How To Take Better Photos With Automatic And Semi-Automatic Cameras

I don’t know how many times we have encouraged you to abandon the automatic mode of your camera and launch yourself into manual mode to have absolute control of the scene, now, is automatic mode the real enemy? Is semi-automatic mode? What if your camera only has them?

Automatic and semi-automatic modes can be very useful on some occasions and with a few tricks you can get good results with them when speed is essential or when you shoot with cameras that do not have a manual mode.

automatic mode photography


The automatic mode (Auto) is the one that gives us the least control of the scene, but it is also the fastest, which makes it ideal for some occasions:

  • When you start in photography and you are confused with the settings, it is good to “warm up”.
  • When your camera does not have any other type of mode 😉 .
  • When you find yourself in a very changing environment and you need to be very fast.
    • For example in travel photography (open-air markets), street photography, etc.
  • If you need to focus on composition.

Auto mode has improved a lot over the years so while it’s hard to get results as tight as manual, with a few tricks we’ll cover later, you’ll get through most situations with flying colors.


The semi- automatic modes are the ones I recommend the most, since they give you a high degree of speed while allowing you to control much more the final result of the scene.

With the semi-automatic modes you can control the aperture or the shutter speed, while the other value will be decided by the camera. If your camera has them, and you already feel comfortable with it, I would recommend you always use them.


To learn how to use the semi-automatic modes, you must first understand how the variables of what we know as the exposure triangle work:

As you can see in the graph above, the three variables we play with to control exposure are ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.


It is the sensitivity of the sensor to light. The higher the value, the more sensitive it is (it can capture more light). As a side effect, as you increase the sensitivity, you will also increase the “noise” in your photo. In short, by raising the ISO you have more available light, but you also lose image quality.

Conversely, at low ISO values ​​you retain image quality, but have less sensitivity to light (the sensor is less sensitive to light).

As a general rule, keep the ISO as low as possible. If you need more light because it’s dark, then turn it up while keeping an eye on the noise level, because in some photos it won’t bother you and you’ll prefer to have a photo, even with noise, rather than not, and in others you’ll look for more sharpness.


The aperture controls the amount of light you let through your lens to the sensor. Inside the lens we find some blades, which form a more or less large hole depending on the diaphragm opening that we indicate.

On the other hand, the aperture affects the amount of area in focus in the image or what we know in photography as depth of field . The more you open the diaphragm, the less area in focus you will have in the image (low f/value). The more you close it, the more area in focus you will have in your photo (f/high value).

You can see it in the following graph:

Or if you prefer, Here is a video explains it to you in a simple way:


Shutter speed is the speed at which the camera shutter opens and closes. While the shutter is open, we let light through to the sensor, which means the longer we keep it open, the more light we get (slow speeds).

Instead, the faster we open and close the shutter, the less light we let into the sensor (high speeds).

Shutter speed not only affects light intake, but is also directly related to the ability to “freeze” or not the movement that happens in front of the lens. 

In the next set of images you can see how shutter speed directly affects whether or not to freeze motion.

automatic mode photography

The three variables of the exposure triangle are the basis of any photographic technique you want to do in the future, so I recommend that you spend some time understanding them, above all, to learn how to use the semi-automatic mode, but also to understand how it works the automatic mode of your camera.

That said, let’s see how to shoot with the semi-automatic mode of your camera.


The semi- automatic modes are the most used in photography, since, as I have mentioned, they combine good control of the final result of the image with speed.


In this semi-automatic mode, you are the one who controls the aperture and the camera automatically sets a speed to obtain the correct exposure.

As much as we think that professionals always work in manual mode, the truth is that the most used mode is the diaphragm opening, since it allows you to control not only the amount of light but also the depth of field. Something absolutely decisive when we think about the final result of our image.

Remember that if you want a fully focused background, you must close the diaphragm (high f/value) and if you want a blurred background, the more you open the diaphragm (low f/value), the more out of focus it will be.

You can see the difference in the two images attached below:


If the shutter speed is decisive in your image, either because you want to freeze the movement or because you want to capture it in your image as in silky effect photographs , this is the semi-automatic mode that you should use.

In this case, you decide the shutter speed, and the camera will automatically adjust the aperture to obtain the correct exposure.

Remember that at slower speeds, the shutter stays open longer and therefore movement is imprinted on the image. At faster speeds, on the other hand, you are able to freeze the movement, since the shutter remains open for less time.

You can see it in the following examples:


Although in automatic mode we cannot decide the settings at the moment of taking the picture, we can be aware of the limitations of this shooting mode, to try to make it easy for you.

  1. Configure the camera in RAW mode: It is the one that offers you the best image quality, since it is the one that stores the most information. If your camera has this type of file, don’t think about it, it will allow you to finish adjusting the exposure in the edition with good results.
  2. Look for low-contrast scenes : Cameras, as good as they are, have limited dynamic range (the ability to get detail in highlights and shadows simultaneously).
  3. Use the exposure lock button: Stay with this point because it will mark a before and after in your photographs. Exposure lock allows you to set the exposure of the area of ​​the image that you decide and hold it until the picture is taken. This allows you to choose the exposure of the area you want and not the one that your camera decides based on the composition. For a detailed explanation, check out our article on exposure lock.
  4. Activate the lines to help you compose: If you have the action of activating the grid on the screen, it will be very useful to compose your photographs , to find the strong point of the rule of thirds or keep the horizon straight.
  5. Avoid using digital zoom : If your camera has digital zoom, avoid using it, the image quality suffers a lot. It is even better not to use it and crop the image afterwards to “get closer” to the subject.
  6. Use the scene modes : They are meant to adjust to different scenarios you may encounter, and can be useful when working in automatic mode. For example, landscape mode, for example, will offer you a wide depth of field, portrait mode, a shallower depth of field, sports mode, a high shutter speed, etc.
  7. Turn off the flash : It is preferable that you hold the camera well or use a tripod if necessary. The camera’s built-in flash is a very harsh and short-range light, which usually greatly detracts from the final result of the photograph.
automatic mode photography

Did you think that you would not be able to take advantage of your camera without mastering the manual mode ? I hope I have shown you that yes, it is possible. Whether you have a compact camera or similar without the possibility of working in another mode, or if you have a camera with semi-automatic modes, both offer you a more than interesting reaction speed when photographing.

Because deep down, the most important thing is to feel comfortable photographing, enjoy the moment, learn little by little and know how to identify that each type of photography may need a different mode. If you need speed and control, semi-automatic modes are your best allies. If you only have automatic mode, you can focus on the composition and the moment, and applying the tips that I have left you above, achieve excellent results.

Do you know anyone this article could help besides yourself? Help us spread the word to reach as many photographers as possible.

Thank you very much for reading this far. See you in the next article.