Camera 101 – Understanding the mode dial

The latest cameras can often do an amazing job right out of the box but to really take creative control over your images you will want to learn about some of the other modes your camera can operate in. Sometimes you want to control the shutter speed to freeze or convey motion. Sometimes you want to control the depth of field to blur out a background. Once you get the hang of it, then you can go full manual and have complete control over everything.

Aperture Priority (Av Canon / A Nikon)

Aperture Priority mode has the most dramatic impact on your images. Adjusting the aperture opens or closes a set of blades within the lens that controls how much light comes into the camera. The smaller the aperture number, the more open the aperture is. The smaller the aperture, the less depth of field. A very short depth of field could have someone’s nose in focus but their ears out of focus. A deep depth of field could have the person in focus as well as the background behind them. When you switch the camera to Aperture Priority, you control the aperture and the camera will control the shutter speed to automatically get a good exposure.

Short Depth of Field – Shot at f/2.8

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Shutter Priority (Tv Canon / S Nikon)

With shutter priority, you control the shutter speed and the camera will set the aperture to set the exposure. By controlling the shutter speed you can use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion if shooting sports, or you can use a long shutter speed to get motion blur to show motion. If you are using a shutter speed of about 1/60th or slower, than you will probably need to use a tripod to keep from having excessive camera shake.

Long Exposure Shot – 4 Second Shutter Speed

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Program Mode (P)

Program mode is basically an “unlocked” Automatic mode. Where Automatic does not allow for any other camera settings, Program mode will let you set the ISO speed, Color Space, or White Balance. Program mode is good for quick shots that you don’t want to add any creative flair to since the camera will try to find a good balance between aperture and shutter speed.

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Kerry Garrison lives in Castle Rock, Colorado with his wife and two dogs. With 10 years of experience shooting products and 5 years of experience in the wedding industry, Kerry brings a good deal of technical know-how and can explain topics in easy-to-understand terms.

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2 Responses

  1. debannbradley says:

    very helpful information, in easy to understand language, thank you!

  2. Iram Rolon says:

    Great article, I will forward on my Meetup Group, Thanks again

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