Your digital camera comes equipped with a plethora of automatic and semi-automatic modes designed to make your life as a photographer easier. Aside from automatic mode, aperture priority mode and shutter priority mode, your camera gives you a variety of scene-specific modes and each of those modes have a specific purpose. You can easily switch between modes for portraits, landscapes, macro photography, sunset photography and more. Let’s check out what your camera does when you work with one of its many automatic scene modes.
Automatic Mode – This is the most commonly used mode for many hobbyists and amateur photographers. Also, known as “green box”, auto mode tells the camera to use it’s best judgement to select the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, focus and flash to take the best shot that it can. With some cameras, auto mode lets you override flash or change it to red-eye reduction. This mode will give you nice results in many shooting conditions, however you need to keep in mind that you’re not telling the camera any additional information about the type of shot you’re taking, so it will be ‘guessing’ what you want. As a result, some of the following modes might be more appropriate to select as they give your camera a few more “hints”.
Portrait Mode – When you switch to portrait mode, your camera will automatically select a large aperture (example: f/2.8) which helps to keep your background out of focus (it sets a narrow depth of field ensuring your subject is the only thing in focus and is the center of attention in the shot). Portrait mode works best when you’re photographing a single subject, so make sure you get close enough to your subject (either by zooming in or walking closer). Pro-tip: if you’re shooting into the sun, you might want to trigger your flash to add a little light onto their face (fill flash).
Macro Mode – Macro mode lets you move closer to your subject in order to take a close-up picture. This mode is great for capturing flowers, insects or other small objects. Different digital cameras will have macro modes with different capabilities including different focusing distances (usually between 2-10 centimeters for point and shoot cameras). When you use macro mode, you’ll notice that focusing is more difficult since the depth of field is very narrow at short distances. You won’t want to use your camera’s built-in flash when photographing close up objects or they’ll be blown out. Using a tripod or flat surface can also be very helpful when shooting macro shots as the depth of field is so small that even moving towards or away from your subject slightly can make your subject out of focus.
Landscape Mode – This mode is basically the opposite of portrait mode since it sets the camera up with a small aperture (large number) to make sure as much of the scene you’re photographing will be in focus(i.e.: large depth of field). It’s an ideal setting for capturing shots of wide scenes, particularly those with points of interest at different distances from the camera. At times, your camera might also select a slower shutter speed in this mode (to compensate for the small aperture), so you may want to consider a tripod or other method of ensuring your camera is still, especially if you have low lighting.
Sports Mode – When photographing moving objects, sports mode (also called ‘action mode’ in some cameras) comes in handy. It is ideal for photographing any moving objects, such as people playing sports, pets, cars and wildlife. Sports mode attempts to freeze the action by increasing the shutter speed. When photographing fast-moving subjects, you can also increase your chances of capturing them by panning your camera along with the subject and/or by attempting to pre-focus your camera on a spot where the subject will be when you want to photograph it.
Night Mode – This can be a fun mode to play around with and can create some interesting shots. Night mode (also called ‘slow shutter sync’) is for shooting in low light situations and sets your camera to use a longer shutter speed to help capture details of the background. However, it also fires off a flash to illuminate the foreground (and subject). If you plan to use this mode for a well-balanced shot, you should use a tripod or your background will be blurred. However, can can be fun & creative to take handheld shots to purposely blur your backgrounds.
Movie Mode – This mode allows you to make short videos on your camera (typically 20 minutes or less). Keep in mind that movie files take up significantly more space on your memory storage than still images. Other less common modes that have been offered on digital cameras over the past few years include:
Panoramic/Stitch Mode – For taking shots of a panoramic scene to be joined together later as one image.
Snow Mode – To help with bright lighting in the snow
Fireworks Mode – For shooting firework displays
Kids and Pets Mode – Speeds up shutter speed and helps reduce shutter lag with some pre-focusing
Underwater Mode – Exposes for the unique lighting of underwater scenes
Beach Mode – Another bright scene mode (think of the amount of light the sand reflects)
Indoor Mode – Helps with setting shutter speed and white balance
Foliage Mode – Boosts saturation to give nice bold colors
Aperture Priority Mode (A or AV)
This mode is a semi-manual mode where you choose the aperture and your camera chooses the other settings (shutter speed, white balance, ISO, etc.) so you have a well-balanced exposure. Aperture priority mode is useful when you’re looking to control the depth of field in a shot (usually a stationary object where you don’t need to control shutter speed). Choosing a larger number aperture means the aperture (or the opening in your camera when shooting) is smaller and lets less light in. This means you’ll have a larger depth of field (more of the scene will be in focus), but that your camera will choose a slower shutter speed.
Shutter Priority Mode (S or TV)
Shutter priority is very similar to aperture priority mode, but instead, you select a shutter speed and the camera chooses all of the other settings. You would use this mode where you want control over shutter speed. For example, when photographing moving subjects (like sports or pets), you might want to choose a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion. However, you might want to capture the movement as a blur (such as a waterfall or tail lights) and choose a slow shutter speed. You might also choose a slow shutter speed in lower light situations.
Program Mode (P)
Some digital cameras have this priority mode in addition to automatic mode. Program mode is similar to Auto but gives you a little more control over some other features including flash, white balance, ISO, etc. Check your digital camera’s manual for how the Program mode differs from Automatic in your particular model.
Fully Manual Mode
In this mode, you have full control over your camera and need to think about all settings including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, flash, etc. It gives you the flexibility to set your shots up as you wish. We will go in-depth as to what the different options mean and how they can change the look of an image in our next post.