Photography Basics #1 – What are all the modes on the camera dial?

Due to a number of friends and family members asking me various questions about the basics of photography, I have decided to create a series of 12 blog articles in which I will provide a bit more insight into the basics of photography. I will publish these every second week, giving you enough time to practice any of the information provided in the blog article.

These articles will cover a number of the basics in photography, starting with what the different settings on the camera dial means, to light and composition and ending off with post production and a short write-up on my own photography workflow.

Camera Dial showing the different photography modes

Camera Dial showing the different photography modes

All cameras nowadays, even the most basic compact entry-level cameras have most of the modes shown on the left.

For the beginner photographer this may seem daunting, but if you understand what each one means and when to use it, you could soon be more adventurous and move away from the little green setting.

  1. P – Program mode.
    This mode allows the photographer to manage a few of the settings, but the camera would then adjust the rest of the settings to compensate for correct exposure. Usually one can change the ISO and white balance in this mode.
  2. Auto – This is also known as the “green” mode and is where most beginner photographers set their cameras. Hopefully by the end of the article series you would have moved away from this one permanently. This setting does everything for you, all you have to do is point and click.
  3. Portrait – This setting is mainly for doing “head and shoulders” type portrait shots of people. The aperture is set at its largest setting for the available light. The flash, if set on, will also be set for red-eye reduction, if this is available on the camera.
  4. Landscape – In this mode, the camera is set for taking outdoor landscape photos and the aperture is set to a far smaller setting than for portrait mode, in order to capture a greater depth of field (more of the photograph will be in focus). This setting can be used in any situation where you would like a large portion of your photograph to be in focus, from the foreground to the background.
  5. Close Up or Macro – This setting is for focussing on very close-up subjects, and the background to be out of focus. This is great when you want to only photograph a small part of a bigger subject, i.e. only a ring, rather than the hand of a person and the ring.
  6. Sport or Action – In this mode the camera will select the fastest shutter speed for the available light, in order to freeze action. The focus will also be set to ‘continuous’ while you have pressed the shutter button in half-way. This will allow for a re-focus every time your subject moves to a different position. This is a great setting for high-speed, sport and action photographs.
  7. Night Landscape – The camera is set with a small aperture, same as for the normal landscape setting, but in this case also a slow shutter speed. In order to ensure sharp photographs, it is recommended that the camera is placed on a tri-pod or very stable surface such as a wall or table.
  8. Night Portrait – For this mode, the aperture will again be set to a large setting allowing as much light into the camera as possible, but the camera will also use the built-in flash to light the subject, while the ambient / natural light will be used to light the background. This is a great setting when photographing people at night, either indoors or outdoors.
  9. The next three settings may not be available on all cameras, so if yours doesn’t have it, you may skip the next three points.
    Manual – You are in full control of all the settings on the camera, i.e. aperture, shutter speed, ISO and white balance, as well as flash. Thus, it is a good idea to understand how these different settings affect each other and in what situations they work best. In upcoming articles I will discuss them in more detail.
  10. A or AV – Aperture Value (Aperture Priority Mode) – Here you can set the aperture, as well as ISO and white balance and the shutter speed will change accordingly for the best exposure.
  11. S or TV – Time Value (Shutter Priority Mode) – Works the same way as the AV setting, but here you set the shutter speed and the camera adjust the aperture for the best exposure. Great setting for capturing or freezing motion.

I hope this article gives you and understanding of the different mode settings and you are now confident to try out the different settings. Play around and see which of these you like the most.

If you have any questions or comments, leave a comment on this post.

Feel free to regularly visit PiKs Photography webiste for information on Portrait, Event, Corporate and Commercial Photography and Photographic Products such as canvas prints and photo books.

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2 thoughts on “Photography Basics #1 – What are all the modes on the camera dial?

  1. Pingback: Photography Basics #2 – Shutter Speed In Photography « PiKs Photography

  2. Pingback: Photography Basics #3 – Aperture in Photography « PiKs Photography

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