Just Say No to A-U-T-O

By | 2016-12-18T17:01:23+00:00 February 23rd, 2010|13 Comments

4380288414_3e1fcb7437_oYesterday I asked the Twitterverse about their opinion on using the “Full Auto” mode on a camera. The question I asked was:“When would a photographer want to use the ‘Full Auto’ mode (green square – not ‘Program’ mode)?” I got quite a lot of responses … here are some of the replies:

@ekopsala – when they give up trying.

@bkolodzaike – When you’re handing the camera to someone else to take a picture of you.

@klosfoto – green square only when all other functions are broken ;)

@designerdaze – a bit scary, but when handing the camera to a novice.

@RyanRomeike – Use full auto green for fail-safe photography while under the influence. It works great for easy ETTL bounce flash too.

@duncan – for me, never is the answer. I’m always happy to get cameras that don’t have green square modes.

I think that those answers pretty much sum up the majority of the responses. Seems like most people only use the “Full Auto” mode when handing the camera to someone else who doesn’t know how to use a camera, or when they need a quick image made without having to think about it. My opinion is that when you turn your camera to the “green square” (or your camera’s equivalent) then you are just turning it into a very expensive point-and-shoot. I’m not saying that it’s wrong to use it, but if you have an SLR and aren’t using any of the other modes then you aren’t getting your money’s worth!

So for those of you who don’t touch the other modes here’s my challenge: read up on the basic photography concepts of exposure (here’s a good site to get you started) and once you have a good grasp on how they work then start trying out the other modes (I usually use the “Av  – Aperture Priority” mode on my cameras since I like to have full control of my depth-of-field). BTW, here’s a link to an article that gives a pretty decent explanation of many of the different camera shooting modes.

What you use is up to you, but if you ultimately want to have more creative control of your images then it’s my recommendation to say “no” to the green square. :)

About the Author:

Nicole S. Young is a professional photographer and published author whose love of photography and teaching has grown into an online business where she creates training materials and resources for other photographers. Nicole is best known for her books on food photography, but is widely versed in a variety of photographic genres, including landscape, travel, lifestyle, and even underwater photography. You can learn more about Nicole's work on her website, nicolesy.com.


  1. Pat Wright February 23, 2010 at 2:54 pm - Reply

    I missed this on Twitter yesterday so I didn’t get a response in. :)

    I used the AUTO on my D80 for about the first 3 months of using it. This was my first SLR and I was trying to read and learn about it. It also allowed me to learn what my camera thought was best in many situations. I figured when I first started out the MANY designers and developers at Nikon probably knew a lot more than I did so if they that a F5.6 was good here they were probably right. I switched off AUTO many times but when it was important to get the shot(daughters b-day,plays, etc…) I kept it on AUTO. Now I keep it on A and like many others do not go back to Auto unless I’m handing it to someone. For me it was an important transition from leaving the Auto stage to making my own pictures.

    Just thought I would add that’s a good time to use it as a Very Expensive point and shoot when you first get it so that you can learn.


  2. Nicole February 23, 2010 at 3:01 pm - Reply

    Hi Pat … very good point. I will say that with the Canon 7D they have a setting called the “Creative Auto” mode that is kind-of the in-between step from using Full Auto and one of the “Priority” modes. It’s for people who know what they want the image to look like but don’t understand the settings, and is a great learning tool for new users of the camera. :)

  3. Jessica Stier February 23, 2010 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    I feel kind of lucky that when I got into photography I was using a Nikon D100 and that camera does not have an Auto function. I say lucky because I might have become dependent on it and been too frustrated/afraid/lazy to take the leap to Manual. I love shooting in manual and wouldn’t have it any other way!

  4. uberVU - social comments February 23, 2010 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by nicolesy: New post on NicolesyBlog.com – “Just Say No to A-U-T-O” http://bit.ly/awaQZq #photography…

  5. Rasmus February 23, 2010 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    There shouldn’t even be a green square on a pro camera. Just like there doesn’t need to be an on-camera flash. If you need to use either of those two, you might as well use a point and shoot while you’re at it.

  6. Mira February 23, 2010 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    That’s probably not a good answer, but I switch from full auto to program mode to select a focal point..,and because of a picture size and quality to make it better in Lightroom or Photoshop. I believe there should be more for using that mode than just what I do.

  7. Brett Cox February 23, 2010 at 5:31 pm - Reply

    On my older camera I would on occasion shoot the last frame of a scene or session on auto just to see what the camera “thought” the settings would be. Reviewing the shot and exif data later sometimes gets me thinking in different directions that I use to improve or try new things.

    My new camera doesn’t offer me this option.

  8. Lewis Walsh February 23, 2010 at 5:34 pm - Reply

    I tend to stick with Aperture Priority, otherwise Fully Manual (I come from a fully-manual film camera background) and very occasionally Shutter Priority.

    But. I have no problem flicking the camera on to Full Auto (green square) when I absolutely must get the photo, regardless of quality. Once in a lifetime moments or something that is just about to happen and I just don’t have time to make sure I reset the camera settings after a night of long-exposure shooting.

    For me, there is no shame in using Auto, no matter how restrictive it is. I’d rather a poor quality image than no image at all.

  9. Linda Griffiths February 23, 2010 at 6:26 pm - Reply

    When I got my first DSLR I used the sports and scenic modes allot. I kept a log of the pictures and what exposure the camera used. After awhile I started experimenting using the Aperture and Shutter Priorities. Then I went on the Photowalk with the Lensbaby and fell in love with it. Got Santa to bring me one for Christmas and now I shoot allot in Manual even without the Lensbaby on.

  10. Jeremy February 23, 2010 at 7:20 pm - Reply

    Like Brett in #7 I occasionally change to one of the Auto modes on my T1i just to get a feel for what the camera thinks the settings ought to be. More often then not I won’t like the result, but it’s still interesting.

    The auto modes seem to want to get everything right, and will compromise to get it, which can lead to some pretty bland pictures.

  11. Larry Rosenstein February 23, 2010 at 8:22 pm - Reply

    I use auto for cases where I want to remember something about the scene. For example, taking pictures of signs at the zoo to remember the exact species of animal. (IMO, no need for a 10MP RAW photo in that case.) I try to switch out of auto right away, so I don’t forget.

  12. Brekke Felt February 23, 2010 at 10:34 pm - Reply

    I love this and agree 100%. I began photography on that dinosaur we call film on a 20 year old SLR without an auto function and I think digital and all this new fangled technology has the potential to make us lazy. I still use my ancient film cameras on occasion (yes, they still make film) just to keep me sharp. :)

  13. sloanie February 26, 2010 at 9:08 am - Reply

    Nicole, thanks for the link to dpchallenge. It should be useful in helping ween some potential photographers I know from auto mode :D

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