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What Are The Shooting Modes in Photography?


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In the beginning, a lot of things about photography can be confusing and the confusion usually starts with shooting modes if you don’t know how and when to use them. It is really important for you as a photographer, amateur or pro, to understand all of six main shooting modes because they help you control your exposure and that can really improve your images.

11 Shooting Modes in Photography Explained

Back in the old days, photographers had to set shutter speed and aperture manually and they also had to choose the film they needed for their cameras. Today, shooting modes on Digital Cameras help the photographer to control Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO, which are parameters of Exposure.

  • Auto Mode
  • Program mode (P)
  • Aperture Priority Mode (A or AV, depending on the camera)
  • Shutter Priority Mode (S or TV, depending on the camera)
  • Manual Mode (M)
  • Scene Modes (SCN)

1. Auto Mode

Auto Mode is the mode that basically chooses the best Shutter speed, Aperture, ISO value, white balance, focus and even pop up flash (if your camera has it)in order to take the best shot that it can. In many cases, this is really good and helpful, like when you are using your camera just as point and shoot camera, but sometimes it doesn’t give you such good results because you can’t tell your camera any extra information about what type of shot you are taking, for instance.

So, don’t be afraid to use Auto Mode, but also don’t become depended on it. I recommend to use it until you learn to control your camera because it doesn’t always make your photos appear as you want them to.

2. Program Mode (P)

If you choose Program Mode it will set Shutter speed and Aperture for you, but it will leave ISO, white balance and flash options for you to set it yourself. As you can see this is a semi-automatic mode because the camera still controls some functions. It’s sometimes called Program Automatic mode. So, if you are beginner this would be a next step in taking a little control of your camera and improving your photos. For instance, if you are shooting in low light and set your ISO a little higher because you don’t want to use flash, your camera will calculate and set the aperture and shutter speed based on that.

3. Aperture Priority Mode (A/AV)

On different cameras, there are different marks for this mode. On Canon is AV and on Nikon is A, but it does the same thing.

If you know how the Exposure triangle works then this will be really logical for you. In this mode, you set the Aperture (f-stop) and ISO value as you want them and the camera will set your Shutter speed according to those parameters. It let you control the amount of light that is getting into the lens and the depth of field. This mode is really popular among the photographers because it helps you with controlling what is in the focus of your image and the subject in the focus is the most important.

4. Shutter Priority Mode (S/TV)

Once again, depending on the camera there are two different marks for this mode and those are S for Nikon and TV for Canon camera.

With this mode you get to choose the Shutter speed and the ISO value and let the camera calculate and automatically set the right f-stop for what would be the correct exposure. This is a great mode for controlling freeze action and motion blurring but you have to be really careful. What is really important here are lenses. Most cameras can shoot at very fast shutter speeds, but if you don’t have the proper lens to support that shutter speed your image can end up under-exposed.

This mode should be used when you want to be in the control of the motion of your subject or if you aren’t using the tripod and want to avoid blurred images caused by shaking the camera.

If you want to freeze the motion you should use fast shutter speed because slower shutter speeds are for blurring motion.

This is a great mode for sports photography, animals or anything in that is in motion.

5. Manual Mode (M)

Professional photographers use this mode most of the time because it allows them to set all parameters just as they want and they have complete control of the functions of the camera, but to be able to work with this mode you really need to be experienced and understand links between different functions, especially between shutter speed and aperture . Manual mode means that you can adjust all the functions according to light conditions that you are shooting in and all the other factors. One of the greatest things is that any setting can be changed independently from the other settings.

6. Scene Modes (SCN)

Scene modes initially appeared on the point and shoot cameras to help the photographer to match the scene that is trying to shoot with the settings on the camera. Later, DSLR producers also added scene specific modes on DSLR cameras. There are five different scene modes:

  • Landscape Mode
  • Portrait Mode
  • Sports Mode
  • Macro Mode
  • Night Mode

Each of these five modes has a specific purpose.

7. Landscape Mode

landscape-compressor-compressor What Are The Shooting Modes in Photography? Photography Tutorials

This mode maximizes your depth of field because when photographing landscape you want to see far and wide. With a larger depth of field, less light is coming into the lens giving you a sharper image but it also dials down your shutter speed which can cause blurriness if you aren’t using a tripod.

8. Portrait Mode

portrait-compressor-compressor What Are The Shooting Modes in Photography? Photography Tutorials

This mode is designed to take faces of people or, as the name implies, portraits. This mode opens up the aperture as much as possible isolating your subject and living the background blurred.  This is a good thing because your subject is in focus. On some cameras, this mode also increases skin tones and automatically softens skin texture.

9. Sports Mode

sports-compressor-compressor What Are The Shooting Modes in Photography? Photography Tutorials

With this mode on you increase shutter speed in order to freeze the action in front of you (at least 1/500s). This mode automatically disables flash so sometimes it can open the aperture to let more light in. This way you won’t get as much depth of field but the subject you are focusing will be sharp.

Even though it’s called Sports mode you don’t have to use it only for sports photography. You can use it whenever you are shooting something that is in the motion, like animals, waterfalls…or any action you want to freeze. Professional sport photographers usually pick cameras with faster shutter speeds. Especially in sports like motor cycling or Formula 1.

10. Macro Mode

macro-mode-compressor-compressor What Are The Shooting Modes in Photography? Photography Tutorials

This mode is usually used for close-up photography. In this mode, your camera changes the focusing distance and it will either open up the aperture to get shallow depth of field or close it up for the opposite effect. It would be very good to use a tripod for shooting in this mode because any movement can make your subject out of focus.

11. Night Mode

night-mode-compressor-compressor What Are The Shooting Modes in Photography? Photography Tutorials

This mode uses flash but at the same time, it slows down the shutter speed so it can capture the background. It’s great for taking photos while at the party or out with friends, but no more than that.

I hope this was helpful and that you will enjoy improving your skills from auto to manual mode.

Video Example: Shooting Modes on Canon EOS Cameras

Canon USA has amazing video example published on their Youtube channel. Check out the video bellow:


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