Assume that we are at an event where full auto will create an ugly picture. I am the only one who brought a camera along. I set the camera at something not too demanding - a workable ISO, a semi-automatic exposure mode - and shoot. Then I want to be in one or two frames too, so I hand the camera to somebody who claims some level of knowledge, and go pose. If the flash is on, it is usually in TTL mode without modifiers. I don't have much time for explanations when somebody else is posing with me, so what I usually say is "Zoom with this ring. Press this button halfway to get focus, then press all the way."

Even when the person who takes it says they own a DSLR, the chance of the results being usable is far below 50%. I guess that I can't educate them much about composition and light, so if the salt shaker on the table before me is twice as large as my face, or half my face is in deepest shadow, I just grit my teeth and go on. But often, it is a wrong camera setting. Somebody who said they know what they are doing managed to take a picture at 1/20 at 90 mm, right after I had taken a picture at 1/80 from the same spot. Somebody who generally shoots with a micro four third but has owned a SLR used the right settings, but the pictures are extremely blurry (probably shaking hands?) When I was backstage and posing with a rockstar, a friend who has exactly the same camera as I do - a D90 - focussed on the fence in the background instead of us.

Is there a way for me to set up the camera (aside from Auto mode), so that I raise the chance of somebody else making a usable picture with my camera? Or something short and easy to tell them?

  • 1
    As you hand them over the camera, tell them where the shutter button is, especially if the button is really obvious. If you're feeling fancy, politely point to the position of the zoom knob.
    – badp
    Nov 27, 2011 at 3:42

5 Answers 5


Try setting the camera to P mode. This is similar to auto mode in that the camera controls aperture and shutter speed for correct exposure, but it also lets you choose metering mode, auto-focus and ISO yourself. This means you can adjust these to suit the situation at hand prior to handing the camera over to someone else.

The other option is to set the camera to Manual, dial in the correct exposure yourself and hand the camera over. As for focusing, many DSLRs have facial recognition focusing in Live View mode: most users of compact and bridge cameras will probably be more comfortable framing a shot on the screen rather than through the viewfinder, so this may be a better option all round.

You can obviously give some quick tips when handing the camera over, such as filling the frame as much as possible. If you use the Live View mode, you can also turn on the rule of thirds grid and have the 'photographer' line up the subjects' eyes appropriately.


You may consider pre-focusing, locking the focus, exposing and locking the exposure and only then handle the camera. You can then join the rest of the group with some confidence in the technical aspects of the shot, the composition though will still be subject to the photographer's taste and skills. :o)

  • 1
    Pre-focusing would probably only work well when the scene is far/bright enough to yield at least a few feet of depth of field.
    – Evan Krall
    Nov 27, 2011 at 5:28
  • 4
    If you're worried about composition, perhaps set the zoom 1.5x or 2x as wide as it should be for the shot, hope the photographer doesn't zoom in, and then crop in post.
    – Evan Krall
    Nov 27, 2011 at 5:31

I usually bump up my ISO, turn on evaluative metering on the center focus point, put it in aperture priority, set it at the aperture I want.. and then give my camera to someone.

Non-photographers tend to frame everything in the center.. this way atleast the photograph is sharp. I also let them use half shutter press to lock on focus.. which is what they are generally used to on a p&s..

You can't really teach them composition, but you can take a picture and tell them that you want a picture exactly like the one you took.. this usually works for me (unless the person owns a dslr, uses it on "occasions", and fancies himself as a photographer.. then you are pretty much at his mercy )


1. Set camera to:

  • Flash.
  • F22 (maybe less)
  • 28mm (35mm equiv)
  • Manual focus and aperture. Auto exposure probably.
  • Set focus for distance to be sharp from half the distance from photographer to the group and beyond.
    (ie at f/22 or maybe f/16 or even f/11 if group is at 2 metres and you set close end of focus range to 1 metre it will be sharp from 1 metre to well beyond the back of the group)

Depth of field is more than enough.
Everything useful is in focus. In most cases exposure will be established correctly on sudden shutter press.
So, no decision making needed by user (except framing), no half pressure delay needed.
I said 28 mm as you usually then get a wide enough shot that head chopping off etc is minimised. Usually :-). Set tighter if brave.

All they need to do is aim it generally and push the button.

2. When I'm in tourist mode in foreign countries I take pictures of myself with people I meet. I term these my OGG photos :-) (Old Grey Guy - as I kept being surprised tp find how different I appeared when I looked at the photos afterwards compared to how I feel when I'm travelling. "Age shall not weary them, ..." - but it tries. )

Find an arm that suits you best (either are possible but one will be easier.) Hold camera at arms length facing the pair of you. Experience will teach you how to compose the shot to get you both in fully and so heads are about the same size. I can manage 3 people OK and 4 or 5 with effort. If the camera has live view and the screen articulates so you can see the sot as you take it, so much the better. My A77 has this, earlier cameras didn't. I got accustomed enough to doing this blind that I seldom bother with the screen.

The results are often less than superb - but better than what you are reporting when others take the photo.

More samples on request :-) ...

The shadow tells the story - pay more attention next time :-).

enter image description here

  • I'm not understanding the "_to_group" part — can you expand on that / clarify a bit?
    – mattdm
    May 23, 2012 at 19:10

Meter on somebody else in the photo and then either lock the exposure or dial it in manually. Take the exposure completely out of their hands.

Then, for composition, switch to live view. Move the focus box in LV where you will want it (where you want your eye perhaps) and then tell them something like "move the camera such that my eye is in that box and then press the button". Try to take the composition out of it for them as well.

The only thing they should be doing is pressing a button - no real decisions left for them to make.


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