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Shooting Modes Learning with MUNNS - February 2019

Most modern day cameras will have various options and modes for you to use, making it easier to capture the perfect shot.

In this tutorial, I will be talking about some of the most common shooting modes, most of which can be found on the mode dials of D-SLR and Mirrorless cameras.

Depending on which camera you use, the specifics of how to select and what exactly the mode will adjust will vary, but you’ll get a better understanding after reading this.

Hope you enjoy.

Part 1 – What are Shooting Modes?

Shooting Modes are simply a function on the camera that will allow you to control various settings or automatically select a range of settings for a certain type of photography.

Most digital cameras, be it a D-SLR, Mirrorless or Compact will have some sort of mode dial or function menu.

The most popular shooting modes are Auto, Semi Auto, Art/Scene and Manual. You may also see various people refer to P, S, A, M (Program, Aperture, Shutter, Manual), these are both manual and semi-automatic exposure modes.

Sometimes fully customisable modes will be available on higher end cameras allowing you to set up specific settings for storage on the mode dial (C modes, U modes or just 1, 2, 3).

For ease of use, access and quick change, these modes are normally available via a dial, or quick access button. This access or enabling process will vary greatly depending on camera and manufacturer; however most professional grade cameras will use a Mode Dial on top of the camera.

Part 2 – Art and Scene Modes

When cameras started allowing you to change settings, scene modes were born.

Although much simpler than they are now, you normally got a small choice, like Landscape (Small Aperture), Portrait or Low Light (Wide aperture) and Snapshot (Medium Aperture).

As cameras developed and the digital age was born, these settings became increasingly automated and far more complex.

The digital age and mobile phones also made Art filters more popular with those who wanted to be more creative with their images.

Scene modes will generally set up the camera for a specific type of photography.

For example;

Portrait will soften the image whilst maintaining the quality of an image (lower ISO and longer shutter speeds).

Fireworks will provide a slow shutter speed and vivid colour.

Landscape will use a small aperture, sharp detail and increased green and blue saturation.

If shooting in RAW, some scene modes will produce only a JPG image, whereas others will write the scene settings to the EXIF for processing software to read after.

Art Filters or Art Modes are placed in cameras to provide the photographer with either artistic or comical effects to an image. Some cameras will show you the effect on the screen, whilst others apply the effect after the image has been taken.

They are very closely associated with filters found on most mobile imaging applications.

Due to the nature of Art Filters, it is unlikely you will be able to shoot in RAW as the Art Filter is applied only to a processed JPG image.

Part 3 – Automated Modes

In addition to the Art and Scene modes, most cameras will have some sort of Automated Mode. This may be typically shown as a camera icon, an ‘iA’, ‘Auto’ or ‘iAuto’ on the mode dial.

In auto, the camera will determine all settings for the camera to provide the best quality image. This means it could open aperture, then slow the shutter speed, and only then adjust the ISO.

By doing this, it will always provide the best ‘quality’ image, but it doesn’t necessarily mean your final image will be good.

If you are shooting in low light, or at moving objects, automated modes may inadvertently allow motion blur to be visible and ruin your image.

This being said, some cameras have more intelligent auto modes and will assess the conditions applying a scene mode for you to use.

These can still be wrong; however they may work better with a moving subject.

To guarantee a better quality shot, you may want to control more settings yourself and use one of the exposure modes below.

Most ‘Auto’ modes will allow shooting in RAW format.

Part 4 – Exposure Modes (P,S,A,M)

Exposure modes allow you to control all or certain aspects of the exposure to provide fast or complex styles.

Although the settings available for control may vary from camera to camera and with manufacturer, you will get a general idea from the descriptions below.

P Mode – Program

It is likely that program mode will allow you to change settings like WB, Metering and Flash assessing and controlling the ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture for you.

This is generally used by the Paparazzi and similar professions who need quick shots in ever changing lighting conditions.

Another good use is for amateur photographers looking to learn from their camera, looking at the selected settings after the image has been taken.

S Mode (Tv) – Shutter Priority

This mode generally allows you to control everything except Aperture.

By setting the shutter speed yourself, you can guarantee that moving objects and captured as you like them, or that hand shake will not be an issue.

With Aperture remaining automated, you can continue shooting even if the light changes.

A lot of sports photographers will use this mode for their everyday shooting.

A Mode (Av) – Aperture Priority

Similar to shutter priority above, the Aperture Priority will allow you control of everything except shutter speed.

Generally speaking this is used by photographers who need to worry more about their depth of field in varied lighting conditions.

M Mode – Manual

This is a full control mode. Every aspect of the camera can be controlled by the photographer.

For a novice or someone still learning photographic techniques, manual mode can be quite scary. Understandably so, there are so many options and settings available, which ones do you use, which ones will give the best result?

If you remember the exposure triangle, and know what you want to achieve, it really won’t take long to get used to, just dive in and have a play.

As long as you’re not in a rush or shooting in situations where quick shooting is required, manual mode can be a lot of fun.

It’s also good to note that with most cameras, you’ll be able to set auto WB, auto ISO and use a generic metering functions with most modes, reducing the learning curve whilst giving some good feedback to you, the photographer.

Part 5 – Secondary or Additional Modes

In addition to the scene modes and shooting modes, some cameras will have specialist settings like HDR, Burst, Macro, Bulb or Underwater.

In these modes even settings like focus and focal length can be adjusted by the camera.

Some modes allow fine tuning of images and saving of this information. It could be anything from saturation to colour, sharpness to grain and even highlights and shadows.

These could be labelled as ‘Picture Mode’ or ‘Style’.

There may also contain colour options that allow for Sepia, Black & White or Selective Colour options.

Some interesting adjustments can be found below:

  • Action or Sports: Increased ISO and uses a faster shutter speed to capture action.
  • Landscape: Small aperture to gain depth of field. Flash may be deactivated.
  • Text: Increases in-camera sharpening and contrast.
  • Portrait: Widens the aperture to throw the background out of focus. The camera may recognise and focus on a human face.
  • Night Portrait: Uses an exposure long enough to capture background detail, with fill-in flash to illuminate a nearby subject.
  • Fireworks: For use on a tripod, uses an extended exposure which results in showing fireworks as well as their paths.
  • Water modes: Depending on what the mode is designed to do, will either widen the aperture and increase the shutter speed for an action shot or shrink the aperture and slow down the shutter speed to show the motion of the water.
  • Snow and Beach: Compensate for the misinformation given to the light meter and increases exposure in order to properly photograph subjects.
  • Natural light or Night Snapshot: Attempt to raise the ISO and use a very wide aperture in order to take a photograph using the limited natural light, rather than a flash. In some cameras, a variation of this mode takes multiple pictures and combines in camera
  • Macro or Close-up: Tend to direct the camera's focus to be nearer the camera. They may shrink the aperture and restrict the camera to wide-angle in an attempt to broaden the depth-of-field (to include closer objects) – this last mode of operation is often known as Super Macro.
  • Movie: Allows a still camera to capture moving pictures.
  • Sunset: Enhance warm colours, such as those that can be found on sunsets.
  • Dusk/Dawn: Enhance the blue colours of twilight and dawns, as well as raise the ISO to compensate for the low levels of light present then.
  • Starry sky: Gives a long shutter speed (up to 60 seconds) to capture star trails as well as other subjects that require very long exposures.
  • HDR: Will take a series of shots at different exposures, combining in camera to increase the dynamic range. Some cameras will offer variances on how ‘arty’ or ‘natural’ you would like the final image to be.
  • Focus Stacking: This will use a sequence of shots (sometimes user set) and create a composite image in camera to give a wider focal area whilst maintaining detail and light.
As always, these are only guidelines. Now that you know which Shooting Mode does what, you can experiment yourself and have some fun!
Look out for more tutorials coming soon.
Created By
David Munns
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