Back to basics: Camera Modes

In this blog I will be discussing the different camera modes and how they operate, as well as which ones you should be using in wildlife photography.

Camera Shooting modes:

When you buy a digital camera, it will come with a selection of Automatic camera modes.

These are pre-programmed settings that allow you to choose the optimum shutter speed and aperture value for the photograph you want to take. They are useful when you are starting out, but also for the experienced photographer who needs to capture a shot fast. Familiarize yourself with the settings and get comfortable with them and remember that every camera has slightly variable pre-set modes.

The exposure menu or mode dial on your camera allows you to control exposure settings.

The exposure modes are generally designated with the letters M, A / AV, S / TV and P, which stand for Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program Modes.

You control these exposure settings in one of three ways:

• Adjusting the aperture on your lens
• Changing the shutter speed
•Setting an ISO value within the camera.
Back to basics: Camera Modes
Back to basics: Camera Modes
Auto Mode:
Automatic Exposure is when the camera chooses the optimum shutter speed, aperture, ISO and flash settings for your shot. All you need to do is point and shoot. This can be good if you have no idea of what settings to choose and also when you need to shoot quickly. The shot here is perfectly exposed as the day is well lit, though auto-exposure may struggle in situations where the light is uneven, and it tends to trigger the flash even when it’s not necessary. I always suggest to beginner photographers, in the heat of a moment shoot on Auto and make sure you bank the shot before adjusting and playing with your settings, this way atleast in your mind you have the shot already.

Aperture Mode (AV)

Aperture Priority mode is a mode where you select the aperture (f/stop number), and the camera will calculate the scene and will supply the correct shutter speed for a properly exposed image.

You will use Aperture Priority mode when you want to control how much is in focus in front of and behind your subject, which is depthof field.

Use a large aperture (small f/stop number) for a shallow depth of field, which is useful when you’re shooting portraits or any other subject and you don’t want anything but the subject in sharp focus.

Use a small aperture (large f-stop number) when you want a large depth of field. A large depth of field is useful when you’re photographing landscapes and you want everything in the image to be in focus.

You can also use Aperture Priority mode to control how much of the scene you’re photographing in focus by choosing an aperture between the largest and smallest. The depth of field gets a little bit larger as you select a smaller aperture (larger f/stop number).

I shoot 80% of my images on AV, the reason being is that the first thing I do when I look through my view finder is what my shutter speed is. Depending on how fast or how slow it is, will determine whether I alter my ISO or my aperture depending on my subject and the image I am trying to capture.

Shutter Priority (TV - Canon ; S - Nikon)

Shutter Priority mode is when you take pictures in Shutter Priority mode, you choose the shutter speed and the camera supplies the f/stop needed to yield a properly exposed image. You use Shutter Priority mode when you’re shooting subjects in motion. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion; use a slow shutter speed to render an object in motion with an artistic blur. The shutter speed needed to freeze action depends on how fast the subject is traveling and how far you are from the subject. For example, to freeze the motion of a race car traveling over 100 mph, you’d need a shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second or faster. To freeze the motion of a marathon runner, you’d use a shutter speed of about 1/125 of a second.

These settings are a guideline. The litmus test is whether you freeze the motion of the subject. Always review the image on your LCD monitor and use the camera controls to zoom in on the image. Examine the edges of the subject to make sure they are not blurred. If they are blurred, use the next fastest shutter speed.

Program Priority Mode (P)

Programmed Auto Mode is when thecamera automatically adjusts aperture and shutter speed for optimal exposure, but the photographer can choose from different combinations of aperture and shutter speed that will produce the same exposure. This is known as flexible program.

Manual Mode (M)

In Manual Mode the photographer chooses both aperture and shutter speed, providing the photographer the opportunity to set the exposure. Choosing the wrong combination could, however, result in photographs that are too bright (overexposed) or too dark (underexposed).

I personally use Manual mode at night when either photographing the sky or taking images of animals using the spotlight. Being on Manual mode allows me to select and manipulate my cameras exposure to get exactly what I want out of the photograph depending on how far my subject is and how bright the spotlight we are using is.


Mode Shutter Speed Aperture
P (Programmed auto) Selected by camera Selected by camera
S / TV (Shutter-priority auto) Selected by photographer Selected by camera
A / AV (Aperture-priority auto) Selected by camera Selected by photographer
M (Manual) Selected by photographer Selected by photographer


I hope that you found the move useful and remember the only way to get better and to understand your camera is to practice, practice, practice.

Until next time,


One thought on “Back to basics: Camera Modes

  1. Patsy Crisp



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