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Part 4 : Introducing the camera modes

*Disclaimer: Notes written by Alistair Keddie.


Introducing the DSLR Camera modes, photography notes



Part 4 : Camera Modes

Our camera comes equipped with a number of auto shooting modes which aim to make our lives easier and increase our chances of getting a decent shot straight out of the box. And sometimes, these modes do a very decent job indeed. However, the problem with the auto modes is that its very difficult to learn anything from them as the camera makes all or most of the decisions for us. And thats where the other modes come into play. These are the creative modes, Program, Aperture, Shutter and Manual which give us much greater control over our photography.

When using one of the auto modes we have the advantage of letting the camera do all the work but also severely limit our control over, and understanding of its settings. This makes it difficult then to compensate for the many situations we find ourselves in when the camera will struggle to make the ‘correct’ decisions, such as, in low light, or when the camera wants to use the flash and we don’t and so on. It also accounts for why, on occasion, we get great looking shots when the camera makes the ‘correct’ decisions for us. Decision though is not quite accurate. Its actually more a question of compromise and what trade offs the camera is making to try and return us a decent exposure.

So what is the camera doing in the auto modes? Essentially, it is balancing those three main factors we looked at in the exposure triangle of ISO, Aperture and Shutter. For instance, turning the camera to landscape mode tells it to use setting a which will maximise depth of field, that is close down the aperture. It also knows we want to capture some fine detail so will attempt to use a low ISO. That, as we know, will have an impact on shutter speeds. Likewise, in Portrait mode, the camera will attempt to create a shallow depth of field so that our background can nicely blur. So it opens up the aperture and again possibly uses a low ISO to capture fine detail. Sports mode will favour faster shutter speeds to freeze the action and so on. When set to full auto, the camera makes a best guess to compensate for the situation, so, if the light is too low it will insist on using the flash, or raise the ISO to an unacceptable noise level.

The camera is also doing something else too as it ‘processes’ our shots for us. Using the auto modes often means you are shooting in the JPEG format. We’ll cover JPEG in more detail later but for now JPEG means the camera is processing the images in response to preprogrammed instructions which adjust for things like tonal contrast, colour saturation and sharpness. For example, in Landscape mode the camera will give a boost to strengthen the greens and blues to give a better looking result or in Portrait mode, adjust for the skin tones etc. We sometimes get great looking results but when we don’t, its very difficult to say why. But what if we can choose which compromises we want to make, which trades offs we can live with instead of leaving this to the camera? That is of course what we do as we learn more about the creative modes and take control ourselves.

Before looking at each of these creative modes in turn, we need to understand a little more about some of the features and controls that open up to us in these modes. This includes, an understanding of the exposure meter and exposure compensation, an understanding of the light meter and different metering modes, an understanding of the autofocus system and its different modes, an understanding of white balance and an understanding of the differences between shooting in RAW or JPEG.


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