Shooting Mode Options on Your Digital SLR Camera - dummies

By Robert Correll

After you set up, it’s time to decide on a shooting mode. What you decide affects how much control you have over your dSLR, and to what purpose. There isn’t a wrong choice here. Some people prefer to let the camera handle most of the work; others want more control.

Option 1: Point-and-shoot

Automatic shooting modes are fantastic helpers. The camera takes most of the load off your shoulders and lets you concentrate on framing up the shot and having fun.

Most automatic modes are right on the camera’s mode dial. Simply dial them in and start shooting. Here’s a rundown of the types of automatic modes you might run across:

  • Basic Auto: This mode probably needs the least explanation. You point the camera. You press the shutter button halfway to focus, and then press the shutter button down fully to take the photo. The camera does the rest.

  • Flash Off: This mode is Auto without the flash. It may even be called Auto (Flash Off) on your camera. Use it when you want to be in Auto and want to keep the flash from firing.

  • Advanced Auto: Several cameras have advanced auto modes that are smarter than basic Auto. Sony calls theirs Auto+. Canon cameras may have a Scene Intelligent Auto mode. The camera senses the shooting conditions, not simply the exposure, and sets up the camera as you take the photo.


No matter how smart or technically driven you are, it can be fun to just take pictures.


Option 2: Guided creativity

These different modes share an important feature: They help guide your creativity. You don’t have to do a lot of camera-wrangling when using these modes.

These modes are often located on the mode dial, but you may have to make several selections or choices before you can start shooting.

Guided/Creative Auto

Guided Auto and Creative Auto modes are automatic, but give you several options for how the photos should turn out. New Nikon cameras have a Guide mode that walk you through a series of situations or goals to get to the right setup; this mode is highly interactive. Canon’s equivalent is the Creative Auto mode. It’s less interactive than Nikon’s Guide mode, but has some of the same goal-driven choices.


Scenes — often represented on the Mode dial by small symbols — are different. Some of the symbols can be small, which means you may need to refer to your camera manual to decode them the first few times.


Some cameras have a Scene mode position on the mode dial. Select this mode on the dial and then choose a specific scene from the camera display.

Here’s a menu that represents many of the scenes you have to choose from:

  • Portrait: Take photos with nicely blurred backgrounds and sharp subjects.


  • Landscape: Scenic scenes full of scenery, processed to make the colors stand out.

  • Macro/Close-up: A close-up.

  • Sports Action: Optimized to photograph moving subjects with a fast shutter speed.


  • Child: A cross between action and portrait.

  • Sunset: This scene is ideal when photographing sunsets. It brings out the red, orange, and yellow colors well.

  • Night View: The point is to leave the scene dark but have something bright in the scene to see.

  • Handheld Night/Twilight: Shooting at night without a tripod.

  • Night Portrait: Shoot portraits in the dark.

Specialty modes

Sony cameras have a few specialty modes that deserve consideration:

  • Sweep Panorama: Sweep Panorama handles everything. All you do is point, shoot, and pan. Sony also has a special 3D Sweep Panorama mode, which saves the panorama in two files: a standard JPEG and a 3D data file.


  • Continuous Advance Priority AE: This Sony-only mode sets the camera up to rattle off photos as fast as possible. It’s great for sports, but also when someone’s opening a present or blowing out the candles.

Other cameras have these types of specialty modes:

  • HDR/Dynamic Range: When shooting a high-contrast scene, see if your camera has a special mode to capture more of it than you can with a single photo. High dynamic range (HDR) modes combine auto exposure bracketing and processing to produce a finished photo.

  • Multiple exposures: The real challenge is experimenting with different scenes to come up with something that effectively takes advantage of merging multiple exposures together.


Option 3: Classic creative modes

Three classic creative modes are shown on a mode dial. They all evaluate the exposure automatically. The main decision you’re left with is what aperture and shutter speed to use.


The modes follow:

  • 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.


  • Aperture priority (A): In Aperture priority mode, you set the aperture and the camera determines the other settings needed to arrive at the proper exposure. This mode is good anytime you need to control the depth of field.

  • Shutter priority (S): The same as aperture priority, only you set the shutter speed instead of the aperture. Good for sports, action, and when you are moving. Use this mode when you need precise control over the shutter speed.

Option 4: Full manual

Switch to Manual mode when you want full control of the camera. This means you can exercise as much or as little control as you want.

You have two manual modes, which are shown on a mode dial:


  • Manual: This is the Manual mode where you control everything. Generally, Auto ISO isn’t available in Manual mode.


  • Bulb: Bulb mode is a special type of Manual mode. When you select it, there is no shutter speed. You are in control of when the shutter opens and when it closes.