Teachable Moment - Camera Modes - which one should I use?

 

You know the dial on the top of the camera, the one that says M, A, S, P (M, Av, Tv, P for Canon)? You’ll also find Auto and all those scene modes up there, too (the flower, the mountain, the running man etc). What does it all mean and when should you use which mode?

SHUTTER RELEASE MODES IN DSLR PHOTOGRAPHY-2.png

Auto

In Auto, the camera will make decisions on your behalf for the Aperture and Shutter Speed settings. The main goal for the camera will be to balance the exposure meter - meaning it will try to get the right amount of light into the camera to make a photo that’s not too dark or too bright using any pair of Aperture and Shutter Speed settings. So, you’ll end up with a well exposed photo but without any control over considerations like Depth of Field or how movement is captured. There’s no shame here - if you’re new to photography sometimes you’ll just want to revert to Auto if you’re in a tricky moment. It’s ok - just make the camera work for you.

M - Manual Mode

M - Manual. You have control over both Aperture and Shutter Speed settings.

M - Manual. You have control over both Aperture and Shutter Speed settings.

Some people are happy to always use the camera on manual. If you understand Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO (the so-called exposure triangle) and if you can manage these settings while watching what your subject is doing then, by all means, this is a great way to use the camera. It puts you firmly in charge of what you’re doing and that doesn’t sound like a bad thing. For people who are earlier in their photography journey, however, this can all be a bit too much. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with using the camera in a different mode if it makes it easier for you and you don’t get extra points for using the camera on manual - so lets look at the other options.

A (Av) - You set the Aperture and the camera automatically selects the Shutter Speed.

A (Av) - You set the Aperture and the camera automatically selects the Shutter Speed.

A (Av) - Aperture Priority

In Aperture Priority, you’re in charge of choosing the Aperture setting and the camera will give you a shutter speed to support this setting. Aperture is the setting which controls Depth of Field so A(Av) is a sort-of half-auto mode which puts you in charge of how much stuff is in focus. The result will be a well exposed photograph with the Depth of Field you want. So, you’re gaining some creative control without having to do too much thinking and dial-twiddling. It’s a great way to use the camera and it’s my go-to for every-day family photography. If you’re making a photograph where Depth of Field is the primary consideration then Aperture Priority is the right mode to use.

S (Tv) - Shutter Priority

S (Tv) - You choose there Shutter Speed and the camera automatically sets the Aperture.

S (Tv) - You choose there Shutter Speed and the camera automatically sets the Aperture.

In Shutter Priority, you’re in charge of choosing the Shutter Speed and the camera will give you an aperture which supports this setting. Shutter Speed affects how movement is captured in a photograph so if you wanted to freeze movement at a sports event, for example, you could choose a fast shutter speed like 1/1000th of a second whereas if you wanted to blur the movement of a waterfall you could choose a shutter speed of 1 or 2 seconds. Again, you’re gaining creative control over the image in a very simple way.

If you’re shooting a photograph where capturing movement is the primary consideration then Shutter Priority is the right mode for you.

P - Program Mode

P - Think of it as a flexible Auto mode.

P - Think of it as a flexible Auto mode.

Program mode is a lot like Auto where the camera will give you a pair of settings (Aperture and Shutter Speed) which should result in a well exposed photo. The added bonus with P is that you can chooses a different pair of settings by moving the dial on the camera. The amount of light coming into the camera will remain the same but you have some say over how it comes in.

How do I change this mode in my camera? It will vary from camera-to-camera but most cameras have a chunky dial on the top with the modes M, A, S and P clearly displayed. Check your manual if you’re not sure.

In summary, choosing a camera mode is about asking yourself, what’s the priority in this image? If it’s capturing a certain depth of field - either everything in focus for a landscape or just a narrow slice of the image in focus for a portrait - then Aperture Priority is the Mode for you. If you’re looking to freeze or blur movement then Shutter Priority is your go-to. If your photo isn’t particularly about one thing or the other, its just a casual snap, then you could use P. Finally, for ultimate control of your camera, you can use Manual.

What mode do you find the most useful and why? Let me know what you think in the comments and remember to share this article if you found it helpful.

Graham Dargie.