Better Family Photography – How “Auto” is Hurting Your Pictures

This post is part of the Better Family Photos series.

If you have a DSLR and you are shooting in auto all of the time, you are missing out. Automatic focus and composition is great for things like distance or group shots, where you want a nicely lighted, flat image. But if you are photographing someone or something close up, especially in family photography, dimension and vision will be missing from otherwise awesome photos. Fully automatic settings remove your choices as a photographer. What do I mean by vision? Check out this post.

In order to show you the difference, here are two photos I just took of my lovely daughter modeling her newest fashion accessories. The first is full on automatic, including flash, since the camera decided that it needed to use the flash. The second is manually set by me, using automatic focus only. You will notice the white balance is totally different. The automatic shot is more yellow, while the manual shot is more blue. The focus is also different. But lowering the f-stop I was able to focus more narrowly while making the background more blurred. The photos speak for themselves. Although there is not a huge difference, using your full auto settings takes away all of your choice as a photographer. Not to mention the flash is pretty harsh, especially on older subjects. The second image is definitely more what I was going for.

better family photography auto vs manual_1
Auto settings: f/2.8 1/60s ISO 320 35mm FLASH
Manual settings: f/2 1/40s ISO 640 35mm NO FLASH

These photos are completely unedited. However if I was going to edit them, I would have a lot more to work with using the photo with manual settings because there are more highs and lows, even though they are subtle… or in photo editing speak, highlights and shadows. In the second photo you can see the shadows from the glasses and wand being cast on her face because the photo is taken using natural light. Using a flash pointed directly at the subject is not my favorite, and shooting on auto usually ends up with your flash going off if you are indoors.

How to use Automatic Focus with Manual Settings:

If you leave the “A” on your lens switched on, you can still use auto focus with manual settings. Most professional photographers do this when photographing subjects. Sometimes though the auto focus can choose to focus on the least important aspect of your picture leaving your subject blurry. In cases like that I always switch to manual focus.

For more information on how to manually set up your photo using the exposure triangle, check out this post. I promise I explain it in an easy to understand way.

Happy Travels!
Kristin Spencer

Leave a Reply