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10 Steps to Taking Your Camera OFF Auto {Photographer Guest Post}

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Little Miss Momma: 10 Steps to Taking Your Camera OFF Auto {Photographer Guest Post}

Friday, April 15, 2011

10 Steps to Taking Your Camera OFF Auto {Photographer Guest Post}

I was introduced to Kellie Larsen Photography a few months ago,
and as I browsed through her website
I remember thinking,
Wow, I want to take photos like this chic.
If only I could get up the nerve to take my camera off auto.

And if you read this post, then you know my picture taking methods are a bit...well, elementary {for lack of a better word}.

So after chatting with Kellie a bit about my
ridiculous fears of the "manual" setting,
she decided to put together this amazing post
to help us all take the plunge.

Seriously, this post is like GOLD! Thank you Kellie!


10 Steps to Ditching Full-Auto
(and improving your photos)

Do you own a nice,
expensive camera,
yet still shoot in Full-Auto?

If so, you’re possibly feeling overwhelmed by all of the settings and buttons on your camera. Or maybe it is because you don’t see the point in taking your camera off of Auto Mode since your camera must know more than you, right?

I wrote this tutorial in hopes of making you feel empowered. I’m giving you 10 tips to help you to learn to use your DSLR and improve your photography skills. You are smarter than your camera and with some work the quality of your photos will improve greatly!

But before we begin, a little bit about me.
My name is Kellie.


I’m a 26-year-old mother to two beautiful girls.
They're a year apart and so much fun!
I wouldn't change a thing.

My Girls1

I'm also a wife of 3+ years to one super fun guy
who just so happens to be my best friend and such a good dad!

(Us. The dating years. Oh man, he's cute!)

We love to adventure together as a family.
We also love a relaxing day at home.
But mostly we just like to be together.

I am a self-taught photographer by profession. Check out some of my photos HERE. I am currently living in the Los Angeles/Long Beach area. I love what I do and one of my goals before and during a photo session is to get to know my clients so we actually become friends.

You can check out my website.
Follow me on my blog.
And "like" me on FB.
Okay… On to the tutorial!
First of all, please do not feel overwhelmed. Once you begin to put these steps into practice you will get it, your photos WILL look better, and you will feel so proud of yourself. Now go grab your DSLR and try these tips out.

10. JPEG vs RAW
Let's just keep it simple: If you are just photographing your cute kids then I recommend shooting JPEG. The JPEG files are smaller than RAW and most programs support them. Refer to your instruction manual.

9. ISO
If you are outside in the sun, use a low ISO setting. If you are inside where it’s darker, you will need to raise your ISO. I always like to start low and raise it if my photos are still coming out too dark. The main problem with high ISO is that your photos may look more grainy. The top photo was taken with a low ISO (100) and the bottom with high (1600). You'll notice there are grainy spots in the shadows of the bottom photo.

8. White Balance (WB)
Your camera will give you different options for White Balance. Choose the one that applies to your situation. The appropriate White Balance will give your photos warmth and character.

This photo was taken outside in direct sunlight. For the top photo I set my camera to ‘Daylight’ WB mode. Nice and warm. For the bottom photo I set my camera to ‘White Fluorescent Light’ WB mode. Washed out with too much blue in it.
WB Example

7. Exposure
There are two components to Exposure: Aperture and Shutter Speed. They need to work together to get a good picture.

Aperture (Av): Controls the how blurry or clear your background and foreground are. If you want to control the amount of blur-effect then set your camera to Av Mode. The lower your f-number, the more blurry your background and foreground will be. The left photo was taken with a low f-number (F1.8). The right photo was taken with a high f-number (F20).

Aperture Example

Shutter Speed (Tv): Controls the motion blur of your subject. If you want to control the amount of motion blur then set your camera to Tv Mode. The Shutter Speed is measured in seconds. 1/500 means 1/500th of a second is how long the shutter will be open. Most shutter speeds range from 1/4000 to 30 seconds. The longer your shutter is open, the more motion blur you will get. The left photo was taken with a longer shutter speed (1/25). The right photo was taken with a shorter shutter speed (1/3200). You might need a tripod for longer shutter speeds to avoid unwanted blur due to camera shake. Also, if your photos come out too exposed (too bright) then shorten your shutter speed.

Shutter Speed

Manual Mode (M): Play with it if you want but I stick with Av and Tv most of the time.

6. Focus
In Auto mode your camera will focus on the closest subject. Because you may not always want this you can change your camera's Auto Focus Mode to focus where you want. Refer to your instruction manual under Focusing\AF-mode. Follow the instructions to have it focus on the center square. Now you can look through your viewfinder and choose what you want to focus on.

Place the center square over your subject, press and hold the shutter button halfway (the button you use to take the picture), then press the button the rest of the way. As long as the shutter is held halfway the focus will stay the same.

Take this orange tree for example. I wanted the orange to be in the left corner of my frame. But if I were to just take the photo like that, the center area would be the back bushes.
Focus Example1

So in order to get my orange in focus, I put the orange in the center of my viewfinder, held the shutter button half way down, then moved my camera so the orange was where I wanted it, and then pushed the shutter button the rest of the way down. This was my result:
Focus Example2

5. Flash
The best philosophy when it comes to the flash is: use it when you have to, avoid it when you can. Your photos will look so much better in natural light. Sometimes the flash can be your friend but, for the most part, a flash creates unflattering and unnatural shadows. If you are in a low-light situation, first try lowering your f-stop or increasing your shutter speed OR bumping up your ISO. If you need to use your flash then use it, but only as a last resort.

Here is an example of how a flash can create unwanted contrast. The flash created a reflection and a shadow that is avoidable.


If you take a picture and it comes out too dark because the subject is back-lit, using your flash as a Fill-Flash is a good idea.
Flash Example

I have an external flash that I sometimes bounce off the ceiling when indoors. This helps to illuminate the subject without giving the shadows of a direct flash to the face.
4. Shade
Shade is your friend when photographing people. Most people look outside on an overcast day and think, “Well, there goes my photo shoot! There’s no sun in sight!” Not true. The sun often creates shadows and makes people squint, so an overcast day is great! Want to get some great shots of your baby? Sit them in a shady spot under a tree. The sun is great for some shots too, but one thing to be sure of is to avoid partial shade/partial sun. Your photos will turn out looking blotchy otherwise like in the photo below.
3. Framing Your Subject
Imagine there is a grid when you look through your viewfinder. Instead of always having your subject in the center square, consider centering your subject on one of the red marks. This is called The Rule of Thirds.
Rule Of Thirds

It makes your photo more visually appealing. Also, if there are horizontal or vertical lines, try to place them on the corresponding horizontal or vertical lines in this grid.

Take your camera with you everywhere you go! Make it a point to take it out and use it in many different settings to get the experience. If you need some incentive to using it, get a cute strap to make your camera seem like an accessory!

Hire me because, not only are my prices incredibly affordable, but because (if you are anything like me) I bet you are hardly in any of your photos. When is the last time you took a family photo that you love? Make it happen and send me an email for session information. Contact me HERE. I’d love to meet you!

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At April 15, 2011 at 11:12 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for this post! I can't wait to take my dslr outside this weekend to play around. : )

At April 15, 2011 at 11:19 AM , Blogger LuLu said...

Love this post! I am taking a photography class right now and this was a great recap of all the biggest things about photography that I WISH I had known a long time ago when I got my nice camera!

Thanks for the post and the tutorial!

A Candid Life

At April 15, 2011 at 11:22 AM , Blogger Jen said...

Thanks you so much for this post. I am getting my first dslr camera today for my birthday and these tips will make me look like I know what I'm doing a lot faster:)

At April 15, 2011 at 11:24 AM , Blogger Mandy Estes said...

This is great information! I'm so excited to practice. :)

At April 15, 2011 at 11:27 AM , Blogger LuLu said...

I am posting about this on my blog today since I found it so helpful!

Feel free to stop by!

A Candid Life

At April 15, 2011 at 11:32 AM , Blogger Andrea Stevenson said...

Thank you! What a great post -such great info. You're great!


At April 15, 2011 at 11:34 AM , Blogger Chrissy @ the Pearl Blog said...

that was awesome thanks so much for sharing!

At April 15, 2011 at 11:40 AM , Blogger Kara @ June & Bear said...

Super duper post. Thanks so much. I can't wait to start fiddling and practicing.

At April 15, 2011 at 11:44 AM , Blogger Mary P said...

Now I want a new camera! Still, some of these settings are adjustable even on my Sony Cybershot! Thanks!

At April 15, 2011 at 11:52 AM , Blogger I BLEED PINK said...

I have my "big girl" camera for almost 2 years and never had the nerve to shoot it outside of auto. I am going to save these instructions and get brave!

At April 15, 2011 at 12:06 PM , Blogger Crazy Wonderful said...

Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! These are such great tips! Now I just need it to stop raining so I can go outside and practice :D

At April 15, 2011 at 12:39 PM , Blogger Kelsey said...

Thank you so much! I got a Canon Rebel a few months ago and have been too scared to take it off of auto. I can't wait to try some new things!!! Maybe in the future Kellie can explain what each lens size can do or means!!! :)

At April 15, 2011 at 12:55 PM , Blogger Valerie said...

GREAT post!

At April 15, 2011 at 1:46 PM , Blogger said...

I love this! Fabulous tips given in easy to understand directions! I've been NEEDING this!

At April 15, 2011 at 1:57 PM , Blogger Hilary Ayers-Kurtz said...

I don't think you understand HOW MUCH I needed this! Thank you thank you thank you!!!


At April 15, 2011 at 1:58 PM , Blogger Lindsey said...

I ditched auto a few months ago when I finally learned how to use my camera! I can't believe the difference in my photos! Thanks for the awesome tips! :)

At April 15, 2011 at 2:01 PM , Blogger Hayley said...

This is great post. I'd like to add that after getting used to the Av and Tv modes, it is a great idea to use the manual setting. I shoot every picture manually (even when it is terribly inconvenient) and only learned because I FORCED myself to shoot that way. Now I wouldn't have it any other way!

At April 15, 2011 at 2:38 PM , Blogger Kara Rush said...

Great Post Kellie!! You are the bomb :)

At April 15, 2011 at 2:50 PM , Blogger TLF said...

Thanks so much for the awesome tips!!

At April 15, 2011 at 3:52 PM , Blogger Heather Mullin said...

Love this post even though I am a photographer. We can always use some refreshing! LOVE IT!!!!


At April 16, 2011 at 5:31 AM , Blogger kBr said...

this was INCREDIBLE...thank you for posting it!

At April 16, 2011 at 6:06 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you so much for sharing!!!!! I really needed this!

At April 16, 2011 at 7:23 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing, this really helps me understand my DSLR better. For a long time I was too focused on shooting with my film SLR and I didn't expect there to be such a difference when I transitioned over to digital.
One thing I'd like you to know Kellie, it's called an f-stop not an f-number :)

At April 16, 2011 at 11:31 AM , Blogger photos by moe said...

I just wanted to thank you for this information! I am only 17, but I love taking pictures, I have been so "scared" of my camera! The pictures I have been taking are not bad, but I think they will now be better! Thank you so much for putting all the technological terms into laymans terms! Thanks again! Check out my photography at and leave me some advice ;)

At April 16, 2011 at 1:21 PM , Blogger Kellie said...

Thank you all for your nice comments & for visiting my blog/fb page! I'm so glad his helped so many of you! And don't worry Meredith, I know it's called an F-stop, but to make it clear to the readers I said # so there was no confusion. You all are the best!

At April 16, 2011 at 8:49 PM , Blogger Lindsay @ Delighted Momma said...

Great Great Tutorial!! Soo helpful! Thank you!! I have an awesome new camera and am so scared of the Manual setting haha!..but I am going to take your expert advice and try these techniques out.

Delighted momma

At April 21, 2011 at 7:25 AM , Blogger Lauren said...

It's important to note that aperture and shutter speed alone do not determine exposure. It's a triangle and also includes ISO. This is very important to understand when trying to learn how to shoot in manual.

At April 25, 2011 at 2:12 PM , Blogger Preparing for Peanut said...

So helpful! I'm using these tips already. The writer
made it so simple!


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