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Picture of a Canon 5D Mark 3 settings  dial.

Automatic Mode

Usually a green box with or without the word 'AUTO' in it or a little green camera icon.

Automatic mode is exactly what it states;

a) Your DSLR becomes a simple 'point and shoot' camera, with little or no control of anything, including what your camera focuses on.

In this mode, it takes less than a second for the camera's computer to survey the area for lighting conditions within the frame. It then decides on what the aperture, focus points, ISO, shutter speed, white balance, and any other relevant settings should be.

Program Mode

The letter 'P' on the dial. It actually stands for 'Auto' mode  NOT 'Program' mode. A little confusing but allows you to choose an ISO setting, colour style, white balance, focus, etc. depending upon which make and model the camera is.

Shutter Priority Mode

Marked on the dial with an 'S' or 'TV' depending on your camera. This mode allows you to select the shutter speed. The camera's computer adjusts the aperture to a value that will work with your selected shutter speed to produce a correct exposed photograph.

Shutter priority is ideal for portraying or freezing subjects because it decides how quickly or slowly the shutter should close, allowing you to control that amount of light into the lens. Therefore the longer the shutter is open, the light has more time to enter the camera to hit the sensor and create the picture.

It also controls how much visible movement is in the photo. Movement is frozen as the shutter speed increases, and when decreasing the shutter speed it increases visibility of the motion. Use it for sport photography with the following settings;

Aperture: f/2 - f/4

Shutter speed: 1/500 (or higher)

ISO: The lowest value possible (to reduce noise).


Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture priority mode is marked on the dial as 'A' or 'AV' depending on what type of camera. It allows you to set an aperture and then the camera automatically chooses settings to work with the chosen aperture.

The aperture controls two main components of a  photograph;

a) the amount of light that reaches the camera’s internal sensor.

b) aperture modifies the depth of focus. The wider the aperture,  the smaller your depth of focus.

The aperture is the width of the hole inside the lens that opens and closes. When the aperture widens (and the number indicating the aperture gets smaller) more light is let in.

Use Aperture Priority Mode If depth of focus is your main concern. Try it for landscape photography.

Bulb mode

Marked with a 'B' on the dial.

This mode is used for extended exposure, where you can set the shutter to be left open for 30 seconds or more. It is ideal for night scenes where your photo requires more light to get into the camera. However there aren’t any set rules about using extended exposure. 

The shutter will remain open until the shutter is pressed down again to close it. When using bulb mode, a tripod is highly recommended and also a remote shutter release.

When the shutter is open for more than a small fraction of a second, pictures can become blurred without one. A tripod will add stability to keep photos in focus and using a remote shutter release prevents the camera from moving when the shutter is  pressed down. 

Manual Mode

Marked with an 'M' on the dial.

Manual mode allows you to have complete control of all of your camera settings over every aspect of your photograph including choosing your shutter speed. The photographer is therefore responsible for the resulting photograph.

Manual mode is recommended for portrait photography using the following settings;

Aperture: f/2 - f/4.

Shutter speed: 1/200.

ISO 100-200.

Tip! Kindly ask the person to stay as still as possible to get a sharp image.

C1, C2, C3

These are settings where the camera allows you to input and store your own settings. Not all cameras have this facility.


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