Photography : Beginner’s Guide To Camera Modes

The key to nailing the shot is often about choosing the right camera mode. The mode of choice will affect the camera’s behavior, and that behavior will affect the way a photo is captured.


The 4 modes you can count on are…..
– Manual mode
– Shutter priority
– Aperture priority
– Program mode

Manual Mode (M)

In this mode, you tell the camera that you will be in charge of everything. This means you will decide on shutter speed and aperture. You will decide on ISO as well but in cameras of today, you can set ISO to auto if you think the camera should handle it.

For my professional work, I use manual mode for product and portrait photos. For example, my food photos and figurine photos. Consistency is required when it comes to product photos to maintain the exposure across all the frames. Everything is set to setting of choice, even for the flash units.

Iron Man Mk VI from Sci-Fi Revoltech | アイアンマン [マーク6]

Even for photos such as the Ironman figurine above, I use manual mode to control the depth of field and how fast the shutter moves to get the lighting I want. I often use manual mode at events too, with all settings fixed ans the flash set to TTL mode.

Aperture Priority Mode (A or Av)

With Aperture Priority mode, you tell the camera to FIX at a particular aperture, this allows you to maintain your depth of field and also the out of focus areas (bokeh), improving isolation of subject to background.

This is a handy feature to use, especially when you want the aperture to be consistent yet not wanting to worry about the shutter speed. In some modes, the aperture is adjusted by the camera, and since the camera doesn’t think the same as you, you could lose out on the shutter speed to freeze movement or even narrow aperture setting that lead to less creamy out of focus area, affecting the isolation of subject to background.


I use this Aperture Priority mode for my interior photography assignments. I could use manual mode but I prefer Aperture Priority mode, spares me a lot of time when I let the camera decide the shutter speed.

I also use this mode for situations like taking food or event photos without using flash.

Shutter Priority (S or Tv)

This mode is the exact opposite of the Aperture Priority mode. Shutter Priority mode means you decide what shutter speed to use while the camera decides on the aperture.

I used this mode for the race event below. I needed the shutter speed to be slow enough to capture the panning movement but fast enough to freeze the subject and not result in motion blur due to the zoom length.


The downside of this mode is that while the shutter speed is fixed, the camera could end up using apertures that don’t work well with your photo. For example, it could go wider than needed, resulting in lack of depth of field but creamy bokeh it could go the other side of the spectrum where the aperture is narrow, then you have sufficient depth of field but lose out on the bokeh. So the fluctuating aperture could make or break your photo.

In some cases where the scene is bright enough and I’ve no issue with faster shutter speed – I will just use Aperture Priority mode, or even Manual mode if I find the scene is consistent in lighting.

Program Mode (P)

Some people call it the PRO mode 😛 but I prefer to call it the PANIC mode.

If all else fails, just go ahead with the P mode. It could be a life saver.

In Program mode, the camera attempts to adjust the exposure for you. Whether you get what you wanted, it’s really up to luck.

Parting Words

There’s no reason to use MANUAL MODE all the time. Please ignore what people say, like “Oh you’re on SLR, you must use manual mode.” or “If you don’t use manual mode, you’re not good enough”.

The truth is, the PROS (or Experts) are not bound to a single mode. They will know what mode to choose for the occasion, to get the job done.

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