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Part 9 : Introducing the Creative Modes

*Disclaimer: Notes written by Alistair Keddie.


Introducing DSLR creative modes, photography notes



Part 9 : Creative Modes

There’s a lot to take in regards the various camera settings but once we have an idea of what they each do and how they apply to our photography we can essentially ‘forget’ them and concentrate on taking photographs. Ideally, we’ll have a good idea beforehand of what we want to shoot and should therefore be able to set up our camera in advance. For instance, landscape photo’s would want a low ISO and small aperture for maximum depth of field. Action shots might want a high shutter speed at the expense of ISO, portraits might want a shallow depth of field.

Program mode works a lot like full auto except allows us to change the cameras settings. Shutter and Aperture Priority can be highly creative modes and are designed to favour either the type of motion we wish to capture or consider more about depth of field. They are particularly geared towards working hand held and offer lots of variety and control. Manual mode is much more considered, offering us full control over our camera. Its not deally suited to action photography but favours a much slower and thoughtful approach.


Working in Program Mode (P)

In Program mode the camera decides our exposure by setting both our aperture and shutter speeds. Its similar to working in Full Auto but allows us to take control of our camera settings, changing things like ISO, White Balance, Raw or Jpeg, Flash on or off etc. Turning our selector dial adjusts both the shutter and aperture values together offering some limited control over our shooting and returning the optimal exposure based on where our exposure meter is set. A little rough and ready, Program mode can be somewhat unpredictable as its settings constantly change in response to the available light. We can therefore never be entirely certain about either shutter speed or depth of field. It is though a useful mode in some situations where we want to shoot like we are in Auto mode but favour more control over the camera settings.


Working in Shutter Priority (Tv or S)

In Shutter Priority, we are mainly thinking about capturing subjects in motion. Do we want to freeze fast moving action like a water splash or to introduce and play with creative blur, for instance, allowing the background behind a speeding car to streak and suggest speed? Our selector dial allows us to set our shutter speed and the camera will choose the optimum aperture dependent on our ISO setting where we have set the exposure meter. We can of course choose to over or under expose our shots using the exposure compensation button as already discussed.

You’ll notice when spinning the selector dial that we now have full access to all the possible shutter speeds our camera can offer. The range is usually from 1/4000th of a second all the way down to 30 seconds. However, just because we can choose these speeds doesn’t mean we can create an exposure using them. You can of course shoot at 1/4000th of a second but if the light isn’t strong enough, the photo will come out dark and under exposed. The camera gives us a warning of this by flashing the aperture value on our display to indicate possible under or over exposure. We correct for this by dialling the shutter speed up or down till the aperture value stops flashing.


Practical Example : Panning

an example of a photograph taken using panning to create motion blur


Panning the camera to create a motion blur would require a set up using a relatively slow shutter speed which allows the background to streak. Depending on how fast the subject is moving, you might want to play around with different settings, selecting progressively slower shutter speeds until you gain the desired effect. You might also want to have the autofocus system set to the centre point so as to lock onto the subject with the autofocus mode set to AI Servo (or equivalent) to keep the subject constantly in focus. Perhaps also setting the light meter to Spot or Partial will also give better results, taking a single reading and making the exposure for the subject itself.


Working in Aperture Priority (Av or A)

Aperture Priority works just like Shutter except we are mainly thinking about depth of field. Our selector dial allows us to set our aperture and the camera will choose the optimum shutter speed dependent on ISO and where the exposure meter is set. We can still over ride this to over or under expose by using the exposure compensation button. Like working with Shutter Priority, we can now choose from all the available apertures but not necessarily make a good exposure. The camera will warn us about this by flashing the shutter speed on our display to indicate either to much or too little light. This stops flashing when we set the aperture in the correct range.


Practical Example : Portraiture

A portrait taken with a shallow depth of field to create a blurred background

Achieving a shallow depth of field to blur the background behind our subject requires a wide aperture. On our kit lens that would be F3.5 (limited by whatever is the maximum aperture of our lens). We may not want to open our aperture up to its maximum but would decide that during the shoot, taking test exposures until gaining the desired effect. Again, in this scenario, setting the autofocus to the centre point makes sure our subject is sharp and using One Shot or equivalent allows us to recompose our shot. Using Spot or Partial metering will also ensure our exposure is set for the subject and not compromised by for instance, an overly bright background. Weighted metering can also useful in portraiture. Centre

We can also use Aperture Priority mode to achieve our fastest possible shutter speeds in a given situation by opening the aperture as wide as possible to let in the maximum amount of available light.

a photograph using a wide aperture to let the maximum amount of light in


Practical Example : Low Light Events

a photograph using a very wide aperture to take great photos in low light situations


If I’m photographing an event in low light where I can’t or don’t want to introduce a flash, I’ll open up my aperture to its widest setting. I’m aiming here to deliver the fastest possible shutter speeds and will probably be using a longer lens to zoom into the subject. As we discovered earlier, many longer lenses become slower as we increase the focal length, so I’m trying to let in as much light as possible. I may also have to raise my ISO to its highest setting in order to increase my chances of getting a shot and will live with the additional noise this incurs. Because I’m shooting an event, I’ll probably use AI Servo (or equivalent) to keep moving subjects in focus and, particularly with a long lens, switch to the centre focus point to ensure my target is sharp. I’ll probably also have my camera set to continuos shooting mode to grab as much of the action as I can.


Working in Manual Mode (M)

Manual Mode is used in situations where we can spend some time considering our photography. It is not appropriate for fast changing or moving subjects as we would need to be constantly changing settings. In Manual Mode, we take full control of our camera and using our selector dial first and foremost changes our shutter speed. When dialling in different speeds, the first thing we notice is that our exposure meter is no longer locked in one position but instead moves up and down in response to the speeds we dial in. The exposure compensation button we used previously to unlock the exposure meter now accesses our aperture setting. Thats why, on some models, this button also has the letters Av next to it allowing us to take control of both our shutter and aperture, manually setting the exposure. Pressing this ‘Av’ button whilst using the selector dial will change the size of our aperture and allow us to consider our depth of field.

What becomes clear is that RAW is the format of choice for images you want the absolute best quality from. It is in effect, your digital negative and should be used for those shots you go to great lengths to get or need to get the best from. JPEG is the format you use when you require speed, such as in events photography where you need a quick turnaround.


Practical Example : Landscape

landscape shot taken with a maximum depth of field


In a particular landscape I want to maximise the depth of field and therefore start by dialling in a smaller aperture, perhaps F16, F18 or F22. I then adjust my shutter speed until my exposure meter is set to the zero, middle position and take a test shot. Checking this shot against the histogram, I’ll then decide whether or not I need to under or over expose the photograph. I may for instance decide I can afford to ‘expose to the right’ and dial in a slower shutter speed to over expose by increasing the amount of time my sensor is exposed to light. Adjusting the shutter speed in this way allows me to move my exposure meter up by one or two full stops, or any increment in between, and make a new exposure using the new setting. Because I am using a low ISO to maximise image quality, that is capture fine detail with good colour saturation, combined with a small aperture, I’ll also be using a tripod or support to compensate for the correspondingly low shutter speeds.


landscape photo taken with high exposure and low ISO


Practical Example : Long Exposure

an exmaple of a photo using long exposure to create a dragging ffect


In another example, I may want to explore long exposure photography and in that instance I’ll be trying to slow down my camera as much as possible in order to deliver slow shutter speeds. Actually the setting is not so different from maximising depth of field in landscape. I’ll close down my aperture and reduce my ISO to a low setting. These combine to give slow shutter speeds and I’ll dial these in, referring to my exposure meter and histogram until I get the effect I’m after, such as smoothing out the motion of a waterfall, or creating a ‘river of light’ out of moving traffic at night. I may even want to explore long exposure photography at more extreme settings, that is, using shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds in which case I’ll need to work in Bulb Mode and use a cable release that can program in time settings.

Each manufacturer has created their own proprietary RAW format. Canon RAW is different from Nikon RAW is different from Sony RAW etc, and a question arises around RAW’s future compatibility. How do you open your files years from now if the manufacturer has disappeared and their particular file format is no longer supported? To address this, Adobe has created the DNG format. This is a free and open source, in effect, future proof. You can download the free DNG Convertor from Adobe and use this to convert your RAW files. This even allows you to elect to embed the original RAW file within the DNG in case you think you’ll need it again. DNG itself is a very stable format and works well with any of the Adobe suite of software.




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