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PHOTOGRAPHY

Explore 4 common camera modes and what they do.

Take your best shot by selecting the right camera settings for your picture. Discover how different modes on your digital camera can unlock new artistic possibilities.   

A quick guide to digital camera modes.

  • Program mode (also known as Automatic mode) puts the camera in control of every setting.
  • Aperture and Shutter Priority modes let you control certain settings while the camera handles the rest.
  • Manual mode gives you full control of all your camera’s settings and functions.      

Camera modes can help make your picture perfect.

Photography is all about control — whether that’s controlling how much light enters the camera, which parts of your subject will appear in focus, or how long your shutter stays open. In digital photography, different camera modes give you control over every one of these camera functions.

 

“Camera modes are developed by the manufacturer to give the photographer lots of options,” says filmmaker and photographer Joshua Martin. “They give you almost an automatic way to shoot, where the camera does all the work, all the way down to what’s known as manual mode, where the photographer dials in exactly what they want.”

 

Each mode has its uses. Learn about all of them to understand when to use them to elevate your shots. 

What are the different camera modes?

No matter what brand of mirrorless or DSLR camera you decide to use, it most likely has several shooting modes specialized for different settings and types of photography. You can switch between them using the mode dial — or, if your camera doesn’t have one, the camera control menu.

A colorful sunset behind a windmill and pond being captured with Program mode on a digital camera

Image by David Long

Program (P)

Sometimes known as Auto mode, Program lets your camera make all the big decisions about settings like ISO, which controls the sensor’s light sensitivity, and depth of field, which determines what stays in focus.

 

“Program is really meant for the beginner,” Martin says. “Or if you just want a relatively good picture, like a snapshot that you don’t really have to think about. But I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for a professional photographer, because in many cases it’s just average depth of field and average shutter speed.”

 

The more the camera defaults to these settings, the greater the ease of shooting basic photos, but that comes at the expense of greater control to capture more artistic shots.

Two large birds being captured mid-flight using Shutter Priority mode to focus on their fast movement

Image by David Long

Shutter Priority (Tv) / (S)

Shutter Priority allows you to manually set the shutter speed, which controls how long your shutter stays open to allow light to hit your camera’s sensors. But this mode still lets the camera pick the right aperture setting — which controls the brightness of your image — based on the lighting conditions.

 

If you want to get a clear picture of something that’s moving fast, like a bird or an athlete in a sporting event, try using a faster shutter speed. And setting that in advance with Shutter Priority can make it easier to snap pics in the moment. On the other hand, you can use a slower shutter speed for a long exposure that gives any moving elements in your photo a motion blur effect.

The purple light of the sky behind a church being balanced with a lavender field using Aperture Priority mode

Image by David Long

Aperture Priority (Av) / (A)

Use Aperture Priority mode to take precise control of how much light enters your sensor, while leaving the shutter speed up to the camera. Adjusting your aperture setting (also known as the f-stop) can make your photographs brighter or darker, and also affects the depth of field, which determines how much of the background of your photograph is in focus.

 

This setting is sometimes called Portrait mode, because it lets portrait photographers adjust between a shallow depth of field, in which the subject’s background is a blur, and a deeper depth of field, which keeps the other details in focus.

The dark blue night sky being precisely captured behind a beach shack using Manual mode on a digital camera

Image by David Long

Manual (M)

“Manual is for when you want to override everything that all those Program modes are doing for you,” says photographer David Long. “When you don’t want the camera to control your shutter speed or your aperture because you know you need a very specific type of setting that you want to dial in yourself, so the camera does exactly what you want.”

 

You may decide to use manual settings in extremely low or high light conditions, which might otherwise confuse your camera’s automated exposure controls. If you’re trying to photograph a starry sky in the middle of the night, for instance, Manual mode lets you experiment to find the perfect settings to get the level of exposure you want.

How to enhance your photographs with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

After taking your shots, you can use programs like Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to fine-tune your photographs, highlight details, or even correct some mistakes.

       

“Lightroom can’t fix what’s out of focus, but it can bring out shadows, reduce highlights, or help you recover an image that’s a little blown out or lit too brightly,” Long says.

 

When you get back from a photoshoot with a memory card full of pictures, Lightroom makes it easy to review, organize, and sort them in a library-style format. You can rate individual photos to single out your favorites, group them into albums and collections, and even assign them keywords so you can find them quickly with the built-in search function.

       

And with the Lightroom Develop mode you can tweak every aspect of your images, from white balance to making sure there’s enough light. If you want to apply a lot of changes quickly, you can download and apply presets to create a certain mood, or follow in-app tutorials from professional photographers to find inspiration and learn new skills.

       

No matter what you’re shooting, the right camera settings and Lightroom touch-ups can create a picture worth far more than a thousand words.



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