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Camera Modes Explained

by | Learn

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Regardless of whether you’re a beginner or an advanced photographer, understanding your camera’s modes is extremely important In order to get the best possible results from your camera.

The different camera modes were designed to be used in different scenarios, and knowing when to use each of them will create a massive difference in the quality of photos you shoot. 

In this guide, we will cover the different camera modes and their use cases. If you haven’t yet, we’d recommend you read through our guide to the exposure triangle (Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed) so you have a good understanding of how the different camera modes affect each setting. Let’s get started!

Auto (A) mode

Auto Mode

Auto mode screen on a Canon camera

In Auto or Program mode, the camera automatically determines the right aperture and shutter speed based on the amount of light going through the lens. So, in low light situations, the aperture will automatically increase (lower f-number), and the shutter speed slowed down to allow in as much light as possible to the sensor. The reverse is true for bright light situations. 

When to use Auto (A) mode

Auto mode is best for “point and shoot” situations when you don’t have much time to adjust the exposure settings manually. This mode is also good for beginners who may not know the best exposure settings they need based on the situation. Most of the time, your camera will get a decent shot while in auto-mode. However, Auto mode won’t always yield the best quality photos in difficult lighting situations, and doesn’t allow you room for creativity.


Program (P) mode

Program Mode

Program mode screen on a Canon camera

In P mode, the camera will set the aperture and shutter speed automatically for the best exposure in your shooting conditions, while giving you control over the ISO setting. This is usually the mode beginner photographers will start with after full auto, as it still finds the ideal exposure for your shot, while giving you some level of control.

When to use Program (P) mode

This mode is good for many situations, but ultimately it’s up to you as the photographer. Generally, you’d use Program mode when you don’t want to worry too much about the optimum exposure balance between your aperture and shutter speed, and can manage control of ISO and other settings like the white balance and flash control.


Aperture Priority (Av) mode

Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture Priority mode screen on a Canon Camera

With this mode, you manually set the Aperture, ISO and white balance and let your camera determine the right shutter speed to attain the exposure for your image. Your camera will automatically increase the shutter speed if there is too much light and reduce it in low-light situations.

When to use Aperture Priority (Av) mode

This mode is ideal in situations where you want to have full control over the depth of field. It is also the best mode while shooting in natural light during the daytime. So, if you want to have a consistent depth of field, Aperture Priority mode is what you should shoot in. 


Shutter speed priority (Tv) mode

Shutter Speed Priority Mode

Shutter Speed Priority mode screen on a Canon Camera

In shutter speed priority mode, the photographer is given full control over shutter speed, and the camera automatically determines the aperture based on the lighting conditions. So, in bright situations, the camera will automatically reduce the aperture and increase it in low light situations, leaving you to select the shutter speed you desire.

When to use Shutter Speed Priority (Tv) mode

The ideal use case for shutter speed priority mode is when the photographers want to freeze movement. It is usually the best mode for photographing sports, wildlife, and any form of action because a fast shutter speed won’t allow motion blur to appear in the image.


Manual (M) Mode

Manual Mode

Manual mode screen on a Canon Camera

In manual mode, you have full control over the camera settings. So, you can adjust the aperture, ISO and shutter speed to any value you’re confident with. Manual mode is essential for all photographers to understand, regardless of their level of experience. Being able to adjust each setting for the environment and the desired outcome gives you freedom to be creative and achieve the kind of photos you want.

When to use Manual mode

Manual mode can be used in all lighting situations, as long as you understand how to balance each setting for the type of shot you want. You can also use manual mode if you want to have a consistent amount of lighting in all photos; so, you could set the aperture and shutter speed values to remain the same for all shots. 


That’s all the camera modes explained. Taking the time to play with each mode and practice changing your settings according to the lighting conditions and your desired outcome is the best way to learn and fully understand how to use your camera.

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