The 4 Essential Camera Modes Every DSLR Owner Needs To Know

There will come a time in your photography journey when you’ll turn away from the previously ever-present AUTO mode. Almost everyone starts there. Eventually, you’ll want to push your understanding beyond a simple click-and-finished approach. To do so, you’ll need to start manipulating your work by deciding what to capture instead of what the camera tells you to. To help ease this transition, we’re going to look at the four main camera modes.

The Best Camera Mode Is Always Subject To Change
I prefer approaching different camera modes with the question: How can your camera help you best in your current situation? The whole reel of camera modes is still used by many professionals and amateurs alike. It’s important to understand mode choice is more about the need of the photographer at the moment than a one-way progression where you can never go back.

What’s best for one photo may be less than ideal for another–feel free to change it up depending on your shot.

  1. Program Mode (“P”)
    As a simple and easy progression from Auto mode, “Program” still decides almost everything. Like full Auto mode, Program mode also chooses the best aperture and shutter. However, it hands you control of the ISO and also gives you the ability to shoot in RAW when capable.

My favorite element of Program mode over Auto is the ability to control the in-built flash. In Auto mode, I often find the camera is too quick to use the flash. Many times a higher ISO and adjusted aperture or shutter allow for a far more natural-looking shot. Of course, you can always manually pop the flash if the lighting is insufficient.

The downside of Program mode is you are still unable to set your aperture or shutter, leaving you with a camera-directed shot.

  1. Aperture Priority (“A” or “Av”)
    Aperture Priority mode gives you control of your lens’ aperture (or f stop). Your camera, however, will control the aperture. By controlling the aperture, you decide how much depth of field appears in your photo. Whether you chose a lower f-stop to blur the background or push to a higher f-stop to provide details throughout your landscape work.

The drawback to Aperture Priority mode is the camera often compensates for an extreme aperture setting by making the shutter speed too low for handheld shooting. Without tripod assistance, it can become impossible to take your desired shot.

  1. Shutter Priority Mode (“S” or “Tv”)
    In Shutter Priority mode, you’re put in control of the shutter speed. The camera takes care of your aperture. The downside to Shutter Priority is you lose control over the depth of field in your image, since the camera dictates the aperture. Often a wide aperture may leave you with blurred features and a lack of depth.

It’s also possible you may ask the camera to do too much by setting the shutter speed too quick or too slow for the conditions at hand. If that is the case, the camera will show your aperture in red or as a flashing number.