So, some people ever asked about my camera setting when they saw my photos that they like. What is my shutter speed? ISO? aperture?. Most of the time I will reply that I need to check it first in metadata, simply because I do not know myself (I do not shoot in full manual setting).

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Interestingly, my answer surprised some people. They thought that I always use any setting in manual way, because Auto is only for beginner who just bought new camera. Honestly, it is still a bit hard for me to understand why using Auto setting means newbie?

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My usual setting for street photography, casual snapshot, and travel actually is pretty the same:

– Program Auto ISO (ISO 200- ISO 6400)

– Program Auto Shutter Speed (minimum 1/500s for street, and minimum 1/160s for everything else)

– Manual Aperture. I change aperture a lot when shooting to adjust the depth of field, from the biggest (like f/1.2) till the smallest (f16). Really really depend on what scene that lies in front of me.

– Autofocus all the time, sometimes also Tracking Autofocus (Read here about Tracking Autofocus)

Why I love Auto Setting?

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I am a person who believe that a street photographer is a bit different than any other photographers. We focus a lot more on content inside our image rather any technical aspects like accurate highlight/shadow, sharpness, noise, or dynamic range.

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Street photographer is a moment catcher. Decisive moment is our best friend. Therefore, I feel that camera suppose to be “disappear” when we shoot on the street. We should not confuse ourself with our camera setting, just make it as a little box that able to record light. It helps us to have fast reaction about any scenes that happens in front of us.

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Focus ourself to keep search a moment instead of distract our mind with changing camera dials to find the perfect exposure. Moments only lasted for few seconds or less, no time to change setting. Like in photo above, how long you think she will stand still at that pose? Even a slight tilt from her head to left/right would ruin my photo, because I could not capture her face’s contour perfectly.

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Street photography is about moment. Capture moment is about the speed of our reaction to see and record it. How long you think three people inside bus will look at me at the very same time? Less than a second if I remember correctly, because apparently none of them found me as an interesting person to keep look at. If I spent my time to changing triangle exposure before shoot, then big chance I only captured boring photograph, because none of them still looking right at my camera’s lens.

Do I still use manual mode?

The answer is YES. But, only for specific shoots with certain “concepts” to create additional creative effect.

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In the photo above I am fully aware that I want to do panning shoots. Therefore I set my triangle exposure (ISO and aperture) to match my shutter speed 1/30s. It was bright and open space, therefore lighting condition was pretty stable, so once I set my exposure manually, I did not need to worry about it anymore.

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I shot photo above with shutter speed 1/15s, I set my aperture, shutter speed, and flash power based on shutter speed because I want to get that “movement” effect from rear curtain flash. Definitely hard to do this kind of shoot with auto mode.

But, any great old photographers did not have auto setting?

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Very true, they do not have modern technology like now, however, they have their own strategy: They set their camera in such a way that they able to forget technical setting, and change their manual camera into point and shoot tool:

– Manual focus lens: Use zone focus technique (pre focus camera in certain distance and certain aperture, memorize the distance, then start to shoot based on that distance).

– Manual setting exposure (ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed): Memorize or understand f16 sunny rule (At daylight time, set aperture to f16, shutter speed 1/ISO. Ex: ISO 200, then use shutter speed 1/200s).

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My main point is: Create our own camera become a point and shoot camera. Always ready to shoot anytime. Do not make an excuse we can not catch moment because we use manual exposure or manual focus lens.

The ultimate goal in street photography is for your camera to become invisible — and to take photos without even thinking about the technical settings. The camera becomes an extension of your body, and you just click intuitively. – Eric Kim

Do we still need to learn triangle exposure?

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YES, even if we shoot in full auto mode, we still need to fully understand how our camera capture the light. By understand triangle exposure will help us a lot to create additional creative effect like motion blur for movement effect, high shutter speed to capture fast action or shallow depth of field to separate our main subject from background.

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That is all about my thought why auto setting is better than full manual set-up. Feel free to discover your way of shooting, just remember that catch moment at the right time is the most important part of street photography. Change setting in whatever camera we have into a simple point and shoot camera.

Stay sharp and keep shooting!

Nico Harold