Basic Camera Shooting Modes Explained

  • Thread starter LukeLewis
  • Start date


Aug 3, 2020
  • #1
I love discussing how to use basic shooting modes with newer photography enthusiasts. The reason behind this is that so few beginners actually know what to do with them. And after they try to learn by themselves, they oftentimes give up. I understand their dilemma. Learning the photography triangle, about aperture sizes, and shutter speeds can seem daunting and even counterintuitive. When something goes bigger, it seems as though it should have gone smaller. Left should go right and up should go down. Admittedly, the mechanics of photography can take a while to wrap one's head around.

Have you ever considered the benefit of venturing away from Auto mode into one of the other modes? Auto is great for everyday shooting, but when you shoot with purpose and want specific results, you likely won't get them by using Auto. The problem is, Auto is great. It takes wonderful shots. For many, there's very little reason to change. I even use the mode frequently. But when push comes to shove and I need to get creative or meet a specification, I switch right over to what will give me the results I'm after. Using a basic mode, such as Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority takes the guesswork out of photography. It allows the photographer to choose his or her settings to dial into what's needed during a specific situation. Below, I'll explain exactly how each mode works and how it might help you with your craft.

Auto Mode

This mode operates exactly as it sounds. Everything the camera does is automatic, from setting the exposure, shutter speed, aperture, flash usage, ISO value, and more. It's easy to use Auto mode and that's why so many beginning photographers do. When taking advantage of this mode, the camera attempts to measure the scene's lighting as best as possible and work its settings around that. It also attempts to interpret your motives be keeping the shutter speed at a rather fast pace. There's little sense in measuring the lighting in a scene and then giving the end user an extremely slow shutter speed. The user won't be able to take quality photos if this is the case. As such, you can be confident that this mode will suffice for most situations. It's also great when letting someone borrow your camera to snap a quick photo. There's no thinking involved.

Program Mode

When setting your camera to Program mode, you'll find options that were once unavailable, available. These options may include ISO, flash, file type, and picture parameters (found in the menu settings). With Program mode, however, the camera will still take care of metering the scene and setting the aperture size and the shutter speed. And even then, you, as the photographer, can still set the ISO to auto and not even concern yourself with that. Essentially, Program mode is a great Auto mode, but with more flexibility. This is where many novice photographers find themselves.

By its very nature, this mode has certain tendencies. It'll select the fastest shutter speed and the widest aperture available. This is to avoid any possibility of motion blur or camera shake in resulting images. There may be times, however, that this mode doesn't work as well as it's supposed to. These times usually revolve around lower lighting situations. In these situations, you should manually adjust your ISO values (make the sensor more sensitive - increase the ISO number) to compensate for any possible blur. If you're shooting in very bright lighting, the camera will adjust by reducing the size of the lens's aperture. Doing this will block the light to obtain the correct exposure. Personally, I like this mode over Auto because I can control the built-in flash myself. I don't like it popping up all the time when I'm in lower light situations. I also like having full control over the ISO values.

Shutter Priority Mode

Now we're getting into the fun stuff. When choosing Shutter Priority mode, you get to control your camera's shutter speed and the camera will choose the aperture size. This is beneficial when you either want very sharp images (fast shutter speed) or the introduction of some blur (slower shutter speed). Whether that be blur coming from you moving the camera, objects in your scene moving, or both. If the clarity and sharpness of your resulting images aren't important, you might want to choose another mode. This is a very purposeful one.

Now, there is a pitfall to concern yourself with when it comes to using this mode. When choosing very slow shutter speeds, a lot of light will likely touch your camera's sensor, potentially over-exposing your images. Except, of course, when it's dark outside. When lots of light comes through the lens, the camera will automatically reduce the size of its aperture. When it's all the way reduced, too much light may still come through, if the shutter speed is slow enough. And if the ISO is all the way reduced to its least sensitive state as well (generally between 60 and 100, depending on your camera), you'll need to turn to neutral density filters as a physical light reduction method. This is merely something to keep in mind. A limitation, if you will.

Aperture Priority Mode

As you may have guessed, your lens's aperture size has a great impact on how much light travels through it and ultimately hits the camera's sensor. When using this mode, you choose the aperture size and the camera sets the shutter speed, based on the scene's lighting. Besides controlling exposure, many photographers use this mode to control the depth of field, or blur, in a shot. A larger aperture creates more blur in the foreground and background and a smaller aperture reduces the amount of blur in these areas. There are other factors that go into how shallow or deep a depth of field is, but for now, just know that aperture size has something to do with it. Like Shutter Priority and Program mode, you can still control the ISO values in Aperture Priority mode.

Full Manual Mode

For years, full Manual mode was the most intimidating part of photography for me. I had no idea how to take advantage of it because I had no idea what it controlled. Upon reflection, I shouldn't have been as intimidated as I was because it really isn't very intimidating at all. Basically, this mode allows the photographer to control the lens's aperture size and the camera's shutter speed. The camera will still meter the scene and make suggestions, but ultimately, it's you who is in charge. When would someone want to use this mode? When they're experimenting, desiring a very specific outcome, or inside a controlled environment. Oftentimes, when shooting in a studio or something similar where the lighting and distances are controlled, it's best to use Manual mode to control exactly what occurs while taking a photo. Any other setting would insert unpredictability to the session.

When shooting in Manual, you can still leave your ISO value set to auto, so the camera chooses the sensor's sensitivity. So let's say that you're on safari and you know you need a very fast shutter speed to capture any action as it occurs, but you also want a very shallow depth of field. In cases like these, you'd leave your ISO set to auto and then you'd choose a desirable shutter speed and keep it there. Then, you'd adjust your aperture size as necessary (as you move closer and farther away from your subject). This is a prime example of wanting a specific outcome while photographing. There are many examples of when you might want to use Manual mode and I invite you to share some of yours down below.

If you have any questions in regards to the basic camera modes available to you, please don't hesitate to ask down below. I'd be more than happy to help.
Basic Camera Shooting Modes Explained was posted on 02-21-2021 by LukeLewis in the Photography Forum forum.

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