When you buy a digital camera, it will come with a selection of Automatic camera modes. These are pre-programmed settings that allow you to choose the optimum shutter speed and aperture value for the photograph you want to take. They are useful when you are starting out, but also for the experienced photographer who needs to capture a shot fast. Familiarize yourself with the settings and get comfortable with them; and remember that every camera has slightly variable preset modes. The following are the most common:
Automatic Exposure is when the camera chooses the optimum shutter speed, aperture, ISO and flash settings for your shot. All you need to do is point and shoot. This can be good if you have no idea of what settings to choose and also when you need to shoot quickly. The shot here is perfectly exposed as the day is well lit, though auto-exposure may struggle in situations where the light is uneven, and it tends to trigger the flash even when it’s not necessary.
Portrait mode will “think” that there is a subject in the foreground of the frame and choose a shallow depth of field in order to keep the human subject in focus but the background blurred. If the camera reads the scene as dark, it will add fill-in flash. Fill-in flash is useful in sunny conditions too, when the sun casts a harsh shadow. Portrait mode generally works best in well lit conditions.
Macro mode is very useful to take a photograph of an image smaller than your hand. Remember that macro mode will not give you super close up images; for this you will need a macro lens. Macro mode will work best in bright conditions and will choose a shallow depth of field to focus on the subject. Therefore, if light is low, use a tripod. Your focusing also has to be more careful when taking a macro image. This is because when you use a shallow depth of field, you give yourself a smaller margin for error.
Landscape mode usually uses a small aperture (high f/number) to create a well focused image from the foreground into the distance (on old style cameras, the setting was ‘infinity’ represented by a sideways figure 8). Landscape mode tends to suit a wide lens, and again works well if the scene is well lit. It will use flash if it reads the foreground as too dark, but you can manually turn this off.
Because sports are fast paced activities, sports mode will give you a high shutter speed of at least 1/500 – 1/1000 of a second. With a high shutter speed to freeze movement, it means that flash is usually not necessary – though once again this works best on a bright day. Sports mode can work well alongside continuous shooting mode, where images are taken consecutively – the result is a number of shots capturing action in mid air.
Night Portrait Mode
In the night portrait mode, the camera will try to balance the darkness of the background with the need to light the subject in the foreground. The aperture will have to be fairly wide to allow enough light in to capture the background and keep the subject in focus, but at the same time flash is necessary to illuminate the person and avoid blur. Sometimes the night portrait mode will double flash, creating an unusual double exposure look.
Advanced Camera Modes
On most DSLR cameras, there will also be the letter modes – M (Manual), AV (Aperture-Priority), TV or S (Shutter-Priority) and P (Programmed Auto). Manual allows the photographer to change every single setting; Aperture-Priority allows the photographer to set the aperture value and the camera automatically sets the correct shutter speed; TV lets the photographer choose the shutter speed first (for example when shooting sports) and the camera automatically sets the correct aperture. P-Program mode is similar to Auto mode - the shutter and aperture settings are determined by the camera, but the photographer can adjust the shooting and image-recording functions.
Some people consider it amateurish to use pre determined settings, when in fact there may be times when we are in a rush and cannot adjust everything manually. Also remember that using these modes will teach you about photography and ideal settings for different conditions. If in doubt, you can use Auto camera mode, then adjust the settings manually. Auto settings are there to be used so try them all, and become familiar with what each one does.