Understanding Camera Modes

To be able to control photo exposure, it is essential to understand your DSLR (Digital single-lens reflex) camera modes.

Digital camera modes are camera features that allow the photographer or the camera to determine the exposure. In basic or automatic modes, the camera determines all aspects, whereas, in manual or creative modes, the photographer has control over the different parameters of exposure.

Having the right approach with camera modes and photographic skills will advance any photographer from enthusiastic amateur to a skilled expert, and enable them to produce quality images.

Not all the same

Not all cameras have the same camera modes, and presentation of the modes can vary too. However, most cameras for beginners or intermediate photographers have dial programs on the camera that include basic and creative modes.

In basic mode, the camera does almost everything for the photographer. An icon indicates the shot preference like landscape or portrait.

In creative mode, the photographer sets the camera controls for the photograph.   Creative modes indicators are M, Tv, Av and P. Again, these may vary with the different camera makes.

Basic modes

I am working with a Canon EOS 600D camera. If you have a different type of camera, it may pay to look at the modes on your camera and to identify where the icons for the modes are placed.

Fully Automatic Scene Intelligent Shooting – Dial indicator: ‘A.’

In this mode, the camera analyses the scene and sets the optimum settings for the shot. ‘A’ mode is the most prominent mode for photographers that do not wish to get technical with their camera.

Creative Auto Shooting – ‘CA’

The Creative Auto mode allows some adjustments for the photographer to change the depth of field, ambience, drive and flash firing.

With the depth of field, the background is blurred, while the object of the photo is in sharp focus. Ambience sets the photo atmosphere to vivid, soft, warm, or cool or various other settings that may be in your camera.

The drive setting sets single shot, or continuous shooting, or self-timer shooting.

Other basic modes

Two common basic modes that tend to be in all cameras are:

  • Portraits – which emphasises softer skin and hair tones. The background becomes blurred.
  • Landscape – put the emphasis on clear focus from near to distant.

Different manufacturers incorporate a broad range of different modes depending on the camera type.

Creative Modes

There are four creative modes, where more of the control of the camera is now with you, the photographer.

1. Manual – Dial indicator: ‘M.’

In manual exposure mode, users can set the shutter speed and aperture to suit. Once set, obtain improved exposure with the use of exposure level indicator in the camera viewfinder.

2. Shutter Priority – ‘Tv.’

Known as the time value mode, with this mode you can freeze the action, or create motion blur in your image.  To obtain motion blur, use a slower shutter speed, say 1/30 sec, or you can freeze the action with a faster shutter speed, of say 1/2000 sec.

Use Shutter Priority for action shots of moving subjects.

3. Aperture Priority – ‘Av.’

With Av, you manually set the lens aperture, while the camera automatically picks the right shutter speed to correctly expose the image, meaning that you can control the depth of field, by increasing or decreasing the lens aperture.

F-stop number, like f/5.6, f/22, specify lens aperture measurement. The number denotes how wide the aperture is. The lower the number, the wider the aperture. The higher the number, the smaller the aperture.

4. Program AE – ‘P.’

The camera automatically sets the shutter speed and aperture to suit the subject’s brightness. This mode is like the basic fully automatic mode ‘A’ except all other elements within the camera in this mode are adjustable.

Some basic photography skills for all modes

The following skills apply in both mode environments:

  • Choose a background that suits the subject.
  • Choose the right lens for the photo.
  • Focus the camera on the right subject in the viewfinder.

By using these simple skills and experimenting with each mode, the quality of your photography will improve.

May 2017

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