Chances are, if you’re new to photography, you’ve been advised to “start by auto.” In fully automatic mode, DSLR cameras are tasked with choosing what are supposed to be the ideal shooting settings – shutter speed, aperture and ISO – based on data received from the camera’s sensors and what it detects that you are trying to focus on. Generally speaking, the goal is to go from automatic mode to fully manual mode, but it doesn’t have to be a straight jump.
Most DSLR cameras offer two levels to help you switch to fully manual mode: aperture priority mode and shutter priority mode. Aperture priority will appear on your DSLR’s dial as A or Av; this mode lets you control the aperture, while the camera automatically determines the shutter speed. The photographer then has one of the most powerful tools in photography: aperture is the difference between sharp or blurry landscapes and beautifully blurry or disappointing portraits. On the other hand, let’s say you’d like to photograph an athletic meet, but you’re struggling to get the settings right. Shutter priority mode may appear on your camera dial as AE (meaning auto exposure) or Tv mode. In shutter priority mode, you decide the shutter speed – which would be high enough to freeze a moving runner, for example – while the camera takes care of the rest.
Manual mode is the zenith of shooting freedom, but if you’re not quite there, try these two in-between modes.