We touched very briefly on the different shooting modes available in an earlier article, but now we’ll have a closer look at what they do and what they’re good for. I must admit here that I have very rarely used any of the shooting modes available on my camera, I usually shoot in manual mode as that is what I was taught to use from the start, so it’s second nature to me now.
Don’t let that discourage you from using the different modes, though. If you are pushed for time or unsure of the manual settings you may need for a specific scenario, choosing the right shooting mode can make all the difference to the final images. Don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not a ‘proper’ photographer if you use a mode instead of manual settings – there seems to be a kind of ‘mode snobbery’ in the photographic community and I have no time for any of that.
This is probably the mode most folk are most familiar with, as it’s the default mode on most DSLR’s and point-and-shoot cameras. This mode has the camera doing the thinking, and it will work every setting out for you to try and give correct exposure. All you have to worry about is framing, composition and pressing the shutter button.
Quite a few professional photographers will shoot in auto mode, as it’s useful in fast-moving situations. Renowned photojournalist Steve McCurry often shot in auto mode, as he says the camera can make those split-second setting decisions far faster than the human brain.
While auto mode will give good results in a wide range of situations, your camera is still guessing at what you’re trying to achieve. That’s why some of the other modes exist, to narrow down the guesswork and give your camera more of a clue as to what you actually want to shoot so it can fine-tune the settings accordingly.
Switching to this mode means your camera will choose a wide aperture (small f-number) automatically. This will have your subject in focus and the background soft, so your subject will be the thing your eye is drawn to. To get the best out of portrait mode, get close in to your subject either by zooming in or getting closer, so you can get a head and shoulders shot.
If the sun or a bright light is behind your subject, try using a reflector or a flashgun to throw some light back on to their face, or they will end up as a silhouette.
This mode will set your camera to a small aperture (large f-number) so that you will have a wide depth of field. This will ensure that as much of your photo as possible will be in focus. Use this mode for taking wide shots of scenes, as interesting points at different distances will all be in focus.
One thing to be careful of in this mode is shutter speed. Because you are shooting with a small aperture, which lets less light in to the sensor, the camera will compensate by lowering the shutter speed, often below the point where you can hand-hold it without the image becoming blurry. If you want to shoot in this mode in low light, using a tripod is the way to go.
If you want to take close-up shots such as flowers or other small objects, macro mode will let you move nearer your subject to get it.
Depending on your camera brand, the macro mode will have different capabilities and different focusing distances. Focusing can be harder in this mode, as the depth of field is dramatically narrower at short distances. It can help to keep your camera and the subject parallel if you can, and using a tripod is a great help when the depth of field is so shallow that a slight movement can knock your subject out of focus.
Sports mode, or action mode as it is called on some cameras is great for shooting moving objects such as people playing sports, vehicles, wildlife etc. Sports mode attempts to freeze action by increasing the shutter speed.
As you might expect, night mode is good for shooting at night or in low light conditions. It sets your camera to use a long shutter speed to capture details of the background, but also uses the flash to light up the subject and foreground, so it freezes your subject.
This mode is great if you want to be creative and play around with it. If you want a properly balanced shot with sharp foreground and background, you’ll need to use a tripod to compensate for the slow shutter speed, but you can get some interesting shots by using it handheld, especially if there’s lights in the background.
This mode changes your camera from a still camera to a movie camera. The video quality has improved in recent years, but is still not brilliant. It’s handy for capturing things that a still image wouldn’t do justice to.
On some brands of cameras, there are other, more obscure modes such as snow mode, indoor mode, beach mode and a few others, but the ones I’ve covered above are universal.
Which mode do you prefer using? Sometimes, it’s fun and a challenge to get used to shooting in a different mode than the one you are used to. Experiment with the different modes and see what you think.