Tips & Tutorials

DSLR Shooting Modes [When to Use Them?]

DSLR Shooting Modes

Phones, little cameras and even DSLRs have a bunch of modes that you can use in all sorts of situations. Whenever a photograph does not turn out as you want it to, it’s usually because you chose the wrong mode. In this article I am going to show you which ones to stay away from, and of course which ones will allow you to really get the most out of your camera.

Fireworks, snow, baby and all similar modes are in my opinion just good marketing tricks, never use them if you have an expensive camera. Only you know what you are taking pictures of. Sure, they may sometimes make the shot look good, but wouldn’t you want to know why it looks like that?

Automatic Mode – 1

The green rectangle, or just the letter A, usually stands for Automatic. Your camera controls everything; the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focusing, white balance and so on. All you have to do is click on the shutter button and then blame the camera if the photograph does not look nice.

If you just shoot for fun then this mode will be alright, but if you want to understand why photographs turn out as they do or want to become a professional one day, you should stop using this as soon as possible! Basically, the more you spent on your camera the less you should use it.

Program Mode – 2

Similar to the mode above, this one controls everything. It allows you to change the ISO speed, white balance and a few other things, but only after it has calculated on its own, so it’s a great mode to start if you are not sure which settings to use immediately.

Marked as P on your mode dial.

Shutter Speed Priority – 3

The first semi-manual mode available. You can change the shutter speed and the camera will take care of the rest. Perfect for beginners and professionals that don’t have the time to learn all other settings, or are simply in a rush and can’t risk missing the shot. Most people use it when shooting sports or other types of action where you trust your camera enough to change the aperture and ISO accordingly.

Marked as Tv (Time Value) on Canon and S (Shutter) on Nikon.

Aperture Priority – 4

Opposite to the one above, here you are in charge of the aperture. Great for portraits, blurring the background or shooting in low light.

Marked a Av (Aperture Value) on Canon and A on Nikon.

Manual Mode – 5

I guess you already know that this where you can control everything manually. Needless to say, that includes the the shutter speed, aperture, ISO etc. (although functions like white balance can be put to automatic).

The first time I used manual mode was on a film camera, even though I already had a basic point and shoot. Since it didn’t have a light meter all of my settings were selected purely on what I read and what I thought was right. 36 shots later I developed the film and all I got was a lot of black photographs, with 1-3 well exposed photographs. Turns out my shutter speeds were way to fast. You can read every single book in the world, but if you don’t actually go out and even fail sometimes, it’s gonna be much harder to become better.

Learn what each button does and try to memorize them by their size/position so you won’t even have to look to change something.

Marked as M on all cameras. If you are using a cheap point and shoot it will be tough using it as the camera has no assigned buttons for it.

Bulb Mode – 6

Bulb Mode is usually found only on DSLR cameras (on the mode dial, or in the menu, next to the longest shutter speed)

Once selected, you can hold the shutter button for as long as you want to; minutes, hours or even until your battery gets empty. Bulb mode is great for night photograph, especially if you get yourself a remote control or a cable release.

Marked as B on all cameras.

Most of the time it’s best to use the Manual or the two semi-manual modes. It’s how you get the best out of your camera!

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