top of page

Get away from auto mode shooting!

Recently I asked my followers on Instagram what I could do to help inspire them. One of the most requested things I was asked for was tips to better their photography. So I'm writing this blog to go over some of the basics. Hopefully the following tips will be beneficial for you, so grab your camera and read on!


So most importantly, you need a camera! Many think that you have to have a top of the line camera to obtain great photos, and this most certainly isn't the case. Honestly any camera including the tiny one on your smart phone can take great photos. Taking a great photo isn't about the quality of the camera but much more about the quality of the composition along with other settings I'll get to shortly.

Another important tip to mention going along with that is you need to know how to use your camera and all its abilities. This is yet another part of taking a good photo. Fumbling with a camera you don't know how to use when your kid finally stops fighting and smiles for a photo, or when that sunset light goes off in the mountains is not something you want to be doing. Better to know your camera and it's settings so you can be ready for those moments. So spend some time with your camera, read tips online about yours specifically, and just shoot with it a bunch just having fun and you'll slowly get to know it and will get more comfortable with where certain buttons are and the overall feel of it.

So lets start off with those of you that will be using some sort of camera that has manual modes, not just pre-programmed photo settings. Some phones have manual modes, some point and shoot cameras do and all dslr's do. Somewhere on your camera you should be able to access the manual modes, you should see a few letters for them.

As you can see in the photo above, just to the right of center this Sony A7Riii has a dial and on it a handful of manual shooting modes. The ones I will be focusing on are M, S, A. On some cameras you might not have a dial like this, instead these settings might be in your menu settings. So M, stands for Manual. I honestly don't use Manual mode that often. Manual mode is great when you are shooting static objects or if the light is not changing much. Often I will use manual for photographing waterfalls, stars, architecture and portraits when I'm using additional lighting. Using manual mode can be a little daunting at first, and in my opinion is not a great place to start learning.


S is the next one and it stands for Shutter priority. Shutter priority gives you control of how fast the shutter is, it's great for getting those milky waterfall photos or freezing a moment in time as your kid runs by you or your friend dives from a rock into a beautiful alpine lake.

For waterfall shots what you would want to do is put your camera in S mode. Then depending on how your camera works (either a digital slider or on most Dslr's, a physical dial somewhere on the camera) you can adjust your shutter speed to the proper time. Typically for photographing waterfalls, a good length is anywhere from 1/4 to 4 seconds. What this does is literally leaves the shutter open for that amount of time (which is why a tripod is so important) capturing all the movement in that time frame which gives it that soft effect. My settings for photos like these two above would be about a 2 second exposure, with my ISO at 100.

ISO is your camera sensors sensitivity to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive to light it will be. So when photographing in low light raising the ISO can help get a brighter photo and raise your shutter speed. Be careful with it though, depending on the camera, turning it up too much can lead to a lot of digital noise in the photo, which will make it look grainy and not very sharp.

When photographing waterfalls or any water that you are wanting to get that soft effect on, having a low ISO of 100 is ideal. It will aid in helping you get that long exposure while not letting in too much light to your sensor and making your image overly bright.

In this image my shutter speed was at 1/15. Which was just slow enough to soften the splash of the wave while still showing off the action.

In this photo above I wanted to make sure I froze the moment, and definitely didn't want any blur at all as my friend dove into this beautiful lake. So I set my shutter speed at 1/320. One thing to keep in mind when you are moving your shutter speed around is to adjust your ISO. By raising your shutter speed you are effectively reducing the amount of light you are exposing your sensor to which could darken your image. To help this, you can raise the ISO just enough to bring your exposure to the correct spot. Often you'll see a bar like this to show you where your exposure is at...

The further to the left the level indicator is the darker your image will be, increasing your ISO will bring that back to center and brighten the image.

In most cameras you can also choose to have the histogram on screen all the time. I always review the histogram when composing a photo. It's the same as the exposure bar, the further to the left it is the darker the image is, the further to the right it is, the brighter it will be. What you want to be careful about is having either side stacked up against either said and touching the walls. If it's stacked up against the left then your image is too dark, and up against the right means you have pure white in your image and it's over exposed. So the best is the have it more or less centered. Then you will know you have a well balanced exposure.


We are finally at A. This is how I photograph 90% of the time. Unless I'm photographing waterfalls or stars, I'm usually not too worried about my shutter speed. What I am concerned with is getting my subject in focus. This is where Aperture priority comes in. Aperture controls your depth of field. Do you want everything you are seeing on your screen to be in focus? If you are shooting some grand mountain scene, then the answer usually is yes. So to get everything in focus you'll want a smaller aperture (higher f number) like f/13 or f/16 like in the image below.

But in other situations you might not want the entire frame in focus and for that you'll want a large aperture (small f number) like f2.8 or 3.5. In the next two images I wanted my subject to stand out in the photo to really draw your attention. This is where using aperture priority can be such a powerful tool.

As you can see aperture can make a big difference in a photo. These last two photos shot at f/16 would have looked completely different, it would have brought other parts of the frame in to focus busying the photo and taking away what I was trying to do with it. Another thing to mention about using a large aperture like this is that it lets in much more light. So your ISO more than likely will need to be brought down to compensate for the extra light or by using a faster shutter speed.

So to sum up all that I've gone over on this blog, all three manual modes have their place and I would definitely play around with all of them and see which one you like most and which one makes the most sense for any given situation. One important thing to remember is that your shutter speed, aperture and ISO all work together and ultimately all effect how much light is getting to the sensor, so as you adjust one of those the others will need to be adjusted to make up for the gain or loss of light. For example, if you raise your aperture to f/16 you'll potentially need to raise your ISO or lower your shutter speed to gain more light. On the other side of that if you decrease your aperture to f/3.5, you potentially will need to lower your ISO and speed up your shutter speed to limit the amount of light hitting your sensor.

I know all of this information can be a lot to take in, and the best way is to just play with your camera. Photograph anything and everything, change your settings around often adjusting everything. By doing this you will learn by practice how changing one setting will effect another, and ultimately will get to know your camera better and will get much more comfortable with knowing what your settings will need to be before ever taking a photo. And of course, if you still have more questions feel free to send me a message, I also offer 1 on 1 lessons out in the field to personally teach you on your camera. Message me for info on pricing and availability.

Happy Shooting!!


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page