Explanation of the modes on your camera face (and when to use them)

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Your camera’s buttons and dials can be intimidating at first, so it’s easy to switch to auto mode and let the camera do the rest. If you’re an auto mode shooter, you’re really missing something. Your camera’s other modes will give you plenty of options to try to boost your creativity.

Curious to know more? Here are all the details about the different modes of your camera, or as it is also called PASM.


Understand the exposure triangle

Shooting in auto mode can be handy in a variety of situations. Still, if you learn other modes, you’ll appreciate the versatility of taking artistic shots by controlling your camera settings.

To understand how to do this, you need to know the basics of the exposure triangle. Your camera has three main settings that will determine how much light to allow into your camera: opening, shutter speedand ISO.

The aperture value determines how open your lens is to let in light. We call it f-number and usually denote it as f/1.8, f/3.2, f/8, etc. With lower f-numbers, your lens will open wide, leading to shallow depth of field. The reverse happens with a larger f-number.

Shutter speed is how long your shutter stays open to take a picture. You would use a fast shutter speed like 1/250th of a second for fast moving subjects.

Finally, ISO controls the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor.

We call it the exposure triangle because changing one setting will impact the other two. It is therefore necessary to balance the three to obtain correctly exposed photos.

What are your camera modes?

In addition to automatic mode, cameras generally have four modes: manual, aperture priority, shutter priorityand program modeswhich together are called PASM.

Manual mode-M

If you are a beginner photographer, this is not an easy mode to try. In manual mode, the camera will allow you to control all elements of the exposure triangle, such as aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Also, you need to consider other parameters such as white balance and focus area.

Many photographers prefer to use manual mode because it gives them full control. However, there are too many things to remember and adjust in this mode. So you have to grasp photographic concepts well and practice enough to make quick decisions.

Manual mode is best suited for landscape, food and product photography. In short, it can be ideal for still subjects and studio photography, where you don’t have to make split-second decisions.

Astro and macro photographers swear by the manual mode. That’s because it’s the best option if you want to focus and get the right exposure.

Although manual mode is considered the holy grail for photographers, don’t worry too much. With fast-moving subjects, you’ll miss shots if you constantly change settings. Instead, try Priority Modes, which can be quick and convenient.

Aperture priority mode – A (Av in Canon)

After automatic mode, this is probably the best mode to start with. It is considered a semi-automatic mode with shutter priority and program modes.

When you switch your camera to A mode, it takes care of the shutter speed for you. And you just need to set the aperture and ISO as you like.

Aperture is the first thing you need to play with to get artistic shots. Aperture Priority will allow you to do this without worrying about other settings. Additionally, you can use the exposure compensation option if you don’t like the exposure settings for some reason.

You can use aperture priority for any type of photography, but it’s beneficial for portraits, landscapes, and macro photography.

Note that aperture priority mode is not ideal for fast-moving subjects. You can still use it, but remember to increase the ISO so you can keep your shutter speed fast without your camera slowing it down too much.

Shutter priority mode – S (Tv in Canon)

As the name suggests, you’ll control shutter speed and ISO while the camera takes care of the aperture. This is the mode to use if your subject is constantly moving, such as wildlife, sports, and photographing children.

You can play with shutter priority to achieve different effects, from freezing motion to adding artistic blur. If you’re worried about shallow depth of field, do the same as for aperture priority mode: increase your ISO sensitivity so the aperture doesn’t open too wide.

Program-P Mode

Program mode lets you control the third setting of the exposure triangle: ISO. Your camera will adjust aperture and shutter speed. Although not as popular as the other two semi-automatic modes, this mode can still help take quick shots without fiddling with too many buttons.

If you’re a fan of low noise in your photos, this is the mode to try. Plus, you control other settings like white balance, metering, and exposure compensation.

Other modes on your camera

Besides the PASM modes, your camera will likely have other symbols on the dial. They are great for practicing and understanding how each mode works for a particular subject. Pay close attention to how the three parameters of the exposure triangle change.

Here’s a guide to the other modes and their uses.

Close-up Mode (Flower)

This symbol indicates macro or close-up mode, perfect for photographing flowers and insects. This mode will generally choose a shallow depth of field.

Portrait mode (human avatar)

This mode is intended for photographing people. Aperture and shutter speed will be at half range to get the whole face in focus and separate the background.

Landscape Mode (Mountain)

The mountain symbol denotes nature and outdoor photography. The camera will choose a large depth of field for landscape photos. In addition, the scene will have saturated colors with high contrast.

Night mode (stars or crescent)

This mode will have a high ISO for shooting in low light. In addition, this mode can automatically activate the flash built into the camera.

Sport mode (person running)

This is the best mode for fast moving subjects and sports as the shutter speed will be high.

Non-flash mode (cross flash)

This mode is convenient to use in places like museums where flash is prohibited. Your camera will calculate the exposure based on the available light.

Familiarize yourself with your camera modes

Being in automatic mode can be limiting. Although the various knobs and buttons may seem scary, don’t stop. Remember that things are only complex until you learn them. So turn the dial on your camera and start experimenting.


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