Press "Enter" to skip to content

Camera modes: Learn about various camera modes, EFFORTLESSLY.

Shubham Davey 0
Reading Time: 13 minutes

There are a lot of reasons people prefer DSLRs over P&S, but the best reason I know is the camera modes. Simply put, you’d find it easier to take great photographs with these camera modes. However, to begin with, you can practice taking photographs using the pre-programmed modes, like auto mode(with and w/o flash). These are easier to use, all you have to do is set focus on your subject and press shutter button. Depending on the mode you’ve chosen, your DSLR will automatically set the settings as per the lighting conditions and capture a beautiful photograph.

But, that’s not what a DSLR is made for. Your DSLR has the potential to take much much better photographs, and that too with better controls. That’s the catch, since you as a user have better control over the settings, you are able to take better pictures. After understanding your DSLR and brushing up the photography basics, it’s time to master the camera modes on your DSLR.

Without taking much time, let me tell you more about the camera modes in detail and how you can use them to master your photography.

Camera modes basic #1: The Auto mode

camera modes
Exposure: 1/200 sec ISO: 100 Aperture: F 3.5 Flash: Not Fired

This mode is the best one, to begin with. Auto mode helps you to take better photos when you have no idea about the settings required for taking that shot. Auto mode is super powerful, as it works exactly like one of those professional modes. But there’s always a scope of better photos with professional camera mode. The shot above is perfectly exposed, as the day is perfectly lit.

Furthermore, the auto-focus has done a great job(I personally prefer auto-focus always) by focusing infinitely. All in all, auto mode comes really handy when you are confused with the settings or running out of time to take a perfect shot. However, the auto-exposure might struggle a bit when the light is uneven and your DSLR will trigger the flash unnecessarily.

Camera modes basic #2: The Portrait mode

camera modes
Exposure: 1/50 sec ISO: 800 Aperture: F 5.6 Flash: Not Fired

The Portrait mode is designed in a way that it will ‘think’ that is a subject in the foreground of the frame. Furthermore, it chooses a shallow depth of field to keep the subject in focus and the background blurred.

There are times when the background of the subject is ‘dark’, in those cases your DSLR will fill it with Flash. This feature of portrait mode can come handy when there are harsh shadows in a daylight.

Camera modes basic #3: The Macro mode

camera modes
Exposure: 1/500 sec ISO: 1250 Aperture: F 5.6 Flash: Not Fired

Macro mode is really useful to capture subjects smaller than your hand. Macro mode works best with macro lenses available for all the DSLR cameras. Furthermore, the macro mode will work best in bright conditions and will choose a depth of field with a sharp focus on the subject. When shooting in dark, use a tripod. However, pitch dark background will make no sense for macro shots, as there will be zero visibility in the background.

Furthermore, your focusing will have to be very sharp and precise. While shooting in macro mode, you have a very slim margin of error. First, your macro shots might be unstable in terms of position (like birds, insects). Second, your macro shot angle will be changing quite frequently. So, auto-focus is reliable in this case. Make sure you have single point focus set for macro shots. Furthermore, shallow depth of field and light conditions will make shutter speed higher(will open for longer period of time).

Camera modes basic #4: Landscape mode

camera modes
Exposure: 1/250 sec ISO: 100 Aperture: F 8 Flash: Not Fired

This is the default mode, and one of the most beautiful modes available in your DSLR. It is my personal favorite among the auto modes, perfect to capture landscapes. As I’ve discussed in photography basics that, your DSLR is designed to take one type of photograph – Landscape.

Hence it is important for you to know the importance of landscape mode. Landscape mode usually uses a smaller aperture(high f-number) so that it can create a well-focused image from the foreground into the distance. A wide lens works best in this mode, again, it works really well the scene is lit right. Your DSLR will use flash it reads foreground to be too dark. However, you can turn this off manually.

Camera modes basic #5: Sports mode

camera modes
Exposure: 1/1000 sec ISO: 400 Aperture: F 5.6 Flash: Not Fired

Best for fast-moving subjects, sports mode operates at a higher shutter speed, at least 1/500-1/1000 of a second. At higher shutter speed, your DSLR will be able to freeze the fast-moving subjects with ease. However, this mode requires daylight to take perfect shots.

In night time, this mode will work but your DSLR will find it difficult to read the moving subject and fire the flash to fill the darkness. This mode will not work in complete darkness.

Considering the speed of the fast moving objects, you will need to move your DSLR. A little bit of anticipation and patience will bring result in great photos. Sports mode will by default select continuous release, i.e. you long press the shutter button and your DSLR will keep capturing photos until you release the button.

In other modes, you will have to do this manually. This is to leverage the action and choose the best shot out of it.

Camera modes basic #6: Night mode

camera modes

Exposure: 1/60 sec ISO: 3200 Aperture: F 3.5 Flash: Fired 

In the night portrait mode, the camera will set up itself to balance the darkness in the background with the need to light the subject in the foreground. The aperture will be wide enough to let enough light to hit the sensor and take beautiful pictures. This setting keeps the subject in focus and blurs out the background. Depending on the light conditions, there will be double-flash fired creating double exposure look.

This is one of most sensitive mode among all the camera modes, as it deals with night light which is artificial light. This mode is sensitive because most of the light entering the camera is artificial and hence there are chances of camera shakes. Use a sturdy tripod to take better pictures.

Camera modes basic #7: Advance/Pro mode

This is the best part of this discussion. Most DSLR are underused by shooting in auto modes(any of the above). However, they are important and pretty easy to use, but the main potential of a DSLR in the advance/pro mode. There are 4 modes, that are powerful enough to work as powerful as the other automatic modes we discussed above.

Let’s explore each of them in detail and learn about these pro camera modes and become a better photographer.

#1 Program Mode

Many people have a misconception that P mode is only for the beginner, but it’s not true. Because of the ease of use, and effectiveness, it is misunderstood as the mode for beginners. While shooting in program mode, your DSLR decides the aperture and shutter speed. You have to concentrate only on two things, Focus, and composition. Furthermore, there’s a powerful mode within program mode, it’s flexible program mode. You can activate flexible program mode, while P mode is active, by turning the command dial to your left or right on your DSLR.

Make sure, you’re already in P mode and only then you can activate flexible program mode. While you are in flexible program mode, your DSLR locks the exposure value. Furthermore, once the exposure value is locked, you are free to either change the shutter speed or aperture. Depending on the lighting conditions, subject or any of the deciding factor, you can change shutter speed or aperture.

Flexible program mode, helps you get rid of focusing on all these settings and focus only on taking better photos. When you up or down the shutter speed, the aperture is accordingly set. You’ll notice one thing while shooting in flexible program mode, the photo will never be underexposed or overexposed.

Furthermore, the program mode is useful when you don’t have much time to think and decide which advance mode to shoot on. This mode pretty much does take care of all the modes. In my views, only mode competent to the Manual mode is the Program mode. I personally don’t use P mode much, but I usually set my DSLR to P mode when traveling. When I’ve to shoot something random, my DSLR is ready to capture it as it is, without worrying much about the settings.

#2 Aperture Priority Mode

There are two types of priority modes in your DSLR, Aperture priority mode, and Shutter Priority mode. Each of these modes is important for controlling one specific setting. As the name suggests, Aperture priority mode is to control aperture and rest of the settings are taken care by your DSLR.

You can activate it by turning the mode dial to ‘A’ or ‘Av’ on your DSLR. While shooting in Aperture mode, depending on the aperture you choose, the DoF will change. Higher the aperture shallower will be the DoF. Technically, higher aperture mean blurry background and smaller aperture mean everything in the frame will be in focus. Example, if I want a flower in focus, I’d choose a higher aperture i.e. f1.4, f2 or so.

camera modes
Exposure: 1/15 sec ISO: 3200 aperture f4.5 Flash: Not fired

At times, when I want everything in the frame in focus, I’d opt for a smaller aperture. A smaller aperture, around f11-f22, is really great to have everything in focus. However, each f-stop will have a certain degree of drop in the blur from the background.

camera modes
Exposure: 1/250 sec; ISO 100; aperture f8; Flash: not fired

Aperture mode is really helpful when shooting endless landscapes and natural beauty. Make sure, your frame has two subjects, one in the foreground and other in the background. This will give you chance to experiment both higher and smaller aperture.

#3 Shutter Priority

camera modes
Exposure: 1/40 sec; ISO 100; aperture f/3.5 ; Flash: not fired

Shutter priority is a multi-purpose mode when you can play with sensitivity and intensity of light. At the same time, you can experiment with the speed of the object in daylight. In other words, shutter priority mode can help you as a night portrait mode and sports mode simultaneously.

Shutter Priority mode is denoted by ‘S’ or ‘Tv’ mode on most of the DSLRs. What shutter priority mode does is, it lets you decide the shutter speed as per the conditions and your DSLR will take care of the rest. In this mode, you have to focus only on two things, focus and shutter speed.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds. Ranging from seconds to fraction of a second. In most cases, the shutter speed is in a fraction of a second. Higher the denominator, faster the shutter closes and lesser the light enters your DSLR. Shutter speed roughly keeps doubling with every increase. Some DSLRs are capable of having the shutter speed of 30 sec, which comes handy when you are shooting in pitch dark conditions.

#4 Manual Mode

This is the most confusing and toughest of all camera modes to master. That’s not because it is complicated, but in this mode, your DSLR is helpless and waits for your command for everything. In other words, you control everything in the manual mode.

With setting I mean, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Manual mode is complete opposite mode of auto mode. In auto mode, your DSLR control everything and in manual mode, you control everything.

camera modes
Exposure: 1/100 sec; ISO 800; aperture f/5.6 ; Flash: not fired

While shooting in manual mode, you’re not only pressing a button, but you are actually composing the image before you even capture it. There is endless & great power in this mode, and with great power comes greater responsibilities.

You are responsible for what the image will look after you capture it. As you may not reproduce the same moment once again. I have experience in wedding and pre-wedding, and I know how important such moments are. This is the reason why manual mode is considered one of the toughest mode of all camera modes. This mode requires a lot of calculations and compositions to capture great photos. It will take time to master this mode, practice can help you master it.


Thinking of camera modes, I think you should start with auto mode but not stick to it. You better switch to advance mode soon. Simply put, you’d see a great impact on advance modes on your images. Though it will take time to take better photos, trust me they’re worth.¬†Once you start taking photos in advance modes, you’d experience new ways to take better photos. Obviously, trial and error method will give you a better grip on the mode.

Over to you. What do you think of this camera modes? Which one are you going to try first? Is it the shutter priority mode? Or the Night portrait mode? Let me know in the comment section below.

Do you know someone who’s looking for this information? Share this with them and share in your network too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll Up