Shooting Manual: The Camera Modes

Most modern cameras – from point and shoots to DSLRs and beyond – support the four major shooting modes used most often by professionals. Depending on what you shoot and how much control you wish to have helps to determine what mode you use.

Program (P)

Essentially auto on steroids, the camera maintains control of the shutter speed and aperture while you (the photographer) controls the camera flash, ISO, etc. What really makes this mode different than Auto is the ability to choose between other aperture/shutter speed combinations. See, this mode chooses the appropriate aperture and shutter speed based on the scene before you, just as Auto would; but this mode also allows for the photographer to choose between a few combinations that would give very similar – if not the same – results in terms of exposure. So if you would want to shoot with your aperture wide open to get bokeh, you could scroll through the options the camera gives you until finding something appropriate for your needs.

Personally I have never used this mode before, but I can see its appeal to those wither just getting away from Auto or who shoot something fast paced where you do not have the time to think about your settings. I know quite a few street photographers who use this mode for shooting. But while I do not believe this mode has much use for me with landscape photography or much else, it may be something for you to consider, especially when starting out.

Shutter Priority (S/Tv)

Another mode I have never used – I sort of when straight into Manual mode – the camera controls the aperture while the photographer controls everything else. This places the shutter as priority, hence the name. Sports photographers – along with those shooting high speed subjects – would benefit from using this mode as it ensures that you will freeze the action. Keep in mind that when shooting with this mode, you do not have control over the aperture; therefore, the depth of field in your photographs may change rather rapidly, leading to potentially missing focus. If you want to have control over your shutter speed, but do not care about what aperture you shoot with, use this mode.

Aperture Priority (A/Av)

Finally, a mode that I have personal experience with. When thinking of Aperture Priority, think of Shutter Priority, save for the fact that you control the aperture and the camera controls the shutter speed; essentially the modes are opposites of one another. With this mode, you can go into your settings on your camera and – under Auto ISO on my Nikon D7200 – set a minimum shutter speed so the camera will boost the ISO settings rather than lowering the shutter. Of course, if the ISO cannot get high enough to properly expose the scene, the camera will over-ride the minimum shutter speed previously set, and will therefore lower it in order to gain proper exposure. This is also where exposure compensation comes into effect.

In short, exposure compensation is the ability to tell the camera that you want to under or over expose the image by a certain amount. This has no effect in Manual mode but tends to be very useful in the priority modes. If the scene is too dark for the camera to get proper exposure, you can set the exposure compensation to be around two stops or so darker than what would be proper in order to maintain the minimum shutter speed.

Getting back to aperture priority, I know of a few portrait photographers who use this mode since they do not care what shutter speed they shoot at. As long as their aperture is set to get their “signature look,” and their exposure is how they want it, they are happy. On top of that, using this mode allows for a better focus on emotion and posing of the models when shooting portraiture. When shooting landscape/nature work, I honestly do not see many benefits. Yet the best part of this mode is that the photographer gets to control the Out of Focus area (OOF) without worrying about much else.

Manual (M)

The god of all camera modes. The only mode a camera should be able to have and the only mode a photographer needs to know. Learn to use your camera completely manual and you will be set for life. This is the only mode that I shoot in as I like to have full control over my camera and the way the images turn out. I simply do not trust my camera enough to properly expose the scene in the best way to capture the mood as I have seen it. With this mode, the photographer controls everything: ISO, aperture, shutter speed, etc. This allows for the photographer to not only find but also perfect their vision/style.

In my opinion, the best way to learn to shoot photography is to simply dive right into Manual mode and play around with everything. Look online at different websites and YouTube tutorials – there are literally hundreds of thousands out there – and figure this shit out. It is not all that hard, I promise. If you do not feel comfortable doing that, however, go ahead and start in Program mode until you begin to get a better understanding of how your camera works. Hell, play around in all of the modes and find something that works best for you. Just because Manual works the best for me – and I am a firm believer in shooting fully manual – it does not at all mean that it will work as well for you.

In Conclusion

I plan to make this into a series in order to help you guys out as much as possible in your journey with photography. If you would like to find out about aperture – what it is, how to use it, etc. – be sure to keep an eye out as it will be dropping within the next week or so. And if you have any questions in regards to this article or others, please do not hesitate to contact me via the contact form at the top of this page.

Thank You

Cody Schultz