When you first get into photography, it can be a confusing endeavor.
Heck, it can be confusing for people that have been doing it awhile!
Understanding exposure takes some time. Developing your creative eye does too.
When you pick up your first camera and see all those buttons, modes, and dials, that can be overwhelming as well.
But amongst all the unfamiliar symbols and letters there's a saving grace - that little green box for auto mode.
Now, I'll be the first to say that learning how to use the other shooting modes like aperture priority, shutter priority, program, and manual mode should be on your to-do list.
Each of those modes gives you more control over what the camera does, and by virtue of that, more control over how your images turn out.
But the easiest way to start navigating the sometimes murky waters of beginner photography, auto mode is just fine. Here's why...
You'll Miss Fewer Shots
Back in the day, I was determined to shoot in manual mode right out of the gate.
That didn't go well because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
That meant that as I was fumbling around trying to figure out aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and a multitude of other things in manual mode, I was missing the chance to get the shots I want.
That's not the case when shooting in full auto.
As the name implies, the camera is in charge of all the settings on your behalf. Just point the camera at whatever you want to photograph, and the camera will handle the rest.
For a beginner photographer, the results you get in auto mode will likely be just fine.
Will they be perfect? Maybe not.
But at least you'll get the shot of your kid blowing out their birthday candles instead of having nothing to show for it because you were messing around in manual mode before you were ready to do so!
You Can Focus on Composition
Another huge benefit of working in auto mode is that it allows you to be unencumbered by making all the decisions about what camera settings to make, which frees you up to focus on the composition of the shot.
Just like understanding how your camera works will take some time and practice, so too does developing your creative eye.
Auto mode gives you the chance to get into the nitty-gritty of composition because you can actually focus your attention on things like framing, including foreground interest, watching your corners, using the rule of thirds, and so on.
And when it comes down to it, composition is something that can't be fixed in post-processing - but exposure can be.
By that I mean if you are so caught up in adjusting the manual controls to get the exposure just right, but you neglect the composition of the shot, you really have little recourse to fix it.
Conversely, if you shoot in full auto, nail the composition, but need to lighten or darken the image, you can easily do that in post.
When you're just starting out, focusing your attention on the artistic elements of photography first, and then tackling the technical aspects of photography can prove beneficial to you in the long run.
See how to correct an underexposed image in Photoshop in the video below by Blake Rudis of f64 Academy:
You Will Get More Comfortable With Your Camera
Even though you have no input regarding the settings in auto mode, shooting in auto still gives you a chance for some good one-on-one time with your camera, and that's definitely a good thing.
Having a new camera is like having a new car - you need to spend some time using it so you can figure out how quickly things work, what eccentricities it might have, and simply how it feels.
Not only will this help you get familiar with your camera's performance and how it feels in your hand, but you'll also get a feel for the layout of its buttons and dials. You will develop an understanding of how the lens works and performs in different lighting situations. You can explore your camera's menus and see what kinds of settings you can change too.
The point is that auto mode is like kindergarten - it's the basic introduction and the foundation upon which everything else you learn after that is built.
Auto mode is also a confidence builder that makes all that subsequent learning possible.
That means the more you shoot in auto to start with, the better off you'll be!
You Can Learn About Technical Stuff
As you get more experience behind the lens, you can use auto mode to begin exploring the technicalities of photography like aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
Though you can't control those settings in auto mode, you can still see what settings your camera has chosen for each and every shot you take.
This information is stored in the image's EXIF data and can be accessed in post-processing programs like Photoshop and Lightroom, and even in online platforms like our galleries, Flickr, and Google Photos.
Looking at that data will tell you everything from the focal length of the lens used to the aperture to the white balance setting.
And though you might not have an intimate familiarity with all those terms, by inspecting the EXIF data of a photo, you can start to get a sense for how different camera settings change the look of the image.
For example, let's say you look at the image above and notice how the woman appears to be frozen - she's completely sharp without any indication of movement in her arms or legs.
Then let's say you look at the image below, noting how the women in the shot are both blurry, with a lot of indicated movement in their arms and legs.
By looking at the EXIF data, you can see one of the reasons why these differences appear - shutter speed.
In the image above, the shutter speed might have been 1/500th of a second. In the image below, that shutter speed might have been 1/30th of a second.
So, by looking at the EXIF data, you can begin to get an idea of what different camera settings do. In this case, the lesson is that shutter speed doesn't just control exposure, but it also controls the appearance of motion in a shot. The faster the shutter speed, the more likely you are to freeze motion; the slower the shutter speed, the more likely you are to get the blurred effect seen above.
Better still, as you get more confident in your photography abilities, you can use EXIF data as a leaping point to more sophisticated shooting modes, like aperture priority, shutter priority, or manual mode.
All you have to do is find an image you like, check its EXIF data, dial in the same settings, and fire away.
Now, using EXIF data isn't a guarantee that you'll end up with a photo that's as good as the original, but you can use it as a springboard into taking more control over your camera.
Rather than being mystified by what settings to start with, you can at least get a starting point by looking at the EXIF data.
So, with that said, auto mode isn't all that bad, right?
It can be an excellent learning tool that gets you moving towards taking more control over your camera, and in the meantime, allows you to work on perfecting your compositional chops.
The next step is to figure out what all those other camera modes do. Check out the video below by Sydney Portraits for a quick overview of common camera modes: