Choosing an Exposure Mode on Your dSLR - dummies

By Julie Adair King

Your selection of exposure mode, sometimes called shooting mode, determines which other settings you can access on your dSLR. Depending on your camera, you may be able to choose from the following exposure modes:

  • Auto mode: This mode gives almost all control to the camera. You usually can adjust picture resolution, however, and select the other basic setup options.
  • Automatic scene modes: These modes enable you to tell the camera what type of picture you want to take — portrait, landscape, sports, and so on. The camera then selects settings designed to produce the traditional characteristics for that type of image. For example, Sports mode is designed to freeze action.

Most of the picture-taking process is the same as in Auto mode.

  • Advanced exposure modes: Typically not found on entry-level cameras, the following modes enable you to take control of two important exposure settings — f-stop and shutter speed — as well as all of your camera’s other options:
    • Programmed autoexposure (P): This mode selects the f-stop and shutter speed for you. On most cameras, though, you can choose different combinations of the two settings.

    • Aperture-priority autoexposure (A or Av): You choose the aperture setting (f-stop), and the camera selects the shutter speed required for a good exposure. (Av stands for aperture value.)

    • Shutter-priority autoexposure (S or Tv): You choose the shutter speed (length of exposure), and the camera dials in the f-stop for you. (Tv stands for time value, as in exposure time.)

    • Manual (M): You set both the f-stop and shutter speed, but the camera provides an exposure meter to help you gauge whether your settings are on target.

If your camera offers manual and automatic focusing, don’t confuse the M exposure mode with the control that invokes manual focusing (usually marked with the letters M or MF). You usually can choose automatic or manual focusing no matter which exposure mode you select.

Although the first three advanced modes still rely on the camera to determine the “proper exposure,” you can override that decision by using such options as Exposure Compensation.

Some cameras also offer specialty modes that enable you to create a panoramic image (a wide-and-short or tall-and-narrow photo), create brief animated video clips out of still photos, add special effects, and get step-by-step guidance for taking a photograph. Advanced models usually enable you to store one or two groups of picture settings as custom-user modes as well.

How you select an exposure mode also depends on your camera. You may need to choose the setting from a dial similar to the ones here, which show some of the common symbols used to indicate exposure modes.

exposure modes
Some cameras offer access to a variety of exposure modes via an external dial.

On small cameras, you may instead get a simplified dial that enables you to set the camera to still-photo mode (usually a camera icon) and then select a specific mode from a menu. On advanced cameras, you may instead see a Mode button; press that button to access the available exposure modes and then use another dial or control to choose the one you want to use. (Cameras this sophisticated usually don’t offer Auto or scene modes.)

In other cases, you set the camera to still photo mode (indicated here by the camera symbol) and then select an exposure mode from a menu.