You bought your new camera with the intention to take better photograph, or maybe you had your camera for a while now, and you were going to learn how to use it properly, but still shoot on the Automatic Mode. Now, there is nothing wrong with taking photographs on AUTO, after all its there- so why not use it?
When using the automatic mode on your camera it sets the focus, the aperture, shutter speed and ISO for you, so you don’t have to think about it and just push the button. The problem is that the camera will normally select an average setting, doesn’t matter what you photograph. Whether you ‘re taking a portrait of someone- average setting, a beautiful sunset- average setting, action at a sporting event- average setting, a scenic landscape photograph- average setting… resulting in, you guessed it- an average looking photograph!
Take control of your camera with this easy guide when to use P, A, S or M on your camera:
When to use Program Mode
The proper name for the P mode on your camera is Programmed Auto Exposure, and that’s exactly what it is: Automatic (like AUTO) but you can program your camera. The camera will set the shutter speed and aperture for you to get a correct exposure, but allows you to program or change certain settings on the camera, like the exposure compensation (to make the photograph lighter or darker), where and how the camera will focus (we all have that photograph where the camera focussed on the bush instead of the lion behind the bush) and you can control the flash to name a few.
Program Mode (P) is ideal as a starting point for getting your camera off AUTO and for situations where you need to take photographs quickly, and don’t want to miss the shot because you’re fiddling with your camera settings.
When to use Aperture-Priority
The aperture or lens opening controls the amount of light and also the depth-of-field (area of sharp focus). Aperture Priority means you, as the photographer, selects the aperture you would like to use, and the camera will set the shutter speed. So you do half, and the camera does half.
Use Aperture-Priority (AV or A) when you want control of the depth-of-field in your photograph. I use Aperture- Priority when photographing landscapes and require increased overall sharpness throughout the photo, like f11, f16 or f22. I also use Aperture-Priority when photographing people or animals, and select an aperture like f2.8, f4 or f5.6, for less depth-of-field and to blur the background.
When to use Shutter-Priority
The shutter speed controls the amount of light and also movement. Shutter-Priority means you, as the photographer, controls the shutter speed and the camera will set the aperture. So you do half, and the camera does half.
Being able to control the shutter speed is useful in situations where you want to freeze a moving subject by selecting a fast shutter speed like 1/1000 or 1/2000th of a second or record the motion with a slow shutter speed like ½ or 1/4th of a second, to turn moving water into a soft blur. (Remember you need a tripod when photographing with a slow shutter speed to avoid camera shake)
When to use Manual Mode
The manual exposure setting on your camera is perfect for dealing with difficult lighting conditions, and fun to shoot on when you have the time available to do so. I enjoy taking photographs on manual when I’m not in a rush, like photographing a beautiful sunset, but won’t use manual when photographing my children running around on the beach for example.
In Manual mode you need to set both the shutter speed and aperture, while avoiding over- or underexposure, and does take a while to master, but the sense of achievement is great when you do! After all, isn’t that why you bought your camera in the first place?