Put your hands up if you can somehow, at your current stage or at some time in the past, relate to this - You have your own DSLR and you are stoked, the image quality is amazing but you're still shooting in Auto. I know I was guilty of this.....daunted by the options, buttons and dials and really having no idea about how to use this new beast to it's capacity.
Automatic Mode is an overwhelmingly popular selection for most Beginner - Intermediate photographers and because these cameras are so good, the images turn out great!
Once we start to use these modes to our advantage and know when to use each mode at the correct time - we really start to dramatically improve our photography skills and outcomes.
So here is a basic explanation of each camera mode......I hope it helps (Soon these will be expanded to include an in depth explanation of camera settings)
1) Automatic Modes
Automatic Mode - Usually a Green Camera Icon (Sometimes with different options for auto with flash and auto without flash)
Whilst many of us will be familiar with this mode, I thought it was important to run over what it actually does.
Automatic mode essentially tests the scene (based on your metering settings - I'll explain this more soon) and automatically selects the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, focus and flash (depending if your camera allows you to override the flash or not) to take the best shot. In most general conditions, this mode will deliver good results, however you are essentially only in control of the composition in which you are shooting - the camera will be 'guessing' as to what you want to deliver with your photo.
Therefore, some other modes may be more relevant or appropriate for what you want to shoot and deliver.
In Portrait Mode, your camera will prioritise a larger aperture (small "f" number) which creates a sharper focus area and shallower depth of field. Therefore the centre of attention (your portrait subject) will be in focus and the rest blurred (great effect for portraiture).
TIPS: if your camera or lens has zoom, the more you zoom in on a subject will create an even shallower depth of field. This is called compression.
Macro mode is used predominantly for details and close ups. Used mostly for flowers, insects and other small objects, the main challenge with this mode is focusing as at a close distance, the depth of field can be quite small. A technique to avoid this is called focus stacking (something I will develop in a future blog post).
TIPS: Avoid using a flash as the close distance will mean photos will be often blown out. Also try and use a tripod as even the smallest shift in body/camera position can change your focus point very easily due to the shallow depth of field.
When faced with a vast landscape, we want a lot of detail and most of the image to be in focus.
Therefore, in Landscape Mode, the camera selects a smaller aperture (higher number - usually around f8-f13) to help ensure that the scene is in focus as much as possible (creating a larger depth of field). Sometimes (depending on light and metering), your camera will select a slower shutter speed to compensate for the smaller aperture, so a tripod is worth considering to ensure that your camera doesnt move during the actuation.
TIPS: A trick to help maximise depth of field is to focus on a point about a third of the way up your point of view (I will develop some more in depth explanations soon for Landscape Photography).
Usually, sports move quite fast so this setting is good to capture fast moving objects including people playing sport, pets, cars, wildlife etc. Sports mode attempts to freeze the action by selecting a fast shutter speed.
TIPS: Try moving your camera in unison with your subject when capturing them or try to prefocus on a spot where you think the subject will be when you want to photograph them.
2) Semi Automatic Modes
This is where things start getting really fun and your photography will improve quite quickly.
Aperture Priority Mode (A or AV)
Once you start becoming familiar with what Aperture does to your images, you begin to know what aperture (large or small f number) will suit which types of shots or for the type of effect you are wanting to achieve.
In this mode, you manually select the Aperture and the camera automatically selects the other settings (ISO, Shutter Speed, White Balance etc). Therefore, when you are looking to control the depth of field in your images, this is a good option to go for. Also when the subject is stationary and you do not need to be concerned about shutter speed or movement in the image.
Aperture is basically the size of the whole that lets light into the camera.
Smaller Number eg f2.8 = bigger hole = more light = shallower depth of field
Larger Number eg f22 = smaller hole = less light = larger depth of field
More on Aperture coming soon.
Shutter Priority Mode (S or TV)
In a similar sense to aperture priority mode, in shutter priority mode, you manually select the shutter speed and the camera does the rest.
This is useful when you want to freeze fast movement in time (such as sports) and select a fast shutter speed or when deliberately wanting to create movement and blur (such as a waterfall) you would slow the shutter speed down.
What this does is controls the speed at which light enters the camera, in low light situations you usually will open the shutter speed up longer to ensure there is sufficient light captured to expose the image correctly. Keep in mind that camera movement in long shutter speed captures will blur your image and a tripod is useful on these occasions.
Program Mode (P)
Contrary to what the name indicates, most cameras have this setting as another FULL AUTOMATIC mode but allows for a little more control over flash, white balance and ISO etc. It is best to check your specific camera manual for how the Program mode differs from Automatic for your particular model.
3) Fully Manual Mode
Whilst this mode can be daunting at the start, once you master and understand how the exposure triangle works this is the setting that will allow you to unlock the full power of your camera!
This mode allows full control over all settings in your camera including Aperture, Shutter Speed, ISO, white balance, flash etc. It essentially allows you to individually tweak each setting to deliver the exact shots you have in mind based on the scenario you are trying to capture.
Practice makes perfect when refining your skills in manual mode, so don't be afraid to get out there and put these new tips and tricks into action.
If there are any questions you have regarding these points or need further clarification please contact me for further assistance. Also, if you liked this tutorial on Digital Camera Modes, please sign up for more free tips and tricks right here.