Digital Camera Shooting Modes
There are numerous adjustable settings on your camera, but which settings you’ll have direct access to is based on your current shooting mode. Manual mode, for example, allows you to make virtually any adjustments to any of the settings while you’re shooting. Your camera’s Full Auto mode, on the other hand, makes most of the exposure settings for you leaving you little to control on your own.
The quality of exposure is determined by the balance of ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. The standard shooting modes, except for Manual mode, provide some level of automatic exposure setting adjustments to help make taking pictures easier. We’ll explore these modes here, so you’ll know which ones to use based on your needs and the shooting conditions.
You can think of this as sort of a point-and-shoot mode. Few camera settings are set by you, and the actual decisions about exposure are made entirely by the camera. ISO, aperture, and shutter speed are determined based on what the camera’s programming thinks is best for the scene. While this might seem like a great way to shoot, it provides you with very few creative choices.
Program Mode (P)
This is another easy-to-use mode that gives the camera initial control over the aperture and shutter speed settings. Here, the camera controls the balance between the aperture and shutter speed, but it allows you to shift the exposure mix in case you’d like to see one or the other settings in a different place. For example, let’s say, for a given scene, your camera is showing the aperture at f/5.6 and shutter speed at 1/60 sec. If you’d like your shutter speed to bump up to 1/125, you can make that adjustment as your camera automatically makes the reciprocal adjustment to the aperture to f/4. This is usually done via one of the adjustment “wheels” on the camera. This type of exposure control shifting is a handy way to exert a little more control over the exposure settings than you’d have with the Full Auto mode.
Besides allowing you to shift the exposure settings up or down, Program mode also allows you to set the ISO and dial in Exposure Compensation Exposure Compensation is a way to override the camera’s exposure decision-making by a few stops up or down the exposure scale.
Shutter Priority Mode (Tv)
There are times when shooting at a specific shutter speed is more important than manually controlling aperture. Time Value (Tv) Priority, more commonly known as Shutter Priority, allows you to select and adjust the shutter speed as you shoot, while the camera automatically adjusts the aperture to compensate for any change in exposure. If you’re taking pictures at a sporting event, for example, you might want to capture the action at shutter speeds no slower than 1/500 sec. As background and other lighting conditions change, your aperture will be adjusted automatically.
Of course, the camera’s ability to maintain good exposures through aperture adjustments is limited by the aperture range of the lens used. In those cases, a simple manual adjustment to your ISO will put you back in a good exposure range if limited by a slower lens.
Aperture Priority Mode (Av)
This can be thought of as the flip side to Shutter Priority mode. You’ll use Aperture Priority when you want to have direct control of your aperture setting while allowing your camera to automatically adjust the shutter speed for you to maintain proper exposure. Although using this setting means you’re less concerned about the exact shutter speeds being used, you’ll want to keep an eye on which shutter speeds your camera is selecting for you. Stopping your aperture down too far can lead to slower shutter speeds and blurry pictures.
Manual Mode (M)
Manual mode gives you total control over all exposure settings: ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. This means you, and not the camera, are responsible for getting a proper exposure. The camera’s metering system will still provide feedback to help you judge the potential for over/under exposure, but it won’t take over to correct your exposure settings.
Where lighting conditions are inconsistent, you’ll have to make frequent adjustments. Since you can freely adjust aperture and shutter speed independently of each other, you’ll have a great amount of creative freedom with manual mode. But since you’re doing all the thinking for the camera, you might be spending more time dealing with the settings than you’d like. Manual mode is very useful in situations where you can take your time composing and making creative adjustments to exposure. It’s also great for studio lighting and portrait setups because the lighting conditions remain constant throughout a series of shots; few if any adjustments have to be made unless there are changes made to the lighting setup and/or the ambient lighting conditions.
Bulb Mode (B)
Another version of Manual mode is Bulb mode. Here, you can control all aspects of the camera as with manual, but instead of pre-selecting a shutter speed, the shutter simply remains open for as long as you hold the shutter release button down (can be controlled with a remote release also). This is a very inaccurate way to manage the duration of the exposure, but it can be useful under the right conditions. Bulb is best used with a tripod and some type of remote/cable release to prevent blur from camera movement. It’s often used to photograph fireworks, the night sky, and other low-light scenes.