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When you decide to upgrade from relying on your phone or a point and shoot camera to a better model one of the first things you will be faced with is a wider array of ‘modes’ on your new camera. That said though, it’s not just newbies who have a lot to learn about what your camera can do in the various modes and as such, there is always space to learn a bit more!
You’ll normally find your camera’s modes on a dial that you can turn at the top right hand side. You can toggle through the modes before you take a photo in order to make the most of your camera’s capabilities. On some cameras the dial to select the mode is only on the LCD screen, but wherever the dial is, you’ll be given the same basic choices.
The Basics: Aperture, Shutter Speeds and ISO.
- Aperture: The aperture on your camera determines how far the lens opens. The more it opens the more light can get onto the light sensor. When you are taking photography the aperture will affect the depth of field in your images. This is the total range within the image that objects are in focus. A larger aperture will give you a shallow depth of field while a lower aperture will give you a greater depth of field. However, the numbers of the aperture seem a little backwards! For example, an aperture of f/4 is actually larger than an aperture of, say, f/11 which means that the f/4 will give you a shallower depth of field than the f/11 aperture setting.
- Shutter Speed: The shutter speed determines the speed at which your camera takes a photo which affects how long the light is allowed to enter the camera. If you use a slow shutter speed then you can capture blurs, light trails and other movement in the image whereas a faster shutter speed will give you a clear image with no movement or blurs. Fast shutter speeds, that deliver freeze motion images, are divided into fractions of a second such as 1/50th, 1/150th or 1/500th etc. Slower shutter speeds are measured in seconds, for example 2 seconds, 5 seconds or 30 seconds.
- ISO: The ISO setting on your camera will set how sensitive your camera will be to the light entering it. You can set your camera’s ISO to a lower number, such as 100, which is usually used in very bright settings. This is best used if you are outdoors in the direct sunlight for example. Higher ISO numbers like ISO 800 or ISO 1600 will increase your camera’s sensitivity to light and is best used indoors (without a flash) or in other dimly lit conditions.
What are the main camera modes and what are they for?
The main modes on your camera will take over the settings for aperture, shutter speeds, ISO, color and contrast so you simply need to identify which mode is best suited to the environment and subject of your picture and point and click! Your camera also has a manual mode in which case you are in charge of selecting all the settings. The basic modes are best for beginners but are useful for all photographers who want to snap a high quality picture quickly and easily.
I take a lot of photos of Philadelphia and I have often wondered, does the camera mode matter? Why can I not use the Auto Mode, use RAW file format and do post processing?
- Auto Mode: Auto mode is the easiest to use because the camera will determine the best settings for you letting you shoot great pictures in most conditions. The camera will analyze the environment and set the aperture, shutter speed and the ISO to the appropriate settings to give you a good exposure. The camera will also use the flash if it’s appropriate.
- Portrait Mode: The camera will put the settings to those best for taking portraits. The camera will set a fast shutter speed and a large aperture giving you a shallow depth of field. This should result in a nice clear image that is focused on your subject.
- Landscape Mode: This mode is best used for taking pictures of scenery. The camera will set itself to take a photo with bright colors and a low aperture setting that will give you a great depth of field. The camera will usually set a slower shutter speed so you may want to consider using a tripod in landscape mode.
- Sports Mode: This is designed for fast action photography and is ideal for sporting events, pictures of pets or children playing or any subject that is moving around. Your camera will use a fast shutter speed to avoid blurs in your image with a large aperture which will result in a shallow field depth. The camera will not use its flash and may increase the ISO setting to work better with the faster shutter speed.
- Night Mode: As the name suggests this setting is designed to work well at night. The camera will fire the flash with a higher ISO setting and a slow shutter speed to make the most of the limited availability of light. This mode allows you to take pictures of subjects in the city at night even with brightly lit signs or windows behind them and so is perfect for outdoor restaurants, beaches and other night spots.
- Close up Mode: This is used for taking pictures of things that are very close up, such as flowers or insects. The camera will usually use a smaller aperture to give you shallow depth of field and a slow shutter speed. The camera will focus on the nearest objects to it so you may end up with a blurred background.
Your camera also has some more advanced modes.
In the more advanced modes you have more control over what the camera is going to do while you take a picture.
- Program Mode: This is similar to the Auto Mode in that the camera will select the best shutter speed, aperture and ISO settings however you can choose the white balance and the style of picture that you want. Also, once the camera has selected the settings you can change the shutter speed and aperture settings if you want to. The Program Mode is a good stepping stone or middle ground between Auto Mode and completely Manual.
- Aperture Priority Mode: This mode allows you to select the aperture while the camera takes care of the rest of settings for you. On some models of camera you will also need to set the ISO however, on other models this is also taken care of for you . Aperture priority mode is great for landscape photography allowing you to select the right aperture to achieve a deep depth of field while letting your camera take care of the shutter speed and the other details! Keep in mind that if your camera selects a slow shutter speed for the photo you may want to use a tripod to avoid blurring or shakes in the photo.
- Shutter Priority Mode: When you use shutter priority mode you will be able to choose the shutter speed while your camera will select the aperture and ISO settings. This is a great mode for a wide variety of photos. If you want to take photographs of fast moving subjects, such as in sports, then you can set the shutter speed to a fast one of 1/500th and if you want to capture motion in your pictures then you can select a slow shutter speed.
- Manual Mode: When you select manual mode you will be responsible for deciding what all the settings on the camera are. This mode gives you the most freedom of any of the modes however it will take a bit of practise to master using it well!
Learning to make the most of Your Camera’s Modes will help You to take Your Photography to the next level.
As you start to do some experimenting and learn to effectively use the modes on your camera you will immediately begin to see major improvements in your finished work. Using the different modes will help you to get an intuitive sense for what it means in practical terms to vary the shutter speed, change the aperture and ISO settings and with time you will gain the confidence to start working in the manual mode.
All of the modes on your camera have their uses and understanding how they work, when and where to use them and which one to choose will be a great feather in your cap as you move forward but ultimately, as you become better and more knowledgeable you will be able to take the leap into using the manual mode which will always give you the most creative control in the end.
Which camera mode do you normally use?