A Summarised Guide to Camera Modes

DSLR camera modes

When you are looking for the best digital camera, one of the factors you consider is the number of modes present in your preferred camera brand. Modes are pre-programmed settings that allow you to set the optimum shutter speed, ISO and aperture value depending on your taste.

These are useful especially if you are starting on photography, but even photography aficionados find camera modes helpful when in need to capture a shot fast. We created a guide about each camera mode to help you learn how each of them works and the circumstances you should use them.

Familiarize yourself with the most common camera modes that are found in most digital cameras today.

  • Auto Mode

This mode allows the camera to use its best judgment to get optimal shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, based on the amount of light that goes through the lens. Auto mode is suitable when you need to take quick “point and shoot” moments.

With some cameras, the auto mode lets you change the flash to red-eye reduction or override it. This may be used in many shooting conditions. However, the camera does not store any extra information about the shot you’re taking.

It balances between speed and aperture based on the intensity of light. This means that in bright areas, the aperture shoots while ensuring optimal shutter. The struggle begins when the light is uneven as the mode tends to trigger flash even when unnecessary.

  • Portrait Mode

Once you switch your camera mode to portrait, it automatically increases the aperture (small number). This alters the focus of the background by setting a narrow depth of field. Portrait mode is suitable when you need to focus on just the subject, hence all the attention is on the shot.

An ideal situation to select the portrait mode is when you have a single subject and you want to get close enough by zooming in to capture the head and the shoulders. Also, the mode is useful when you are shooting under bright environment and want to trigger a flash to add some light onto their face.

  • Manual (M)

When your camera is in manual mode, it means that you can control the shutter speed and aperture. You can manually set both the shutter speed and aperture that you want. This mode is used in ideal in situation where the camera will struggle to figure out the right exposure to use such as where there is extreme lighting situations.

For example, your camera may struggle to guess the right exposure in a situation where there is too much light in a scene. In addition, you can use this mode if you want consistency in both aperture and shutter speed across different exposures.

  • Aperture-Priority Mode (AV)

In this mode, you get to choose the right aperture, and the camera automatically guess the optimal shutter speed to expose the image right. You have control of depth of field as you can increase or decrease the lens aperture.

If you are shooting in a bright scene, the camera will automatically increase the shutter speed, and vice versa. This means your images will rarely get underexposed or overexposed.

  • Shutter-Priority Mode (TV or S)

In this camera mode, you manually set the shutter speed, and the camera picks the right aperture based on the light passing through the lens. This mode is ideal when you want to take images of subjects in motions whereby you want to intentionally blur or freeze motions.

In case of too much light, the camera increases aperture, which in turn decreases the light passing through the lens. The vice versa is true.

In other words, the shutter speed stays as you set it, while the camera increases or decreases the aperture, based on the light in the scene. This means you have no control depth of field.

  • Program (P)

In this mode, the camera uses the light passing through the lens to automatically set the shutter speed and aperture needed. This is the ideal mode to use for point-n-shoot moments- when you need to take a quick picture.

The camera increases and decreases shutter speed and aperture based on light intensity. This means that if you take your camera to a well-lit environment, it will increase the aperture and keep the shutter speed fast. The vice versa applies.

  • Macro Mode

Snail ordinary. Close-up, blurred background. Snail on a flower. Macro mode. Wildlife.

Canon EOS700D, f2.8, 1/500

Want to take photographs of subjects that are smaller than your hand? Use the micro mode. Keep in mind that this mode will not give you super close up images. As a result, you may need a macro lens to capture with better clarity.

Macro mode works best in well-lit conditions and the camera uses a shallow depth of field to focus on the subject. Use this mode when focusing on more difficult short distances where the depth of field is very narrow. Ensure that you keep your photographing as parallel as possible to get a better focus.

Lastly, you need a tripod when the depth of field is very small as slight movements towards or away from the subject affects the focus.

  • Sports Mode

If you like going to sports, this mode is extremely important. With most sports being fast-paced activities, you need a high shutter speed to capture shots fast. Sports mode offers a shutter speed of up to 1/1000 of a second. With such a massive shutter speed to freeze movement, the flash is not possible. The good thing is that most sports occur in bright light and thus flash isn’t needed.

This mode works best alongside continuous shooting mode, and you want to get many shots that capture the action. You can also use it to photograph fast-moving objects such as cars and wildlife. To increase the chances of picking the right shot using this mode, you need to learn how to pre-focus the camera on the spot where the subject will be when you want to shoot. This takes practice.

  • Night Mode

Modern buildings with lights reflection of Benchakitti Park

Nikon D750, f8, 20sec

The night mode is fun to play with and capture amazing shots. It sets the camera to use longer shutter speed to capture the details of the background. For a serious, well-balanced shot, you need a tripod to stabilize the background. However, taking shots using hands can be done to purposely blur the background – especially on dance floors with colored light.


Using predetermined settings may seem amateurish, when in fact there may be times when you need to capture without setting everything manually. Using modes is useful especially when learning photography as you will learn about how to take photographs in different conditions. We hope this guide helps you understand more about camera modes and where to use each of them.

Posted in: Camera basics