The Many Modes of a Camera

Our $100 point-and shoot camera has Auto, Program, Portrait, Smart Shutter, Low Light, Fisheye Effect, Miniature Effect, Toy Camera Effect, Monochrome, Super Vivid, Poster Effect, Color Accent, Color Swap, Snow, Fireworks, Long Shutter, and Stitch Assist modes. That's overwhelming to me. On top of that, none of those modes offer true control. That's of course where the term "point-and-shoot" came from. You point the camera and take a picture without concerning yourself with how the picture is actually made. That's all that most people want. And that's not limited to people with $100 cameras or cell phones. There's people out there that spend thousands of dollars on camera gear and never do more than "point-and-shoot." I assume that if you've made it this far then you want to learn more than those people.

Hopefully your camera has a Program (P), Aperture Priority (A or Av), Shutter Priority (S or Tv), and Manual (M) modes. You might have other modes on your camera (like auto mode or running man mode), but I'm going to focus on the four modes listed above.

Program (P) Mode

What is it?
It's an automatic mode. The camera picks the aperture and shutter speed. The ISO can be set to auto or adjusted by the user. Basically, it allows the camera total control over an exposure.

Who's it for?
Anyone that wants to take a picture and not worry about exposure settings. For example, a novice or expert who wants a usable picture where they only have to worry about framing.  

What benefits does it offer?
Ease of use. Allows the photographer to focus on framing. 

Aperture Priority (A or Av) Mode

What is it?
This is a semi-automatic mode. The user chooses the aperture and the camera chooses the shutter speed. Once again ISO can be set by the user or the camera. The camera still has control over the final exposure, but the user has more input.

Who's it for?
Anyone that wants to choose their depth of field and/or aperture but still wants the convenience of an automatic mode.

What benefits does it offer?
Ease of use. Allows control of depth of field but still offers automatic exposure.

Shutter Priority (S or Tv) Mode

What is it?
This is a semi-automatic mode. The user chooses the shutter speed and the camera chooses the aperture. Once again ISO can be set by the user or the camera. The camera still has control over the final exposure.

Who's it for?
Anyone that wants control of motion blur and camera shake but still wants the convenience of an automatic mode.

What benefits does it offer?
Ease of use. Allows control of motion blur and camera shake but still offers automatic exposure.

Manual (M) Mode

What is it?
Full control of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO by the user.

Who's it for?
Experienced photographers who want total control of every image or those looking for the pinnacle of control.

What benefits does it offer?
Complete control over every aspect of exposure. Depth of field, motion blur, camera shake, and noise are all in the hands of the photographer. It also has huge benefits in flash photography but that's an entirely different blog series.

 

If you've never ventured away from full auto mode then the place to start is aperture priority mode. Preferably with a prime lens that has a big maximum aperture. This way you can start to get an idea of how aperture affects an image. Try taking the same picture at one stop intervals and then look at them on a big monitor. Try taking pictures of things up close and far away. Try to focus on different objects in the same frame. Do all of this while playing around with aperture. It's a great place to start.