Why I Shot in Auto and (Gasp!) Used a Flash


Yesterday, my girls and I took a little trip to the great capital of Washington, D.C.  We've lived an hour away for the past three years, but never spent much time there.  I wanted them to experience it before our big move to the other side of the country.  (Plus, Dennis proposed to me in front of the Washington Monument...I wanted to see that spot again.)

While we were there, I took a few shots in auto and actually used my flash.  (For real!)

One of the benefits of learning your camera is taking control of it!  In auto mode, the camera makes all the decisions like the exposure settings, whether or not the flash should fire, and what should be most in focus. Once you understand more about your camera, you can tell your camera "you're not the boss of me!" and make all these decisions on your own.  It usually results in a better photo, or at least a photo that looks like you want it to look.

So, I normally shoot in manual mode (where I make all the decisions) or at least in aperture priority mode (where I select the aperture and the camera determines the shutter speed).

But yesterday, lots of things were working against me.  And I was getting photos like this one:

It's not terrible.  Those are still adorable girls.  But, I knew there were problems when I glanced at the back of my camera.

In this situation, I had a lot working against me:

  • I was the only adult in a very public place with two excited kids.  I needed to pay attention to them, not quietly think about my exposure settings.
  • It was super bright.  That made it really hard for me to see the photos I just took on the back of my camera.  Normally, I like to take a photo, look at it, and then make adjustments.  I couldn't do that.
  • The dynamic range between the light on the girls' faces and the sky was huge.  That means there was a big difference between the brightness of the sky and the brightness of their faces.  If I exposed for the sky, their faces would be super dark.  If I exposed for their faces, the sky (and possibly the Washington Monument) would be completely white.
  • They kept moving around so I had a hard time getting them in focus.
  • This was a one-time shot.  I knew I wouldn't be able to come back and try this one again. 

And so, I switched to Auto.  The flash came on.  Normally, I don't like the flash because it creates harsh, directional light.  But, in this situation, it helped lessen the dynamic range, brightening their faces so the sky and the girls could both look properly exposed.

And I have to say, I'm happy with the result.  A professional photographer being paid big bucks wouldn't want to put this photo in her portfolio.  But I'm not a professional photographer.  I'm a mom.  This photo captures my girls in a super special place.  And it's emotionally perfect to me.

You might be at the point where you understand your camera and shoot in manual mode.  But just remember, it's not something you have to do all the time.

IF you want to learn more about your camera, and be able to shoot in manual mode when you want, check out my beginner's workshop.  The next session starts in September.