A Guide to the Five Main Shooting Modes on Your DSLR

Understanding camera shooting modes can make a real difference to the quality of your images. Here is a guide to the five main shooting modes on your DSLR, and an explanation of what each mode does to your camera.

To start with, you’ll need to locate the dial on the top of your camera, with letters written on it. This dial will always include, at the very minimum, these four letters — P, A (or AV), S (or TV), and M. There will also be a fifth mode entitled “Auto”. Let’s look at what these different letters actually mean.

Auto Mode

This mode pretty much does exactly what it says on the dial. In Auto Mode, the camera will set everything for you — from your aperture and shutter speed right through to your white balance and ISO. It will also automatically fire your pop-up flash (if you camera has one), when needed. This is a good mode to use while you familiarize yourself with your camera, and it is particularly useful if you need to photograph something quickly, when you don’t have time to set the camera up manually. Auto mode is sometimes represented by a green box on the camera dial.

Program Mode (P)

Program Mode is a semi-automatic mode, and it’s sometimes called Program Auto mode. The camera still controls most of the functions, but you are able to control ISO, white balance, and flash. The camera will then automatically adjust the shutter speed and aperture settings to work with the other settings you’ve created, making this one of the easier advanced shooting modes you could use. For example, in Program Mode, you could prevent the flash from firing automatically and instead raise the ISO to compensate for low light conditions, such as when you don’t want the flash to wash out the subjects’ features for an indoor photo. Program Mode can really add to your creativity, and it’s great for beginners to start exploring the camera’s features.

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