Advanced Shooting Modes in dSLR Cameras - dummies

By Robert Correll

To choose a shooting mode, decide what creative element you want to manage yourself — depth of field or motion — then select the autoexposure mode that lets you control that setting. You can leave the creative decisions to the camera while controlling other aspects. Or, you can handle everything yourself.

Choose from these advanced shooting modes:

  • Program Auto (P): Also known as Programmed Auto or Program AE. This advanced Auto mode combines the ease of point-and-shoot with the flexibility of the advanced shooting modes. When you press the shutter button halfway, the camera automatically sets the aperture and shutter speed for you. In Program Auto mode, however, you can set your camera’s more advanced options. For example, in Program Auto you can change the metering mode, drive mode, tweak the white balance settings, and so on. Program Auto is great for snapshots and flash photography.

    The following photo illustrates the effective use of Program Auto. In this mode, you don’t have to worry about the camera settings but can still keep control over your flash settings.


  • Aperture priority (A): Also known as Aperture-priority auto or Aperture-priority AE (Av). In Aperture priority mode, you set the aperture and the camera determines the shutter speed. Use Aperture priority mode when you want to control the depth of field (DOF). Aperture mode is great for portraits, landscapes, and close-ups.

    This shot of Lake St. Claire, just outside of Detroit, shows a landscape shot in which the photographer was able to keep the depth of field large by controlling the aperture.


    On the other hand, you may want to minimize your depth of field. This shot of a candle was taken with a wide aperture in order to blur the background.


  • Shutter priority (S): Also known as Shutter-priority auto or Shutter-priority AE (Tv). In Shutter priority mode, you set the shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture. Use Shutter priority mode when you want control over the shutter speed to freeze (or intentionally blur) the action. Shutter priority mode is good when photographing sports, action, kids, and when you’re moving.

    The following shot of harness was captured in Shutter priority mode. When you want to control the shutter speed and leave the exposure to the camera, use Shutter priority mode.


  • Manual: In Manual mode, you’re responsible for setting the aperture, shutter speed and, quite often, the ISO. (Generally, Auto ISO isn’t available in Manual mode.) The exposure meter shows the metered standard exposure, but this is only a suggestion. You’re free to set exposure however you want. Manual mode is best when you want the freedom to deviate from the suggested exposure and don’t want to constantly dial in exposure compensation. It’s also great when you want to use the same settings over a range of shots. Most professional photographers use Manual mode.

    The photographer used Manual mode to capture this photograph of a bowl of cacti. By experimenting with both aperture and shutter, the photographer managed the strong light source and still get the depth of field he wanted, the camera meter notwithstanding.


  • Bulb: Bulb mode is a special type of Manual mode that lets you lengthen the shutter speed beyond your camera’s built-in limit (normally 30 seconds). The shutter opens when you press the shutter button and closes when you release it. Use Bulb anytime you need a really long shutter speed, such as at night or during any type of low-light photography. It’s also great for shooting storms, lightning, and fireworks. If your mode dial doesn’t have a B setting, try entering Manual mode and lengthening the shutter speed until it reads B or Bulb.

    This shot of cars going over a bridge at night was taken in Bulb mode, with the shutter open as cars passed.