These days cameras can be hideously confusing machines with buttons, dials, and widgets galore that may seem totally overwhelming to the novice photographer. Learning what each of these controls do, however, is necessary if you want the camera to stop getting in the way of you taking the pictures you want. Here’s a quick guide to the primary shooting modes on DSLRs and most compact cameras and how you can use them to improve the photos on your blog.
Oh yeah, and before I dive into it here I should mention that you should probably read my previous article regarding ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, just to make sure that you’re clear on all of the terms that I’ll be referring to.
Also, since each camera manufacturer has different camera user interfaces, I will not be going into the specifics of how to adjust each one on each brand. For this info, I strongly recommend reading your camera’s manual or looking up some instructional videos on YouTube.
“AUTO” (or the little green box thingy):
- Your camera will select what it thinks is an optimal ISO, aperture, and shutter speed for the given shot.
- I can’t recommend shooting in this mode unless you…well, unless never. I never use this mode, for anything; there are zero advantages to it.
- All control is relinquished from the photographer and given to the camera and the photographer makes no decisions regarding how they want their image to look.
“P” (Program Mode):
- In this mode you select the camera’s ISO and it will select the aperture and shutter speed necessary for a proper exposure.
- This is a good mode to use when you’re just learning the basics of photography and composition of images, but does not have any advantages for the fashion blogger.
“S” (Shutter Priority Mode [“Tv” on Canon cameras]):
- In this mode you select the ISO and the shutter speed and the camera will select an f-stop to give you a proper exposure.
- Useful for freezing fast action.
- When shooting models moving down a runway, for example, you could set your shutter speed to 1/500th of a second to ensure that the moving models are not blurred by their movement. -Keep in mind, however, that the faster you make your shutter speed the lower your f-stop will be so that the camera gets enough light, thus making your “depth of field” much smaller (DOF is how much of your image is in focus; higher number f-stops have greater DOF, lower number f-stops have narrower DOF).
“A” (Aperture Priority Mode):
- In this mode you select the ISO and the aperture and the camera will select a shutter speed to give you a proper exposure.
- This is by far the most useful mode on your camera for most situations because controlling your DOF (which changing your aperture gives you the most direct control over) is one of the most powerful creative tools a photographer has at his/her disposal.
- I use this mode when I shoot street style and outfit shots to keep my f-stop low (usually f/1.8 for street style and f/3.5 for outfit shots) and the background out of focus; I also use it for shooting events and showrooms simply because I have found that the narrower DOF, which gives the image an overall softer feel, is a look preferred by many fashion bloggers.
- For work purposes, I use this mode about 99% of the time.
“M” (Manual Mode):
- You select the ISO, shutter speed, and aperture; the camera does nothing for you.
- When working slowly and deliberately (and usually with a tripod) this is my preferred mode for shooting (e.g. landscapes, working with models, etc.).
- It’s not for the faint of heart; DSLRs have too many buttons and dials to be used quickly in full manual mode and you’ll very often miss the shot while you fiddle around with them trying to find the proper exposure.
“B” (Bulb Mode)
- Same as full manual mode, but the shutter will stay open for as long as you hold down the shutter release button.
- I only use this mode for when I’ve got my camera mounted on a tripod and I’m shooting a very long exposure (i.e. over 30 seconds, like when I do nighttime photography).
- No practical purposes for the fashion blogger.
I know that this stuff can seem extraordinarily confusing at first, so feel free to ask me any questions you like. Once you start playing around with your camera’s settings though, and checking out the resulting images, it will quickly start to make much more sense.