Using Auto Mode To Learn Photography.

Firstly, thanks to Anuj Agarwal for including this blog in the Top 75 Street Photography Blogs & Websites. I’m in at Number 54, which can’t be a bad thing. I now get to use this rather snazzy looking award. Check out the full list of sites at


When to use Auto Mode

Yesterday I shot with the intention of seeing how my new Sony Rx100 iv behaved as a camera for Street Photography. Read any reviews on the Sony Rx series, and it soon becomes clear that the controls are not user-friendly. This camera begs for use of automation. Putting the camera in Auto mode strips the user of some artistic control, such as choice of f-stop, or the focus point. However, cameras appear to be growing in ‘intelligence’, and sometimes the auto mode will make a far better choice of settings then you or I ever would.

Street Portrait

The Importance of EXIF

My argument for using Auto mode is that it is a tool that can teach us more about how a camera works. To learn what the camera can do, you need to study the EXIF data. For any newbies out there, this is the information stored in the file telling you the settings used. The EXIF will state the ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed and Focal Length. When using Lightroom, hitting ‘i’ will bring up this information. Checking the EXIF will give you a good starting point for what settings you can try, and it will also tell you a little bit about your camera.

What I Learned

My learning experience will be different to yours; this information is just an example of what the EXIF can teach us. Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised at how the camera kept the ISO low. A low ISO means less noise and a better quality photo. Unless I discover a shortcut, this particular camera is likely to remain in Auto ISO mode as I am happy with the settings it defaults to (Although I may see if I can set the front ring to adjust this setting).

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EXIF: 1/80 sec, f/2.8, ISO 800

Secondly, the camera ‘chose’ an F-stop that was much lower than I would have dialed in. I often shoot using a high F-stop to get everything in focus (except for Street Portraits), however, with the Rx100 images look sharp enough at around f2.8. There is a reason for using different aperture settings with respect to sensor size. I have always used an APS-C or a M4/3 sensor. The Sony has a smaller 1″ sensor. The smaller the sensor, the lower the f-stop can be while retaining sharpness, i.e., I will go up to f8 using my Nikon D7100 (APS-C sensor) and up to 5.6 with my Olympus (M4/3). After studying my EXIF, I will stick to 2.8 for most of my Street Photography undertaken with the Sony Rx100.

The EXIF showed the camera chose an adequate shutter speed, although it erred on the safe side, often shooting at 1/200+ for stationary subjects . With the camera’s five-axis stabilization, I know I can take photos handheld with speeds as low as 1/30 of a second. Shutter speed is one reason why I would never default to just using Auto mode. I can see how fast something is moving and know the shutter speed my camera needs to be set for keeping an image sharp.

Focus on the frame, not the camera settings.

To learn effectively, it is often wise to focus on ONE skill. If you are not proficient at getting out of auto (or slow at finding the right settings), then you can choose to allow the camera to handle all of that for you. AUTO mode will free you to think only about composition, a skill arguably more important than understanding a camera’s settings.

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EXIF: 1/250 sec, f/2.8, ISO 125

Now get out of AUTO!

I am not advocating using the Automatic mode all the time. Ultimately it will make you a lazy photographer. Learning how the different settings work will give you artistic freedom to create the photo you envision when spotting a scene of interest. However, don’t snub it – the technology is becoming better all the time, and the camera can make some significant decisions on its own. Don’t forget to study the EXIF data to find out what the camera has done. Follow this up by thinking about WHY the camera has chosen the settings it did.

That all for today folks. Keep an eye on my Youtube channel. My next Vlog post is going to go into more depth on my experience of using the Sony Rx100 iv for Street Photography.

Take care and Keep Clicking, Chris

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One Comment on “Using Auto Mode To Learn Photography.

  1. Auto mode can be a great teacher. Either way – I it is important that we learn the basics of aperture, speed and ISO!


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