The first thing you’ll probably notice when you upgrade from your smartphone to an advanced point and shoot or DSLR camera, is the existence of the creative modes: Program Mode, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual Mode. Denoted as P, A, S, and M on your control dial, (P, Av, Tv, M for Canon). Understanding the difference between these modes, and when to use them can have a huge impact on your growth as a photographer. Here’s a brief overview of the various creative camera modes you can take advantage of on your camera!
We’ll get the least useful mode out of the way first, Program Mode. Most photographers would agree that anything you could accomplish with this mode is easily taken care of with one of the other modes, but in case you are curious, Program Mode chooses your aperture and shutter speed for you and allows you to set the white balance, ISO and flash. The inability to control shutter speed to avoid blur or adjust the depth-of-field with aperture, makes this mode difficult to shoot with in most situations.
Aperture Priority Mode
A favorite among hobby photographers and pros alike, aperture priority mode allows you to control the depth of field of your images by adjusting the f-stop or aperture. It also allows you to set your ISO to handle different lighting conditions. The camera will then choose a shutter speed for you to ensure your photos come up properly exposed. If you want to blur the background and place emphasis on your subject, using a wider aperture (lower f number) of f/3.5 will help you achieve the shallow depth of field required to create that image. Conversely, if you desire a greater depth of field for a landscape shot, a higher f number like f/22 will be required.
Shutter Priority Mode
Shutter Priority Mode allows you to adjust your shutter speed and ISO and allows the camera to pick your aperture. Since most photographers prefer to have control over their depth of field, it’s not as popular as shooting in Aperture Priority Mode, but in cases where the shutter speed takes precedence. Action shots with fast moving targets, adding intentional motion blur for artistic purposes, or situations where you need to use a telephoto zoom lens without a tripod (to counterbalance shaky hands with high shutter speeds) are all cases where Shutter Priority Mode can be useful. As a useful rule of thumb if you’re going for a certain effect, increasing shutter speed stops movement, while decreasing shutter speed blurs movement.
Learning to shoot like manual mode is a little like taking the training wheels off your bicycle for the first time—it feels like everything is out of control, but once you get a feel for it, having total control over the aperture, shutter speed and ISO will become addicting. Since it takes time to manually input each setting, you’ll still need the other modes where snapping a photo quickly is required, like at a sports game. However, with a little planning you can pre-program your camera to be ready to take the action shot when you need it. If your subject isn’t going anywhere, as in portraiture or landscape photography, it’s a great way to have fun and get creative with your photographs. If you really want to grow as a photographer, shooting in manual mode can help you understand how each setting, aperture, ISO, shutter speed and flash can have on your images. So get out there and start practicing your photography.