Photography Basics: Lesson Two

Today's photography lesson is choosing a mode to shoot in. Most cameras have a number of shooting modes that dictate what exposure decisions will be made by the camera and what decisions will be left up to you. The first task when approaching a shot is choosing the appropriate shooting mode.

The subject matter or style of shooting often dictates a shooting mode. For example, you may be shooting an event where the light is very low, therefore you will need to choose a mode that allows for control of shutter speed, to guarantee sharp images. Maybe you're in a situation with good lighting and decide to choose a mode that allows for control of aperture, so you can blur out the background.
Often, shooting on full automatic will be all you need to do. Don't worry that this will make you a "wimpy photographer". Each situation is unique, but there are general guidelines you can follow to determine when you should use each shooting mode. As you learn more about your camera and photography, you'll get a better idea of which mode to choose.

Full Automatic

Most automatic modes take care of everything. They select the white balance, shutter speed, aperture, and whether or not to use a flash. For the most part, the automatic setting will do a good job in just about any situation.

Program Mode

Program mode offers most of the automatic functionality of a fully automatic mode--automatic white balance, light metering, exposure choices--but allows you to override some options. Program mode will let you make your own selection of ISO, white balance, and exposure compensation. Program mode wil always prioritize shutter speed, to try to guarantee a speed that is fast enough to prevent blurring caused by camera shake.

Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority Modes

Automatic modes can yield excellent results, but they can also make assumptions about how you want your image to look.
Shutter priority mod
e allows you to select the sutter speed you'd like to use. The camera then selects the appropriate aperture. Shutter priority is ideal for times when you want to freeze motion, such as at a sporting event, because it lets you force the camera to shoot with a particular shutter speed.
Aperture priority mode works the same way, but allows you to select and aperture and leaves the choice of shutter speed up to the camera. Aperture priority modes give you control over the depth of field in an image, allowing you to control how much of the image is in focus.
Most shutter and aperture priority modes also yield control of ISO and white balance.

Manual Mode

Full manual mode gives you control of everything. Although this may seem like the ultimate 'power user' mode, you may find that you often only need control of one exposure parameter or another, and so you will choose a priority mode. On the other hand, manual mode is a must for complete creative freedom and for difficult lighting situations.

Special Shooting Modes

Some cameras offer special shooting modes for specific circumstances. In these modes, certain features are preset. Landscape modes typically focus on infinity and select smaller apertures to ensure maximum depth of field. Before you use any of these modes, check the camera's documentation and be sure you understand the settings that may be affected.

As you learn more about the decisions you make when you shoot, choosing a mode will become more obvious.

Previous lesson: Photography terms defined
Next lesson: White balance


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