Opinion: Automatic camera settings kill creativity and stop you building skills

Canon
Manually created lighting, specific choice of rock and toad, precise placement of focus, makes this more than a simple automatic snapshot (Image credit: Brian Worley)

Automation has come to many things in life, and sometimes it’s helpful, but not always. Having started taking photos years ago with an all manual film camera I recall the intense need to learn much about photography to get a top photo. That knowledge does help me today to decide when to make use of the helpful auto, and when to rely on my own skills. 

Canon EOS cameras (opens in new tab) introduced many photographers to sharper photos thanks to autofocus. Often these days I hear photographers questioning why their camera is not able to focus on a particular subject. I have to think, would the photographer be able to achieve the desired result without AF? Frequently the answer is no, and that’s not a bad thing, it demonstrates how far the technology has come in the last thirty years.

But knowing when the subject will be a challenge for AF is when I can apply whatever skill I have to aid the AF to get it right. If you don’t recognize the difficult-to-focus subject, then a swooping bird of prey is no different from a painting on a wall. Your expectation is that the camera should cope itself.

What about auto exposure?

Now consider auto exposure; that joyous way to ensure that almost all our photos turn out with the right exposure. A wise photographer once told me there was no right exposure, only the exposure that I thought was right. There’s surely an exposure where the highlights and shadows are captured correctly. But technically correct is hardly pushing the bounds of creativity. Results can be more interesting with technically incorrect exposures.

Looking through my camera there’s auto white balance (opens in new tab), auto lighting optimizer, automatic flash exposure, automatic lens correction, auto ISO (opens in new tab), AF point auto switching, automatic face tracking, and many more. All this automation is good for making quality record shots of everyday photo situations. Sometimes you need to be in control and harness the technology, make it do your bidding and be creative.

Automatic is a great way to start out, but you need to bring your own creative flair to photos (Image credit: Brian Worley)
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Brian Worley

Brian is a freelance photographer and photo tutor, based in Oxfordshire. He has unrivaled EOS DSLR knowledge, after working for Canon for over 15 years, and is on hand to answer all the EOS and photographic queries in Canon-centric magazine PhotoPlus (opens in new tab).