What mode to shoot in

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by fireman32, Jun 2, 2011.

  1. fireman32 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 30, 2010
    Raleigh, NC
    Hi all I am new to photography and have talked to a few photographers and have heard a few different opinions and wanted to see what mode on their DSLR they like to shoot in. Some I have talked to say use aperture priority most of the time and shutter priority for sports and fast moving pictures and only use manual for some shoots. Others have told me to shoot in manual most of the time.

    I am just learning all about taking pictures and wonder if manual might be the way to go as I am forced to change all the settings or use one of the priority modes and focus on just one setting and let the camera do the rest. Thanks in advance

  2. simsaladimbamba

    Nov 28, 2010
    I shoot manual with my 450D and G9 Canon cameras, but as I come from a very analog SLR camera with no automatics (except the light measuring), I am used to it.
    You could just simply test all the varieties your camera offers and settle for the method you feel most comfortable with and you get good photos with.
  3. H2Ockey macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2008
    The abilities of cameras and priority settings are pretty amazing and they are a tool to help take better shots quicker/easier. Yes there are many people who prefer manual, they either feel from experience they can set up the exposure better, simply like the control or as simsal just said they learned first on an analog camera and are simply used to it.

    There isn't really a good reason when starting/learning not to use a priority mode most of the time, unless you are specifically trying to learn HOW to vary your results with different settings. All in all this is a little like the jpeg vs. RAW or pie vs cake arguments, lots of pros to both sides of the arguments a few trivial cons to either side of the argument that finally falls down to personal preference.

    Sounds like what you have been told is the standard and what (I think) many of us casual dSLR users do.
    Aperture priority when you want to control DOF, for portraits or landscapes, I also use A-priority often when I know the light situation is going to open up the lens beyond where I would like to shoot. I have a zoom that 35mm has a maximum aperture of f/2.8 but i'm not happy with the sharpness so often shutter priority or manual will set it at f/2.8 but I don't want to go beyond f/4 on that lens.
    Shutter priority when you want to freeze action or deal with lower light issues.
    Full auto... for snap shots maybe? I dunno I'm almost never happy with full auto mode.
    Manual for long exposure or often strange lighting.
  4. cherry su macrumors 65816

    cherry su

    Feb 28, 2008
    I shoot in Aperture priority because it's easiest and quickest for me to get a picture with which I'm happy.
  5. VirtualRain macrumors 603


    Aug 1, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    I think the advice you were given maps pretty well to how most people shoot. The fact is you need different modes for different situations.

    Most of the time, I care about how much of the scene is in focus. This means I want to control the aperture so I use Aperture priority, set the aperture to achieve the desired depth of field, and let the camera pick the shutter and ISO to properly expose the scene. If this is too bright or too dark, I'll then use Exposure Compensation to adjust the exposure up or down to my liking (or to fill the histogram). Typically, I'm using one of two aperture values... either wide open to isolate my subject (a person or object of interest), or stopped down to f8-f11 (depending on how bright it is) to get everything in focus. On cloudy days, I'll use f8. On sunny days, I'll use f11.

    I use Manual when I'm taking long exposures on a tripod at night. In this case, I'll usually force f8-f11, ISO to around 100-800, and then adjust the shutter all over the place (from -2EV to +1 depending on what I'm trying to do) using the built-in metering as a guide.

    If you're shooting in a studio, I would also use Manual exclusively to keep exposure fixed (not let the camera adjust it up/down as it sees fit).

    If you're shooting high speed things (sports or moving objects), you could shoot in shutter priority mode, but you can also shoot wide open in aperture priority mode and know you're getting max shutter speed that way. As a result, I seldom ever use shutter priority mode.

    As I said at the start, I think the key is to use different modes to meet the needs of different shooting situations.
  6. fireman32 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Aug 30, 2010
    Raleigh, NC
    Thanks for the replies. I think I am going to shoot in Aperture priority for now until I get better. I have another photography class on Tuesday. Trying to learn as much as possible.
  7. macjube macrumors newbie

    Jun 1, 2011
    Great White North
    A Summary of Exposure Modes and What They're Good For

    Hello, Fireman. The advice in this thread has been spot-on, so I'll just summarize it and add some examples based on extremes.

    Program Mode

    In program (or "Auto") mode, under bright conditions the camera sets "middle-of-the-road" values for aperture and shutter speed. As the light decreases, the aperture widens and the shutter speed slows to suit the lower light. At some point, the camera hits the "stops" – either the aperture can't be widened further (the lens limit) or the programmed shutter speed limit (typically 1/30 or 1/60 sec) has been reached, so the camera starts to crank up the ISO to compensate for the lower light.

    Aperture-Priority Mode

    In this mode, you set the aperture, and the camera adjusts the shutter speed and ISO based on your desired aperture. You're basically controlling depth-of-field; let's look at the extremes:

    Wide Apertures (e.g. f/2.8) -- very narrow depth of field; the subject is in sharp focus but the distant background becomes nice and blurred. Sometimes the DoF is too narrow; for example, when shooting several flowers, a couple may be in sharp focus but their neighbours are neither sharp nor blurred -- they're out of focus, and that can make a lousy photograph. Side effect: the camera will always choose a fast shutter speed, which may or may not be what you want.

    Narrow Apertures (e.g. f/22) -- very wide depth of field; everything in a wide range is in sharp focus. Sometimes, the DoF may be too wide, resulting in a photograph that's too "busy." Side effect: the camera will always choose a slow shutter speed, which may or may not be what you want. In the flower-bed example above, if you've set f/22 and the wind is blowing, the camera will choose 1/30 sec and you'll get a bit of undesirable motion blur.

    Shutter-Priority Mode

    In this mode, you set the shutter speed and the camera adjusts the aperture and ISO to match the available light. As the light level falls, the lens goes wide-open and the camera starts to increase the ISO to compensate. Again, let's look at the extremes:

    Fast Shutter (e.g. 1/2000) -- this freezes action; a race car will look as if it's standing still, and a fountain's water droplets will look like individual sharp, small blobs. Side effect: the camera will choose a wide aperture (f/4 in daylight) and your depth of field will be narrow, which may or may not be what you want. Note also that fast shutter speeds mean that you have to be shooting in bright conditions.

    Slow Shutter (e.g. 1/10) -- this causes "motion blur;" a moving cyclist will be blurry (but it's a motion blur, not an out-of-focus blur) and your photo has a sense of action. A fountain's water droplets are no longer individual, but the water has a beautifully smooth effect. Side effects: Narrow aperture and wide DoF (which may or may not be what you want), and you'll need to use a tripod to shoot at such low speeds. Note that if your camera has VR/IS/SR, turn it OFF so it doesn't interfere with the effect you want, or turn it on to get "background blur" -- pan the camera to track the cyclist and take a photo; the VR should track the cyclist, and the background will be motion-blurred -- another pleasing effect, and your photo won't be "ordinary" as it would in Program mode.

    Manual Mode

    One could argue forever about this mode, but I use it for weird and special cases. I've used manual for time exposures of fireflies in the backyard (they leave really interesting trails, some dashed and some curvy and solid). I've also used manual for portrait shoots – when I take 150 shots of someone under the same lighting conditions, I don't want the camera's exposure to go wildly bouncing around a four-stop range depending on how much of her dark hair or light face or clothing is currently in the frame. Manual gives absolute consistency in such a case.


    Now you have the four extremes of the Aperture and Shutter priority modes. Experiment with all four extremes, close up and far away, and at long and short focal lengths, and you'll get a feel for which mode is best for the situation and the effect you're trying to achieve. It's YOU that can create the "look and feel" of the resulting photograph -- once you understand the modes and extremes, you'll find that your photographs become beautiful and no longer look like ordinary snapshots.

    Just be very clear that there is no "standard" mode you "should" be shooting in. For practice, you might want to adopt Aperture mode for one full week, and Shutter for another, just to learn the advantages, limitations and side effects more thoroughly. Photography is not about what you should and shouldn't be doing, it's about understanding the techniques and using them to create beautiful and stunning photographs.

    One final note, which may or may not apply to you. The mode I use 95% of the time on my Nikon D300s is – Program Mode!!! But most Nikons have a very interesting program mode called P* – whatever aperture/shutter the camera picks, you rotate the thumbwheel one way or the other, and this cranks the "middle-of-the-road" setting to either "more aperture and faster shutter" or "less aperture and slower" shutter (while maintaining correct exposure). I can see the current settings in the viewfinder, so I don't have to take my eyes off the subject and change modes. I just love it, it's so simple and fast. Maybe your camera does this also.

    P.S. VR/IS/SR = Nikon Vibration Reduction, Canon Image Stabilization, Pentax Shake Reduction.
  8. Dark slide macrumors newbie

    Mar 15, 2010
    Shooting modes

    One way of looking at might be this:

    If you want to control motion (freezing or blurring), use Shutter Priority.

    If you want to control Depth of Field (area of background and foreground in focus), use Aperture Priority.

    If you want control over both Motion and Depth of Field, use Manual Mode.

    Nothing wrong with using Auto or Program mode when you are just starting out or don’t have time to adjust the exposure yourself. Be comfortable with your camera and work your way into the other shooting modes. Personally, I use Manual mode, it is what works for me.

    Another tip is to always use your camera’s histogram display. It is a great way to quickly know if you are underexposing or overexposing, especially if you are outside where it might be difficult to see the image on your display screen.
  9. 42streetsdown macrumors 6502a


    Feb 12, 2011
    Gallifrey, 5124
    It all depends on what you want. Practice lots, take lots of pictures.
  10. Ish macrumors 68020


    Nov 30, 2004
    Good advice in this thread.

    I don't tend to take action shots so I mostly use aperture-priority, with the exposure compensation button when I feel the exposure needs tweaking.
  11. fireman32 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Aug 30, 2010
    Raleigh, NC
    Macjube thanks for breaking it all down. I think I am going to follow your advice and try shooting in all the different modes and just practice, practice, practice. I am signed up for another photography class this week and plan to just go out today and shoot as much as possible.

    Thanks again everyone for all the advice. I really do appreciate it.

  12. cupcakes2000 macrumors 6502

    Apr 13, 2010
    Good advice indeed.

    I shoot in manual. This way your camera is your tool and you make all the decisions.

    A little off topic, but completely related.. have a look into the different settings for your light meter. If you want to control everything then this is important to understand.

    Choosing the correct part of the picture to meter, your own aperture, shutterspeed and ISO, is the only way to fully understand what is happening and why. Whilst you're learning at least.
  13. tinman0 macrumors regular

    Jun 5, 2008
    Wouldn't bother with manual unless you have something specific you want to achieve, eg studio or night time photography. Otherwise you are adding in an unneeded step. I don't understand people who say they shoot in a full manual mode for day to day stuff.

    I used to use Program mode all the time and bias to aperture or shutter on the dial.

    But these days I tend to use Aperture priority and set to f8 or f11. If I want short depth of field then knock it up to f2.8. If I want to remind myself to get the ccd cleaned, dial in f22 ;)

    It's about the light levels at the end of the day so I might lower the f numbers as light drops, always having one eye on the shutter speed of course to make sure it's not too low.
  14. cupcakes2000, Jun 5, 2011
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2011

    cupcakes2000 macrumors 6502

    Apr 13, 2010
    Ridiculous statement. Why spend so much money on a camera and then not get to know it, or use it properly?
    Fair enough using AV or TV when you're in a hurry or whatever, doesn't using the program mode amount to using a point and shoot? How can you get creative when you can't even adjust the shutter or the aperture for each image?

    OP, experiment with P AV TV and M modes, and ultimately you will make your own decision.
  15. carlgo macrumors 68000

    Dec 29, 2006
    Monterey CA
    I shoot in program mode most of the time. You can program in your setting like exposure, etc. that work most of the time for what you do and like.

    Manual...I have a couple of nice old manual lenses from my FM2 days. I will shoot them on the digital and you have to use the manual settings to do that.

    Just hiking along, out in wherever, I set it to Auto. I figure if something happens fast, say a mountain lion or bear, I can fire off a shot and it will capture the action. Here getting a shot is going to be more valuable that making it artistic.
  16. tinman0 macrumors regular

    Jun 5, 2008
    Not ridiculous at all. Why spend so much on buying a camera with all these automatic features and then tell yourself that you don't need them?

    Using Manual mode for general day to day photography, especially for a beginner is a total waste of time.

    All manual means is that you are setting automatic controls manually - it makes no difference in the overall result at the end of the day as you need to get your exposure right.

    What is the point of setting 1/250th and f8 manually if the camera will do it for you? You are wasting time, and wasting a perfectly good feature of the camera.

    And why does "manual" have to equate to "creative"? People all day long take perfectly good pictures with automatic modes.
  17. cupcakes2000 macrumors 6502

    Apr 13, 2010
    Haha!! what??

    The camera is a computer, and doesn't always know what it's doing.

    And to be honest, manual does equal creative!

    Imagine, for example, you saw a flickering candle, and a beautiful woman's face just visible in the light.

    Pick up your £1000 camera body with your £1000 lens on it, set it to P and snap a pic. It might be okay, but I doubt it would be exactly 'how you saw it'.
    The camera would ruin what could be an amazing pic, by choosing your 'correct' exposure for you. Or even worse, not even allow you to push the shutter down 'til you crank the iso up to about 2000!

    Instead, pick up the same camera. Put it on spot metering, meter her face expose accordingly.. take your picture. It's not harder when you know how to do it. And it's not hard to learn how to do it.

    To suggest that especially a beginner to stay away form manual is nonsense. A beginner should only use manual if they are serious about learning how to use their camera to it's full extent.

    The other setting are useful, in certain applications and in certain situations. But manual is what it says.
  18. H2Ockey macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2008
    Cupcake that is a huge oversimplification of the "auto" modes of most DSLRs. Yes it is possible to set them up to function like an overpirced point and shoot, but the capabilities of most cameras and the control and ability to adjust settings in the "auto" modes is actually quite complex.

    As I said before these arguments are always full of lots of pro's and very few specific cases of cons on both sides.

    I personally don't like the full auto mode 90% of the time but on the other hand part of the reason these cameras cost so much is the amount of time and development in to the light meters, focusing abilities and automated functions. I'm sure there are some engineers out there thinking "hey if you are going to poo poo all over my hard work go get yourself an old FM and a hand held light meter. I put a lot of hard work into making this camera able to do some of the hard work so you can focus on the composition of the shot."
  19. tinman0 macrumors regular

    Jun 5, 2008
    I still don't see the reason (even in your example!) of why you need to run the camera in a full manual mode all the time.

    Stick the camera in an auto mode and let it do the hard work and learn to recognise when you need the Manual control over the camera.

    But for a beginner, stick it in P mode, and let the camera do the hard work for you.
  20. cupcakes2000, Jun 5, 2011
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2011

    cupcakes2000 macrumors 6502

    Apr 13, 2010
    Well each to their own man. We will probably have to agree to disagree!

    I just would always feel I could of got a better image using manual over P. I agree there maybe some instances, definitely for using Av or Tv, possibly for using P, when you know your camera inside out and you know your abilities.

    You will only ever test your abilities and learn your camera properly if you shoot manual. When I learnt manual.. I decided I didn't really want the camera to make my decisions!

    The OP is asking the best way to learn and I think the best way to learn is to do everything yourself.
  21. fireman32 thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Aug 30, 2010
    Raleigh, NC
    I did not mean to start an argument over this. I think everyone has good points here and I appreciate all the feedback. I guess one of the great things about digital is I can take as many of the same picture in all the different modes and see what the difference is and get rid of the ones I do not want.
  22. Flash SWT macrumors 6502

    Flash SWT

    Mar 14, 2009
    Houston, TX
    Manual. It will make you a better photographer.

  23. flosseR macrumors 6502a


    Jan 1, 2009
    the cold dark north
    IMHO: A really dumb statement.
    First, a beginner will just get frustrated in manual mode. get to know a PART of the camera and build on that. P mode has its uses but to learn is not one of them.
    Use A or S mode and you learn how the camera reacts when you adjust ONE setting and how it affects ALL other settings.
    Second, I know great photographers that shoot in M ONLY when they really really have to and I just asked actually one of the how he learned and he said he shot A mode for about 3 years with the occasional S mode and after that tried to use Manual for a while. He might not be an Ansel Adams etc. but he makes a lot of money shooting in a not so creative mode and produces really excellent shots.

    Learning: Use a mode that allows you to change ONE setting and the rest is done. Once you are advanced: change to full manual...
  24. Flash SWT macrumors 6502

    Flash SWT

    Mar 14, 2009
    Houston, TX

    And I know dozens who learned on film with manual cameras and continue to only shoot on manual all the time. Point being, this isn't much of an argument one way or the other. Everybody knows somebody who did it one way or the other. I'm sticking with my personal experiences and opinions here.

    This frustration/disappointment can be a powerful learning tool. When you mess something up or it doesn't turn out how you wanted most people will try that much harder to get it right the next time. Remember what they did wrong, learn from their mistakes, etc.

    I can see the advantage of this approach and how it might be useful to learning. Especially if it is used specifically as a learning tool and not as a final choice. Use Aperture priority for a week, use Shutter for the next week, etc.

    However, I still recommend all new photographers (those who actually want to learn to be photographers and not just take snap-shots), learn by starting with a fully manual camera. I think there is a distinct advantage to picking up an old K-1000 at a pawn shop and some film and learning that way.

    I talk to so many young photographers who just stick the camera in "green square" mode and take hundreds of photos without actually thinking about any of the process along the way. If they take enough shots they'll eventually get one that is good enough. These kids are going to have a really hard time making their photography stand out from anyone else or the army of moms with cameras that increases every day.

    Instead of writing this all again I'm just gonna quote myself from last year:
  25. H2Ockey macrumors regular

    Aug 25, 2008
    I have had several coaches in various sports over the years that have had a personal hatred of the term "Practice makes perfect." Instead things like practice makes permanent or perfect practice makes perfect. The point being just doing something over and over does NOT make you better unless you are either making the effort to learn what you are practicing or doing it right from the start.
    This isn't a direct correlation to this argument, but the point is if you are using manual wrong you are learning just as little as if you are in full auto mode and not studying what you did. Fully capable of learning either way, using auto modes or full manual BOTH require effort and attention to actually learn.
    Also what makes a good photographer versus snap shots? The ability to have correct settings on the camera?
    The ability to capture the light from the perfect angle on the subject, framed in such a way to isolate the subject and have the instant of time you have captured tell an interesting story?
    Is a photographer an artist or a cameraman?

    I think with the time and in a class type environment fully manual film cameras are a much better tool to learn the trade, but for going out and learning by ones self in a less controlled environment? Maybe for learning these modes and cameras are a bit of a crutch, but once you do know what you are doing they are a tool not a crutch.

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