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Camera Mode Settings Explained

12 min read
Camera Modes

Tutorial by: Andrew L. Hunter

In this article I would like to discuss different camera modes and what they do. I will not be brand specific and any of these tips and tricks will work with any camera that has these modes. These modes are important to understand and use. I would direct you to check out your camera manual for exact operations for your particular camera.


Auto Mode

The first mode I would like to talk about is Auto Mode. This is the mode that I see most new Dslr owners use. This mode is great if you are just starting out. I will caution that this mode is very limiting and does not allow you to change anything. The camera sets all the settings for you (ie.. shutter speed, aperture, and flash).

Scene Mode

Your camera may also have Scene modes. This is a good mode to use if you may not know how to set the settings for a particular scene. These scene modes are shown as little cartoons. As you see in the image above the different modes are suited for different situations. I as a beginner used scene modes to discover how the camera would suggest taking the photo. I have now learned how to expose different situations because of this. I now use the following modes described below almost always.

Exposure Compensation Button

Program Mode

The first more advanced mode is Program mode. This mode sets all the settings for you but with some control. The most important feature is exposure compensation. This is the ability to adjust the exposure light or darker across the board. You can set the camera to shoot at an over or underexposed degree and adjust as needed.

My camera tends to overexpose a little so I usually set my camera to underexpose by a bit. You can change this compensation by using a button similar to the one pictured to the right. This is a great asset when shooting in constantly changing environment.

I use this mode when at a family function or when I’m shooting in a location that the lighting is changing. When I’m shooting concert or event photography I use Program mode. This allows me to capture expressions and human interactions without worrying as much about metering.

Aperture Priority Mode

The next mode is Aperture Priority mode. This mode is great when you want to adjust the aperture and allow the camera to take care of the rest. I enjoy using this mode when I want to control Depth of Field or what is in focus in the photo. This mode still allows for adjustment of exposure and the like. I would suggest trying this mode and seeing what it does. Again to learn how to use this for your particular camera please check your camera manual.

Shutter Priority Mode

The next mode is a great mode for action and sports photography. This is the Shutter Priority mode. This mode of course allows you to adjust the shutter speed and the camera adjust the other settings.

I use this mode when I’m photographing action or sports such as soccer or racing. I sometimes use this mode when photographing children’s portraits. Kids move a lot and the best way to stop motion is bump up the shutter speed. I suggest using at least 1/250 to freeze motion. This is a good rule of thumb.

Manual Mode

The next mode is my favorite and most used. I use Manual mode for 90% of what I photograph. This mode is what it sounds like. It allows you to adjust all the settings yourself and can help produce the results that some of the other modes may not allow. Manual mode can be tricky to use at first, I know it was for me. I did not understand it until I read a book about exposure. It helped me understand what was going on in my camera

Exposure Meter

The above image is an example of what an exposure meter display looks like. The closer to the middle the closer to “perfect” exposure. Of course you can adjust the exposure to whatever you like. The “perfect” exposure is an opinion for the most part. You will learn what looks the best to you.

When in Manual mode I will usually set my aperture to obtain the desired Depth of Field and then set the shutter speed afterword. I use mostly manual lenses and this process works great for me.

I would highly recommend reading Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. This book unlocked my understanding about exposure and manual mode.

Other Modes

There are a few other modes that may or not be on all cameras. These modes are for more specialized situations. The Bulb mode is a way to keep the shutter open longer than the camera would normally allow. My camera allows up to a 30 sec exposure. I would use something longer than that if I was photographing the night sky to capture the star trails. I would caution that Bulb mode can eat up your battery power.

There are many modes on modern Dslr cameras. I have used most of the modes at one time or another. I have my favorites that I know will work in a given situation. Keep in mind it’s great to experiment with your camera. I have gotten myself out of a creative block by trying different things with modes of my camera. Again I would suggest checking out different articles and videos about exposure and metering. It was not my intent to go in- depth about each mode. Just to give a brief overview of each.

If you have any questions about this article please email me at alhpro@live.com I would love to hear feedback about this article and others I have written.

Thanks and Keep Shooting!!!!!! Andrew L. Hunter

About the Author

Andrew L. Hunter

A professional portrait and fine art photographer. He works in a commercial portrait studio as well as shoots many landscapes and nature photos. Andrew is also an event photographer and has worked with NFL football players as well as musicians alike.

Andrew aspires to shoot for National Geographic and also become a photography educator. If you would like to know more about Andrew and his photography you can visit his blog alhprophoto.posterous.com or email him at alhpro@live.com.

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