All digital cameras have different shooting modes. There are complete auto modes like auto, portrait, sports, etc. In these modes, the camera does everything for you. It chooses your aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. I really don’t ever recommend using these modes because you are losing all control of your image and they discourage new photographers from ever learning how to use their cameras.
Then there are the semi-auto modes like Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Program mode. In these modes, you are controlling one aspect of the exposure either the aperture, shutter speed or ISO.
Followed by Manual Mode where you are in full control of your camera’s settings.
The P on your camera stands for Program Mode. Program mode is very similar to auto mode. In program mode, the shutter, ISO, and aperture are chosen for you. The big difference between Program mode and full Auto mode is that you can still control some variables. You can adjust exposure compensation, shooting mode, white balance, and flash to name a few. The only time I would recommend using this mode is if you don’t have time to pick your settings and you need an image on the fly.
Shutter Priority Mode
In shutter priority mode (S or TV on most cameras) you are picking the shutter speed and the camera is choosing the aperture. You are still responsible for setting the ISO in this mode unless you set your ISO to auto. This mode comes in handy when you are trying to freeze or show motion. Let’s say you are shooting a waterfall and you know you want to show motion by using a slow shutter. You could choose a shutter speed of 10 seconds (like in the image below) and then the camera will choose an aperture that will yield a proper exposure. Alternately if you wanted to freeze motion you could choose a fast shutter like 1/500.
f/16, 1/10 sec
Aperture Priority Mode *Our Favorite
In aperture priority mode you are choosing the aperture and letting the camera choose your shutter speed. This is the A or AV on your dial. Just like shutter priority you are in charge of setting your ISO. If you are new to photography I recommend setting the ISO to auto until you get a hang of things. This mode is my favorite way to teach photography to newbies. Varying our aperture allows for all kinds of creative effects. If you use a large aperture (like f/1.8) you will isolate what you focus on because the background will be blurry and only what you focus on will be in focus. Alternately if you were shooting a landscape you would set your aperture to f/22 to get all of the scene in focus. I highly recommend starting out in this mode and reading up on what aperture is and how it works. This is the mode I learned in, and it is the mode I use most to this day. So much of what I photograph requires being prepared for the shot. If all I have to worry about is setting the aperture and ISO then I can quickly set up my shot.
Notice in the image below that my subject is in focus but the background is blurred. My settings for this image were f/3.2, 1/300.
In this image, I used a small aperture (large number) so that I could get all of my scene in focus. My settings were f/16, 1/50 sec.
In manual mode, (the M on the dial) you are in control of everything. You will be setting your ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Once you get the hang of aperture priority mode I highly recommend learning how to shoot in full manual mode. There are times when the semi-automatic modes just can’t get it quite right. I shoot in full manual mode when photographing waterfalls with a filter, and when I am shooting the night sky.
f/2.8, 30 sec
About the Author
Beth Mancuso is a portrait and landscape photographer based out of Minnesota. She has been in business as a portrait photographer for over ten years. She has spent the last six years working as an instructor and mentor. Her work has been featured by National Geographic, Huff Post, My Modern Met, Peta Pixel, and Lensbaby. Her work has been published in Click, Midwest Living, and Black and White Magazine. You can read more about her here. You can find a portfolio of her landscape work here. You can find here portrait work here.