Handle Your Camera Like A Boss | Lesson 3 | Shooting Modes

When you look at the top of your camera, you're going to see a little dial.  Chances are, right now your dial is set to the A with the green square around it.  This is automatic mode.  In this mode, all the decisions about exposure and shutter speed are made by your camera.   This is fine for the times you want to hand your camera off to Grandma so she can snap a picture of everyone all together.   But if you're craving more control over the quality of the pictures you get, then read on.  We're going to learn how to turn that little dial to some of the other letters and open up a whole new world!

Your camera has 3 manual shooting modes.  

  1. Manual mode: (M on Nikon and Canon models) this mode puts you in full control of the three settings on your camera that control the exposure triangle.  ISO, aperture and shutter speed. In manual you will be making all of those choices.  I don’t recommend you try this one til you have a full grasp of what the other two can do for you.

  2. Aperture priority:  (A on Nikon, Av on Canon) this mode has you in control of two of the three exposure controls:  ISO and aperture.  The camera will select an appropriate shutter speed to give you a correct exposure (hopefully)..

  3. Shutter priority: (S on Nikon, Tv on Canon) this mode once again puts you in control of two of the three exposure settings, this time it is ISO and shutter speed.  The camera will select the aperture for a correct exposure.

Your camera has other settings that are going to affect the exposure, but we’ll get to those later.  These are the big ones that will help you get better photos right now.

 

How do you decide which mode to use?

I typically suggest that beginners stick to one of the following modes until you are comfortable using each one.  Then you can very easily master ‘manual mode’ where you’d be choosing both your shutter speed and your aperture along with your ISO settings.  When I learned how to shoot in manual mode, I was pretty good at using the other modes effectively.  

Notice how her eye is in focus, but everything else in the frame is blurry?   This is what a large aperture will do for you.  Great for portraits.

Notice how her eye is in focus, but everything else in the frame is blurry?   This is what a large aperture will do for you.  Great for portraits.

  • use Aperture Mode when you want to control depth of field (DoF).  You learned about that last time.  Shallow DoF is when you have a sharp subject and a blurry background.  This is perfect for portraits, or any time you want a blurred background. You will choose a large aperture like f/2.0.  The opening of the lens is very LARGE.   A larger DoF is great for times when you want the whole image in focus, like for landscapes, group photos.  Here you would choose a small aperture like an f/11 or smaller.  (Remember, the f/ number is backwards from what you’d think it would be.)  

 

 

I kept the shutter speed slow so that I could give a sense of movement here.  If I used a faster speed, they would not be blurred, but appear as perfectly frozen.  

I kept the shutter speed slow so that I could give a sense of movement here.  If I used a faster speed, they would not be blurred, but appear as perfectly frozen.  

  • Use Shutter Mode when you want to control motion, either freezing it or blurring it.  For freezing for subjects like sports or action I would choose a faster shutter speed such as 1/500th (or even faster if you need to).  If you want to shoot flowing water like from a waterfall, and have it be all misty, smooth and white, choose a slower shutter speed--like 2-5 seconds.  For this, you’ll need a tripod because you can’t hold your camera absolutely still for that long and everything will be blurry, not just the water!!   If you wanted to practice showing motion by panning a moving car you’d choose a speed like 1/15 or so.  Panning is when you follow the movement of your subject with your camera.  You will end up with an in focus subject and the background will look like it’s moving.    You could try this with a car or a child on a bike or on the swings, etc.  


Things that can mess you up:

  • ISO: remember that when you select either A or S mode you are still choosing the ISO

It’s a good idea to choose your ISO first, based on the lighting conditions you’re shooting in.  If it’s bright sunlight  go to 100 or 200 because you don’t need a lot of ‘extra light’ being allowed onto your sensor.  If it’s shady or overcast you might choose 400 or so. For indoors or dimly lit rooms you can go from 800 all the way up to 3200 if you need to.  You will need to experiment and figure out what the upper limits of your ISO are and figure out if you like the results you get.  Typically the higher you go, the ‘grainier’ you images will be.  Some people love grain, others hate it.  It just depends on your style.  I personally like (or don’t mind) grain and will shoot indoors at ISOs of 6400 or 12800 all the time.   If you like your pictures to be super sharp and crisp, then you will probably want to keep your ISO as low as you can get it.  

  • Check your shutter speed when in A mode

This messes up my images ALL. THE. TIME.  Just because the camera is picking the shutter speed does not mean it will give you the image you have pictured in your head. The camera will choose a shutter speed that give you the ‘correct exposure’. For example,  if you set up your camera for ISO 100 at f6 in lowly lit room, your camera will choose a pretty slow shutter speed in order to let enough light onto the sensor.  It may be as slow as ½ a second or so and without a tripod, you’ll end up with a lot of blur from your own movement while holding the camera (this is called camera shake).  So keep your eye on the shutter speed the camera is picking and if it is too slow, bump up your ISO, your aperture or both.  The camera will readjust itself and choose a higher SS for you.