By now you’ve probably surmised that we don’t have much good to say about autoexposure modes. These modes are great for beginners and those who don’t have the time to learn how their camera really works. If you want awesome pictures every time, we highly recommend leaving your camera on the Manual mode and adjusting all of the settings manually.
Below we’ve listed the autoexposure modes along with their strengths and weaknesses.
Full Auto Mode is usually listed on the exposure dial as “Auto.” This is not the same as the “A” setting, which means Aperture-Priority mode. In full auto mode, the camera selects all of the settings for you. It chooses the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, light metering, and how the camera focuses. For beginning photographers, the full auto mode will create decent pictures. However, once you start manually adjusting the settings, chances are you’ll never go back to the full auto mode.
Programmed Mode is usually listed on the exposure dial as “P.” Programmed mode is almost the same as full auto but not quite. In programmed mode you’re able to adjust some of the camera’s settings yourself. In programmed mode you can set the ISO, white balance, and how the camera focuses. Depending on the specific manufacturer of the camera, you should be able to select the light metering, auto focus area, noise reduction, image quality, and image size.
Shutter-Priority Mode is usually listed on the exposure dial as “S.” In addition to the settings allowed in the programmed mode, shutter-priority allows you to choose the shutter speed. The camera will automatically choose the aperture that works best with the shutter speed you’ve chosen. Being able to select the shutter speed is important for those times when you want to blur objects (such as water) or capture fast-moving subjects such as race cars or the wings of a hummingbird.
Aperture-Priority Mode is usually listed on the exposure dial as “A.” In addition to the settings allowed in the programmed mode, aperture-priority allows you to choose the aperture. The camera will automatically choose the shutter speed that works best with the aperture you’ve chosen.
Aperture-priority mode works well when you want to blur the background, increase the depth of field, or maintain a specific aperture when the light source is inconsistent. In full auto mode, the camera might choose settings that blur the background. By switching to aperture-priority mode, you might be able to increase the depth of field so more of the scene is in focus. The opposite also applies. In full auto mode the camera might choose settings that create a deep depth of field. If you want to focus on a flower while minimizing the surrounding field, you could switch to aperture-priority mode and choose a smaller aperture (larger number.)
A word of caution with both shutter-priority and aperture-priority modes. If you choose a shutter speed or an aperture that your camera thinks is out of whack, your camera will either flash or beep some type of warning. For example, in shutter-priority mode you might choose a shutter speed that’s too slow or too fast for the range of apertures available on the lens. If that happens, your camera will either flash or beep to let you know it can’t find a suitable aperture to match the shutter speed.
The autoexposure modes listed below are available on most (but not all) digital cameras.
Landscape Mode is normally used for photographing outdoor scenery. In theory, the camera chooses settings based on the assumption that your focal point is in the center of the viewfinder.
Portrait Mode is normally used for…??? Portraits, of course. The camera assumes your subject is up close and fills most of the viewfinder.
Action Mode is normally used for action shots. Pretty obvious, huh? The camera assumes the subject is moving and chooses a faster shutter speed to capture the action.
Nighttime Mode is used for taking pictures at night. The camera normally increases the ISO, which increases the sensitivity of light on the image sensor.
We should note that the landscape, portrait, action, and nighttime modes really aren’t necessary for most modern digital cameras. In full Auto mode, the camera knows how far away the subject is. That eliminates the need for the landscape mode. The camera knows whether it’s night or day. That eliminates the need for the nighttime mode. The camera knows if the subject if up close and fills most of the viewfinder. That eliminates the need for the portrait mode. The best rule when taking pictures is to experiment. If you have a stationary subject, try a few pictures in full Ato mode then switch to portrait or landscape mode. We’ve found that pictures taken in portrait mode often have more vibrant color than those taken in full Auto mode.
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