Choosing a Shooting Mode on a dSLR - dummies

By Robert Correll

When should you choose Auto mode on your digital SLR camera, and when should you start setting exposure, aperture, and ISO yourself? How much control do you want over the camera, and for what kind of photograph? Should you turn off the flash? Should you use scenes like Landscape and Portrait?

Name Description When to Use This Mode
Automatic Point the camera, press the shutter button halfway to focus,
and then press the shutter button fully to take the photo.

Some cameras have more than one automatic mode, one of which will
be Advanced.

Use 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.
Flash Off This mode is Auto without the flash. It may be called Auto
(Flash Off) on your camera.
Use it when you want to be in Auto mode but can’t turn off the
Portrait Take photos with nicely blurred backgrounds and sharp
You’re photographing people.
Landscape Scenes full of scenery, processed to make the colors stand
Photograph cityscapes as well as traditional shots of
Sports/Action Optimized to photograph moving subjects with a fast shutter
Someone else is moving or you’re moving.
Macro/Close-up A close-up. You need something close up.
Other scenes Your camera may have more scenes, such as Child, Sunset, Night
View, Handheld Night, Twilight, or Night Portrait.
Try them out in different scenarios.
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.
When you want to try high dynamic range (HDR).
Program Auto (P) Program auto is like Auto mode, but you have much more control
over the camera. Exposure is automatic.

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

When you want to point and shoot, but want to set up options
like metering, drive mode, white balance, and so on.
Shutter priority (S or Tv) Set the shutter speed; the camera works around that to get the
right exposure. In all other aspects, the camera is under your full
Good for sports, action, and when you are moving.
Aperture priority (A or Av) Set the aperture; the camera works around that to get the right
exposure. In all other aspects, the camera is under your full
Good when you want to control the depth of field more directly.
Good for portraits, landscapes, and close-ups.
Manual exposure (M) You’re responsible for all exposure settings. You’re ready for major responsibility.
Bulb (B) This mode opens the shutter for as long as you hold down the
Shutter button. If you don’t have a B mode on your dial, you may
access it by increasing your camera’s shutter speed.