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Want to use different camera modes on you DSLR but don’t know what they mean? Here’s a helpful guide for understanding the main camera modes on your camera.

Since every brand is different, I didn’t include the symbols for each camera mode. Your camera should display on the screen the name of the mode that you are in when you move the little wheel around.

1. Auto

As expected, when shooting on Auto, the camera determines the “correct” settings for everything. You have no control over the shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, or any other settings your camera may have.

If the camera thinks flash is needed, your in-camera flash will pop up and will be fired.

However, sometimes what your camera thinks is correct, is not what will produce the photo you are looking for. You will have to explore the other camera modes to find what is right for you.

2. Auto No Flash

This is the same as Auto, except the flash will never be used. I personally don’t think flash is flattering for most photos so I try to avoid it.

If I don’t have time to choose my settings for every photo, I will often default to this mode, although lately I’ve been leaning towards Program.

3. Program

Program mode sets shutter speed and aperture automatically, but anything else, like the ISO you can change. This is the closest mode to Auto mode, and I’ve started using it whenever I want to ensure my photos aren’t grainy, but I don’t want the hassle of changing the shutter speed and aperture a lot.

4. Manual

Manual mode is the complete opposite of Auto. You have to choose every setting which gives you great control over the final image. You can adjust shutter speed, aperture, white balance, ISO, and any other settings your camera may have.

This can be overwhelming to anyone new to using a DSLR. Ideally, you should understand what each of these settings control. Check out my guide on the 3 most important camera settings of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO!

I mainly  use Manual mode when I have the time to figure out the correct settings or when I feel very particular about how a certain shot should look.

5. Aperture Priority

Under Aperture Priority mode, the only setting you can adjust is the aperture. The camera determines the rest.

This can be really useful when you know the depth of field that you want but don’t want to worry about other factors like shutter speed.

A useful example would be taking portraits where you want the background to be blurry and have the bokeh effect but you don’t want to constantly be changing the shutter speed. 

Dog with blurry background using camera settings and modes

6. Shutter Priority

As you may have guessed, in Shutter Priority mode, the only setting you choose is shutter speed. The rest is determined by the camera according to its sensors.

This mode can be useful when taking long exposures of things such as waterfalls or light trails, but you aren’t sure what aperture is best.

I struggled with over exposing my waterfall photos for a while and I wish I had remembered this mode existed.

If you’d like to learn how to shoot light trail photos, check out my guide!

Red light trails going over a bridge

7. The specific ones

Generally, there are 4 camera modes that are geared towards specific circumstances: portrait, landscape, macro, and sport.

You don’t have control over the specific settings, the camera determines them based on it’s sensors and what situation you chose.

I have tried these camera modes but I didn’t really notice a difference. These modes can be great if you’re a beginner.

However, I’d recommend learning the proper settings for each of these situations and using a different mode.

For example, Shutter Priority would be a good replacement for the Sports mode. Use a fast shutter speed to “freeze” motion and choose continuous or burst shooting so you get a lot of pictures with just one click of the shutter.

The Macro mode can be replaced by Aperture Priority because a large part of macro photography is having a very short depth of field.

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7 camera modes you need to understand

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