Camera Modes

Besides fully automatic (mini) digital cameras, most cameras have various modes from which you can choose to use the camera. For the most part, these modes control the settings chosen to create the correct exposure.

The most common modes include:

Auto, or Green square: The fully automatic mode leaves the choise of shutter and aperture, ISO and white balance up to the camera and not to you. This mode is best for times when you don't want to think about the image you're creating, or when you hand you camera over to someone who is not familiar with operating your camera in any other way.

P: Which stands for Program, is very similar to Auto, but will still allow you to change settings such as ISO exposure compensation, white balance, etc. Otherwise, it will choose the correct aperature and shutter for you, but may also give you to option to shuttle through various sets of equivilent exposures.

A: Which stands for Aperture Priority means the camera will automatically choose only the shutter speed that is required to get proper exposure with the aperture you've chosen manually. This is best used when the decision to use a wide or small aperture (to control Depth of Field) is important and something you want to be able to change. When using this mode, always keep a close eye on the shutter speed the camera is choosing, and make sure that it doesn't go below 1/60th sec, or you will get blur from camera movement.

  • Nikon SLR = A
  • Nikon Compact = "Scene"
  • Canon SLR = Av
  • Sony = A
  • Olympus = "Beauty"
  • Olympus = P
  • Kodak = Auto


S: Which stands for Shutter priority, is the flip side of Aperture priority. This means that the camera will automatically choose the aperture required to give you proper exposure with the shutter speed you've chosen manually. This mode is best used when you want to make sure that your shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the action you're shooting. It can be more limited however, because there are not as many apertures for the camera to choose from as there are shutter speeds. When using this mode always keep an eye on the aperture the camera is choosing and make sure that it doesn't show a line or an error message instead of an aperture.

M: Which stands for manual, means that the choice of shutter speed and aperture is entirely up to you; you'll have control over both of them. With more control comes more responsibility, however, and this means that you not only must keep an eye on the light meter and make sure that its "needle" is appropriatly centered, but also that you've chosen an appropriate combination of settings for the effect you wish to create. When in this mode, keep in mind that perfectly centering the "needle" is not always recommended. When you're confronted by a backlight scene as discussed in the previous page, you will want to put the "needle" more toward over exposure in order to compensate for the back lighting.

There are often other specialty modes that are designed specifically for certain types of photographic situations:

: Portrait mode: This mode will generally force the aperture to the widest aperture (for a blurry background) with a shutterspeed that is relatively high to catch subject movement.

: Landscape Mode: This mode will generally force the focus at infinity and stop the aperture down to a small opening for more depth of field.

: Night mode: This mode generally will allow the shutterspeed to go very slow if necessary (for low light conditions), but will also force the flash to fire as well. This mode is what I call slow flash, because you're generally using it to allow you to shoot with a slow shutter, but also have the flash on.

Flash Modes:

Red Eye Reduction:  Red eye is caused by two factors:

  1. The Flash is too near the lens
  2. The lighting is dark and therefore the subject's pupils are dialated, giving the camera a easy view inside the eyeball.

There are many different ways to avoid red eye, but they are aimed at fixing one or both of the above problems.

  • Strobe pre-flash: Some cameras will fire the flash briefly over and over before the actual image is captured.  This attempts to contract the pupils in the eyes of the subject
  • Light beam: Some cameras will shine a small light at the subject and attempt to contract the pupils
  • Some cameras will attempt to move the flash further away from the camera.  This is, in my opinon, the best approach, but it requires a large camera outfit since the flash must be tall or wide to be moved away from the lens.

Auto Flash: This is the flash mode that the camera is usually in.  When the camera is in this mode, then it will make it's own decisions about when to use the flash.  Geneally, indoors it may try to use the flash, because it is usually darker indoors.

Flash Off:  This mode simply disables the flash so it won't fire.

Manual Flash:  This mode will force the flash to fire no matter what.  This is sometimes called "Fill" flash becuase it is just the setting to use when you're shooting a portrait outside in bright sunlight.  A subject in bright sunlight will usually have undesirable and high contrast shadows accrss their face and especially over their eyes.  If you turn on the flash (even though it is bright light), the illumination from the flash (provided you're close enough) will "fill" in the shadows with light and render a more appealing contrast ratio between the light and dark areas of the subject.