Exposure Modes: When And How To Use Them

Camera Exposure Modes

If you owned a digital camera, you are probably exposed to the wheel knob menu that we all can rely on when taking pictures. They are designed to give us the best expose photos possible but we are wondering why there are a handful of them and what’s the differences and the best to use.

Exposure modes are different in a few ways. Knowing how each mode works in every situation is essential to our photos. For example, I love going to the beach and when it is noon time the sun is at its brightest and I may not have time to set to manual mode so I just quickly set to shutter mode and take some landscape shuts. I pick shutter mode for I can increase my shutter speed and still get enough light to properly expose my photos.

Sony a6000 camera
A typical digital camera has a dial for different exposure mode such as A for aperture, S for shutter, M for manual, P for program and automatic modes such as Smart or Intelligent settings.

Let us now talk each exposure mode in our cameras:

Aperture-priority mode  (A mode or AV)

The most commonly used exposure mode and probably the most efficient too, the aperture-priority lets you determine the aperture needed and then lets the camera decide the right shutter speed to use. This is semi automatic mode for you control the aperture but the camera matches the right shutter speed for the aperture you set. The advantage of aperture mode is you set the depth-of-field of what you want to capture, by setting the depth-of-field, you control the amount of scenes that appears in a  sharp focus. This mode is popular with both landscape and portrait photographers for you can particularly control the front-to-back sharpness of the photos. For example, you can have wide open aperture to throw the background out of focus and highlights the attention to the subject. This is also called as a bokeh.

How To Use Aperture Mode:

  1. Turn the knob or dial into A or AV depending on your camera.
  2. Select the aperture you want, you can do it using the dial mode which will be shown on your screen. You can choose the widest open like F1.4 or to the smalled opening of F22 depending on your lens.
wide open aperture
Funko Pop Snap Wexley shot with open wide aperture to have an out of focus background or bokeh.

Why Use Aperture Mode:

  1. For portraits – a wide open aperture offers great bokeh or shallow depth of field and perfect for setting the attention to the subject.
  2. For landscapes – a small opening of aperture can balance the entire image, it gives plenty of depth-of-field to the entire scene all details will be covered and sharp.

Shutter-priority mode (S mode or Tv)

The opposite of aperture-priority mode is also another semi-automatic function of your digital camera. Instead of selecting the aperture, the photographer sets the shutter speed and the camera decides the right aperture to have a correct exposure.

The shutter-priority mode is perfect for moving objects in the scene that photographers wants to capture as the focus of the image or as a moving blur in the scene. For example, a photographer in F1 racing will set a fast shutter speed to freeze the racer in the image and capture the racer very sharp or the photographer can also set a slower shutter to show the movement of the racer in the scene and shows a creative movement of the race. Another example also is taking a picture of a waterfall, you can use fast shutter speed to freeze the water in motion or very long shutter speed to make the water looks like mist.

Light trails of a car
Light trails of a car using long exposure

How To Use Shutter Mode

  1. Turn the mode dial to S mode or Tv depending on your camera.
  2. Use the input dial to change the shutter speed which is displayed on your screen.

Why Use Shutter Mode:

  1. For light trails – With a tripod, you can capture amazing light trails of cars by doing a long exposure. You can also do the same with fireworks. You need a tripod to avoid movements and shaking of the camera.
  2. For sports and actions – Fast shutter speed will capture subjects in fast moving scenes sharp.

Manual Mode

Manual allows you to have full control of both the aperture and the shutter. You set the aperture and then set the shutter speed too. Most professional photographers use manual as they want to have full control of the exposure parameters.

Intelligent or Smart Mode or The Program Mode

The I or S mode gives the camera the full control of the aperture and shutter speed. The camera will decide what aperture and shutter speed to use depending on how bright the area is or the subject. The camera adjust and analyze whether you are taking a portrait, landscape, moving object or even sunset. The camera will try to give you the sharpest image and at most times, your camera will deliver sharp images but in some cases will have issues when in low light.

Why Use Intelligent or Smart Mode?

  1. When you are starting and not familiar with the basics of exposure and just want to have some point and shoot experience.
  2. When there is good light like in daylight and outdoors so your camera can adjust to the best aperture and shutter speed.

There are other modes offered by different brands such as the bulb mode (which is part of the shutter-priority mode in some cameras), panorama mode and some that are either just a modified version of shutter and priority mode.

So there you go, pick an exposure mode and let’s go out and keep shooting. Personally, I use the manual mode now but at most times I like to play with aperture and shutter priority mode too and even the intelligent mode too.

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