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Photography 101 – Camera Modes

September 6, 2018
Camera modes dial on DSLR

Now that we understand the basics of aperture, shutter speed, ISO and exposure we can explore the various camera modes.

Program Mode (P)

Program mode is great when you need to take a quick picture and don’t want to waste time adjusting the settings. In this mode, the aperture and shutter speed are calculated by the camera to achieve the best exposure. For instance, if you point the camera at a bright area, the aperture will automatically increase to a higher f-stop while maintaining a reasonably fast shutter speed. You do, however, have control over the ISO and flash.

Manual Mode (M)

Manual mode gives you full control over aperture and shutter speed. Though this mode can be a little intimidating at first for novice photographers, it is great in situations where the camera is having difficulty calculating the correct exposure. For example, if you are shooting a scene outside with the sun in the corner, the camera might incorrectly calculate the exposure and either overexpose or underexpose the rest of the image. In manual mode, you can measure the exposure by using the exposure display in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen and adjust the shutter speed and/or aperture to get the desired exposure.

If you need to make sure that both shutter speed and aperture are consistent across multiple exposures, Manual is the mode for you. For example, to properly take a panoramic shot, you need to have the same shutter speed and aperture for all the shots you are trying to stitch together. Otherwise, some images may be darker while others are lighter. Manually adjusting the settings is the only way to guarantee consistency with all your shots.

Aperture Priority Mode (A or Av)

Aperture Priority enables you to have full control of the aperture setting. The camera calculates and sets the shutter speed based on your chosen f-stop to give the right exposure. Having control of the aperture means you can play around with the depth of field, and the camera will do the work to select the correct shutter speed. The camera will automatically increase the shutter speed if there is too much light; while if you are in a low-light environment, the camera will decrease the shutter speed. Metering systems in most modern cameras work very well, so there is little risk of having an over or underexposed image. I most often use this mode myself, as I like control over the depth of field when shooting landscapes and portraits.

Shutter Priority Mode (S or Tv)

As with Aperture Priority giving total control of aperture, Shutter Priority gives complete control over shutter speed. When using this mode you now no longer have control over subject isolation since the camera controls the depth of field. Manually set the shutter speed and the camera calculates and selects the f-stop for the correct exposure. Typically, this mode is used when motion needs to be frozen or deliberately blurry. As we have already learned, reducing the amount of time the shutter is open will freeze the motion. While leaving the shutter open longer will blur the movement. Sports photographers will often use Shutter Priority as it allows them to capture stunning action shots.

Try all the different modes and see which ones you prefer. Happy shooting!





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