Setting the Shutter-Release Mode on Your dSLR

By Julie Adair King

Many dSLR cameras offer a choice of shutter-release modes, which controls what happens when you press the shutter button. The name of the option varies, but it’s typically something like Drive mode or Release mode. Check your camera manual for that information and for details on how to select the mode you want to use. You may find the settings lurking on an external dial, as shown on the left, or accessible via a button that displays a screen where you choose a release mode, as shown on the right.

shutter release
Although the controls used to adjust the shutter-release mode vary, most cameras offer a standard batch of settings and setting icons.

The following list describes the most common shutter-release modes. Note that which shutter-release modes you can select depends on your chosen exposure mode. You may need to step up to an advanced exposure mode to take advantage of all the various options.

  • Single-shot mode: The camera records one image every time you fully depress the shutter button. In other words, this is normal photography mode. It is usually represented on camera screens as a single rectangle like the one shown here or by the letter S, as on the dial shown on the left.
  • Continuous or burst mode: Designed to make capturing fast action easier, this mode records a continuous series of images — a burst of frames — as long as you hold down the shutter button. The standard symbol used for this mode is a stack of rectangles (representing multiple frames).
    A few tips to know about this mode:

    • How many frames per second you can capture depends on your camera and memory-card speed. Advanced cameras typically offer a faster shooting rate, which is important if your primary interest is photographing sports (or other fast-moving subjects, such as hummingbirds). As for the memory card, its read/write speed can affect whether the camera can actually achieve the fastest frame rate promised in its marketing specs. Before buying the fastest card on the market, though, be sure that your camera supports it. Some cameras can’t communicate with the latest cards or may be able to store files on them but not at a faster rate than with slower cards.

    • You don’t always need to max out the frame rate. You also may be able to choose from a couple of continuous-frame rates, typically labeled Continuous High (maximum frames per second) and Continuous Low (typically around three frames per second). Although most people are tempted to always use the highest frames-per-second setting, That option should really only be used when shooting a subject that’s moving at a really rapid pace.

    • You probably can’t use flash. Most cameras disable flash when you select this shutter-release mode because there isn’t enough time between frames for the flash to recycle. With some cameras, turning on the flash automatically changes the shutter-release mode to single-frame; with other models, the flash may fire once but then go to sleep.

  • Self-timer mode: In this mode, you fully depress the shutter button, and the camera releases the shutter and captures the image several seconds later.

The original purpose of this mode was to give the photographer enough time to press the shutter button and then run in front of the camera and be part of the picture. But savvy photographers also take advantage of this mode to eliminate any chance of camera shake (and resulting image blur) when shooting long exposures and using a tripod.

On some cameras, self-timer mode offers some bells and whistles that make it even more helpful. You may be able to choose from two delay times for the shutter release — say, two seconds or ten seconds. The two-second delay is great when you’re substituting self-timer mode for remote-control operation; waiting around for ten seconds between shots gets a bit annoying. Some cameras even enable you to set up a self-timer session that records multiple frames with each push of the shutter button. This feature is known as continuous self-timer mode.

  • Remote-control mode: Some cameras enable you to trigger the shutter button with a corded or wireless remote control. You may need to choose a special shutter-release mode to take advantage of that option, so consult your camera manual about this issue. The icon shown in the margin is often used to label a special mode provided for wireless remote control, for example. As with self-timer mode, you may be able to tell the camera to release the shutter as soon as you press the button on the remote or to delay the release for a couple of seconds.

Many cameras offer the option to use a smartphone instead of a dedicated camera remote to trigger the shutter release. To take advantage of this option, you need to download the proper app from the manufacturer’s website.

wireless connection
With cameras that offer wireless connectivity, you may be able to use an app on your smartphone or tablet to trigger the shutter release.

If you’re shooting with an intermediate or advanced camera, also check out these additional shutter-release options, some of which may be buried somewhere in the camera’s menus instead of being grouped with the other settings:

  • Time-lapse shooting: Sometimes called interval or intervolametor shooting mode, this feature enables you to set the camera to automatically capture one or more frames over a period of time, with a specified interval between capture sessions. You set the camera on a tripod, focus the lens on your subject, enable the feature, and then walk away and let the camera take care of the rest. You might use this option to record the gradual opening of a flower bud over a couple of days, for example.
  • Mirror-lock up: One component of the optical system of a dSLR camera is a mirror that moves every time you press the shutter button. The small vibration caused by the action of the mirror can result in slight blurring of the image when you use a very slow shutter speed, shoot with a long telephoto lens, or take extreme close-up shots. To cope with that issue, some cameras offer mirror-lockup shooting, which delays opening the shutter until after the mirror movement is complete.

Situations that call for mirror lockup also call for a tripod: Even with the mirror locked up, the slightest jostle of the camera can cause blurring. Using a remote control or self-timer mode to trigger the shutter release is also a good idea. Note, too, that on some cameras, a mirror-lockup setting is provided only for the purposes of cleaning the image sensor and not for picture taking.

  • Quiet mode: This mode is another setting sometimes found on dSLR cameras and also has to do with mirror movement, which makes some noise when you take a picture. In Quiet mode, you can delay the sound by keeping the shutter button pressed down after the shutter is released. You still hear the mirror slap when you release the button — and you can’t take another picture until you do. But if you’re in a situation where the slightest noise is problematic, Quiet mode may be of some help. In addition to delaying mirror noise, this mode automatically silences the beep that most cameras make to let you know that autofocusing is complete.