The Correct Camera Mode

When you find two different sets of photographic advice that contradict each other, especially when someone speaks in terms of absolutes, we want you to figure out what is correct for your situation.  Please don't fall into the trap of "there is only one way."  We're reviewing some of those conflicting views of how to take a photograph. One frequent conflict arises from camera shooting modes.  I have heard almost all of the camera modes touted as best mode, but the most commonly bragged about mode is manual.  I think many people believe this is the only professional mode.  When you hear a photographer say, "You must shoot in manual mode, or you're not a real photographer" you should question everything else he says because that is simply not true.  Very few of the successful photographers I've met claim to use only manual mode.

That said, there are many good reasons why you may want to shoot in manual mode, but using this mode exclusively does not make you a "real photographer."  All the top of the line camera models have modes beyond manual because "real photographers" know when to best employ each mode.

Manual is great for maintaining strict control over how your photographs will look.  You choose which combination of aperture and shutter speed will best match the scene you are trying to record.  (While aperture and shutter speed are the primary settings adjusted in manual, don't forget that your ISO setting has an impact, too.)

I like manual mode because I don't have to worry about the camera changing its settings as I move the camera slightly left or right.   Once you've got some experience with your camera, you should be able to know, with a quick look on the back, which way you need to go with your settings.  I don't want the camera to average out the setting for me.

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We've gone into the other modes in earlier blogs, but just to review - aperture priority (sometimes called Av) allows you to set the aperture manually, while the camera determines the shutter speed.  In shutter priority (sometimes called Tv), you set the shutter speed, and the camera sets the aperture.  If you select program mode, the camera will set both the shutter speed and aperture it thinks is correct.  And some cameras, have an automatic mode, in which the camera adjusts the ISO, shutter, and aperture.

As someone who likes to shoot people, I enjoy aperture priority.  If the light is good enough that I don't have to worry about a fast shutter speed, I switch to this mode.  I usually like blurred background (bokeh) for my people pics, so I'll set the aperture wide and shoot without worry.  I use manual and aperture modes for about 90% of the photographs I make.

portrait of a little boy

Shutter priority is great when movement matters.  Do you want motion blur or do you want to freeze the action?  If you're going to be making major movements with the camera, the background light may change quickly throughout your motion.  If that's the case, I'd move away from manual into a shutter priority because the camera's computer can make adjustments faster than I can when there is motion in the scene.

2012 Golden Cup Race in Virginia

The modes I rarely, if ever use, are program and automatic.  I'm simply not going to hand over that kind of control to the camera.  I usually use this mode only when I hand my camera to someone who is going to take a photo with me in the scene.  There is no reason to expect someone with no experience with my camera to use any other mode.  I guess I might use it if there was some kind of tremendously important event happening right before my eyes, and I had no time to prepare.  But, even in that case, I could throw the camera into aperture mode just as quickly.  If you are stuck in this mode, you should start paying attention to the settings the camera gives you and start moving into aperture or shutter, using the appropriate setting.  These are just not that scary because the camera is still doing half the work for you.

As I said last time, you need to think through your photographic decisions.  This stuff really isn't that hard.  You can look at the back of your camera to see if the mode is providing you what you wanted and make adjustments if it isn't.  When you boil it all down, here is an important take-away for this whole topic - no one who looks at your beautiful photo will know or ask what mode you used.  We want you to learn the advantages and disadvantages of all of your camera's modes.  You should do what makes you the most comfortable and gives you the best results.  Remember, this stuff is supposed to be fun.

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