Beyond the Auto Setting

What We'll Learn

  1. Use common manual settings on your camera for specific situations

In most cases, the automatic setting on your camera will give you a pretty good picture without a lot of fuss.  However, there are times and situations, when it's good to use some of the manual settings on your camera.  We'll cover the most common situations in this tutorial.

For many of the features below, you will have to have your camera in P mode, since most adjustments are disabled in Auto mode.

Fill Flash

If you are taking a picture of someone in front of a very bright background, the camera will automatically adjust for the overall brightness of the picture. The result is that your subject is very dark.  Use fill flash to "light up" your subject in these situations.


  1. Take a picture of a subject in front of a window
  2. Locate the fill flash function on your camera
  3. Turn on the fill flash
  4. Re-take a picture of a subject in front of a window
  5. Set the flash back to automatic

Semi-Automatic Modes

Most cameras have a variety of "special" or "scene" modes.  These modes alter the various automatic settings for specific situations.  Various cameras will differ in what modes they offer, but here are some common ones:

  • Portrait - Softens skin tone and background
  • Sports -  Uses a faster shutter for freezing action without blur
  • Landscape - Large depth of field for full clarity of the entire scene
  • Close Up / Macro - Close up shots
  • Night Scene - Shower shutter and higher light sensitivity for night shots
  • Specialized - Other modes include fireworks, snow, beach, foilage
Note: for some of these modes to work properly, it is best to use a tripod to ensure a clear picture.


  1. Take some time to explore what "Semi-Automatic" modes are available on your camera
  2. Practice switching to them and then switching back to automatic

Self Timer

The automatic timer is a great feature for taking a picture that includes yourself in the photo.  Most cameras come with one or more self-timer functions.  Here's how it works:

  1. Place your camera on a tripod or sturdy surface.
  2. Frame your picture the way you want it to look 
  3. Set the self-timer
  4. Press half-way down to make sure the camera is focused properly
  5. Press all the way down and then get into the picture.
  6. After the set delay, the camera will take a picture automatically 


  1. Locate the self timer settings on your camera
  2. Using the instructions above, use this feature to take a picture of yourself.

Continuous Shooting or Burst Mode

When your shooting action, or just trying to get the right moment, it's often advantageous to turn on the Burst mode on your camera. When this is set, your camera will take several pictures while you keep the shutter button held down.  The camera will take the pictures one after the other as fast as it can.  On some cameras, it takes only three pictures in a row, other cameras will keep shooting until you let up on the button.


  1. Locate the continuous shooting, or burst shooting mode on your camera
  2. Set it to burst mode
  3. Push down the shutter button half-way to set the focus
  4. Push and hold down the button to take several pictures one after the other
  5. Let go of the button to stop.

Colour Balance

Adjusting for colour balance is also a common manual override setting.  By default the camera tries to detect the colour of light using the AWB - Auto White Balance setting.  But you can help it along in specific situation by telling the camera what type of light you are shooting under.  

For example, you might set your Colour Balance to Cloudy to help brighten up your photos on a cloudy day.


  1. Locate the colour balance settings on your camera
  2. Try taking the same picture using different settings

Picture Size and Quality

You can also change the size and the compression level (quality) of the pictures that you take. In general, you want to take the highest quality pictures possible, so it's important to make sure the settings are correct. There are two general settings on your camera:

  • Size - typically you will see something like L(large) M(medium)  S(small). This sets the size of the pictures (or the number of pixels) that your camera will record when you take a shot.  Under most circumstances you want to use all the pixels, picking L for Large.
  • Compression - Although high-end cameras can take RAW pictures (no compression), most cameras compress the picture to make it easier to transfer and manage on a typical computer.  The more compression, the smaller the picture, the more data is lost, and the more you can fit on your memory card.   Generally you will have settings such as F(fine) M(medium) C(coarse).  Again the best quality is to pick the least compression, Fine or Super-fine.


  1. Locate the picture size and quality settings on your camera
  2. Modify them if required

Panoramic Photos

Your camera may also have a special setting to help you take wide panoramic photos of a scene.  

The Panorama view on your camera shows you the last shot side by side with the one you are about to take so that you can ideally align the picture sequence.  Here are the steps to taking a panorama picture:
  1. Set your camera to panorama mode
  2. Take your first picture  (ideally have your camera mounted on a tripod so you can swivel it to take the picture series)
  3. Move your camera to the left or right to take the next shot
  4. Continue until you've captured the entire scene
Your camera will now have several individual pictures, they will be numbered differently so that when you transfer them to your computer, you can tell that they were taken in a series.   Once your computer, you need to use stitching software to "stitch" together this series of picture into a single panoramic photo.  You may have to use a specialty service like EZ Prints to print panoramic formats.

Here are a few free programs that do photo stitching:


  1. Locate the panorama settings on your camera
  2. Try taking a series of pictures using this feature

Movies and Manual Modes

Don't underestimate the movie taking capabilities of your camera.  Get used to taking short movie clips of special events or situations . Here are a few tips when taking movies:
  • Keep the clips short, preferably under a minute.  Unless your Steven Spielberg, no one will appreciate having to watch your lengthy videos.
  • Keep the camera still. When you are taking a movie, remember that your subjects are moving, so you don't have to move the camera while shooting.  If you do want to change the angle or scene, move slowly to avoid introducing jerky motion into the video.  Use a tripod if you are able.
  • Don't tip the camera. Although you can take pictures from different camera angles, movies cannot be taken sideways, and are best shot with a level camera.

Your camera also may have one or more manual modes.  These modes allow you to control the size of your Aperture, the speed of your Shutter or both.  In addition to giving you full control, you can combine these settings with some of the features described above to get the exact picture you are looking for.

... and for the Technically Brave...

If you want to try out some more advanced photo taking techniques, consider experimenting with HDR photography.  HDR stands for High Dynamic Range, used in situations where there is a lot of difference in the lighting in different parts of a picture.  Here's how it works:
  • Mount your camera on a Tripod.
  • Set your camera to the Auto Exposure Bracketing setting.  This will usually take three sequential photos of a scene using different exposure levels.  See the diagram below.
  • Import the pictures to your computer.
  • Use a special program, such as Luminance HDR, to put together these photos into a single picture with the best overall effect.
Image from Wikipedia - HDR Imaging Article