By Robert Correll

Part of Digital SLR Photography All-in-One For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Sometimes it feels like half the challenge of photography is choosing the right shooting mode. This decision affects how much control you can exert over the camera, and to what purpose. There really isn’t a “wrong” choice here. Some people prefer to let the camera handle most of the work. Others prefer exercising more creative control.

Name Description
Automatic This mode probably needs the least explanation. You point the camera. You press the shutter button halfway to focus, and then fully to take the photo. The camera does the rest. Simple. Use this mode when you’re learning about your camera and photography or when you need to transfer the workload to the camera so you can relax and have fun. Some cameras have more than one automatic mode, one of which will be “advanced.”
Flash Off This mode is Auto without the flash. It may even be called Auto (flash off) on your camera. Easy. Use it when you want to be in Auto but can’t turn off the flash.
Portrait Take photos with nicely blurred backgrounds and sharp subjects.
Landscape Scenic scenes full of scenery; processed to make the colors stand out. Use Landscape mode to photograph cityscapes as well as traditional shots of nature.
Sports/Action Optimized to photograph moving subjects with a fast shutter speed. You can also use Sports when you’re moving.
Macro/Close-up A close-up.
Other scenes Your camera may have many more types of scenes, such as Child, Sunset, Night View, Handheld Night, Twilight, or Night Portrait.
Specialty Many cameras now have some form of automatic HDR shooting mode. Some enable you to shoot multiple exposures. Sony cameras have Sweep Panorama and Continuous Advance modes.
Program Auto (P) Program Auto is like Auto mode, but you have much more control over the camera. The camera is set on automatic exposure and selects an aperture and shutter speed combination that it thinks is best. It can be as easy as “point and shoot”, but you’re able to set up the camera with the options you want (metering, drive mode, white balance, and so on.)

You can also shift the program by changing which combination of aperture and shutter speed the camera uses in a given situation.

Shutter-priority (S or Tv) You set the shutter speed and the camera works around that to get the right exposure. In all other aspects, the camera is under your full control. Good for sports, action, and when you are moving.
Aperture-priority (A or Av) Similar to shutter-priority, but you set the aperture instead of shutter speed. Enables you to control the depth of field more directly. Good for portraits, landscapes, and close-ups.
Manual exposure (M) In the Manual exposure mode, you are responsible for all exposure settings.
Bulb (B) This special mode opens the shutter for as long as you hold the shutter button down. If you don’t have a B mode on your dial, you may be able to access it by increasing your camera’s shutter speed.