mode. This allows the camera to pick a fast shutter speed which can stop action. The opposite would be the person with a star. Although basically meant as a night shot mode, it also forces the camera to use a slower shutter speed, good for dreamy effects on moving water.

The flower is a close-up mode – which is similar to the portrait mode, but on a much closer scale. In most cases, the Depth of Field is fairly small. Remember that close-up generally means taking pictures within a foot or two, NOT an inch or two. To get that close you either need a special Macro Lens . . . or a set of Close-Up filters to increase your magnification.

The person with a star over one shoulder indicates a long exposure. Don’t even play with this mode unless you are using a tripod. This is where you start shooting in full seconds, full minutes, or even hours. Great for fireworks or lightning, but not something you want to hold by hand.

Knowing what the symbols are for, gives you much more creative control than always shooting in green mode. Remember your camera is like a paintbrush to the painter, you control how much light to apply to the photo. Point and shoot cameras that offer NO adjustments, are for tourist not photographers. As long as your camera has options; whether they are manual or automatic you still have choices. “Creativity” comes form having those choices and using them.

About the Author:
Award winning writer / photographer Tedric Garrison has 30 years experience in photography ( As a Graphic Art Major, he has a unique perspective. His photo eBook “Your Creative Edge” proves creativity can be taught. Today, he shares his wealth of knowledge with the world through his website.

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One response to “Semi-Automatic Control – Creativity Even in Auto Mode”

  1. Alexandra Auditore says:

    Great article. I’m starting to learn the technical side of camera settings and this has been REALLY helpful. Thanks.

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