By Doug Sahlin

Part of dSLR Settings & Shortcuts For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Decisions, decisions. Your digital SLR camera comes with lots of shooting modes. Fortunately, to shoot pictures like a pro, you need to be concerned with only a couple of them. The following list describes the shooting modes used by pros:

  • Aperture Priority mode: You select the aperture (f/stop number), and the camera meters the scene and supplies the correct shutter speed for a properly exposed image. Use Aperture Priority mode when you want to control how much is in focus in front of and behind your subject, which is depth of field. Use a large aperture (small f/stop number) for a shallow depth of field, which is useful when you’re shooting portraits or any other subject and you don’t want anything but the subject in sharp focus. Use a small aperture (large f-stop number) when you want a large depth of field. A large depth of field is useful when you’re photographing landscapes and you want everything in the image to be in focus.

    You can also use Aperture Priority mode to control how much of the scene you’re photographing in focus by choosing an aperture between the largest and smallest. The depth of field gets a little bit larger as you select a smaller aperture (larger f/stop number).

  • Shutter Priority mode: When you take pictures in Shutter Priority mode, you choose the shutter speed and the camera supplies the f/stop needed to yield a properly exposed image. You use Shutter Priority mode when you’re shooting subjects in motion. Use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion; use a slow shutter speed to render an object in motion with an artistic blur. The shutter speed needed to freeze action depends on how fast the subject is traveling and how far you are from the subject. For example, to freeze the motion of a racecar traveling over 100 mph, you’d need a shutter speed of 1/2000 of a second or faster. To freeze the motion of a marathon runner, you’d use a shutter speed of about 1/125 of a second.

    These settings are a guideline. The litmus test is whether you freeze the motion of the subject. Always review the image on your LCD monitor and use the camera controls to zoom in on the image. Examine the edges of the subject to make sure they are not blurred. If they are blurred, use the next fastest shutter speed.

  • B mode: Set your camera to B (Bulb) mode when you want to capture pictures of night scenes, fireworks, and any other scene that requires a lot of light to properly exposure the image. When you shoot in this mode, the shutter stays open as long as you have the shutter button pressed. This is a time exposure. When you shoot a time exposure, place the camera on a tripod to ensure a blur-free shot. You’ll also need a cable release or a remote trigger, which lets you open the shutter without pressing the shutter button.