- A Beginner's Guide to Aperture Priority Mode and Exposure Compensation
- A Beginner's Guide to Aperture and Depth of Field
We've all been there...
You get a new camera, unbox it, are awed by how amazing it looks and feels, and then you feel an overwhelming sense of dread because there's SO MANY buttons, dials, and modes.
Though a new camera is great, taking awesome pictures with it means you'll have to learn how to use all those fancy features.
And if you're like me, you're more of a "just do it" sort of person than a "let me read the owner's manual" sort of person...
I'm sorry to say, but that's not a good thing!
In the spirit of offering up some information without bogging you down with details, I've put together a quick introduction to the camera's shooting modes, you know, all those letters on the camera's dial.
The Green Box - Full Auto Mode
If this is your first camera with robust controls, the little green box shown above (or sometimes, "Auto" printed in green) will be a nice introduction to using your new rig.
As the name "Full Auto" indicates, in this mode, the camera makes all the decisions. All you do it point and shoot.
You don't have to worry about making changes to any camera settings - not that you could even if you wanted to!
In full auto mode, the camera is in complete control, so the settings it chooses - from aperture to shutter speed to ISO, whether or not the flash fires, white balance, and so on - is out of your hands.
And though you have zero control over things, shooting in full auto at least gets you shooting and learning how to do things like properly hold the camera, compose photos, frame your shots, and so forth. It's also good for occasions when you need to get a shot quickly.
Think of it like training wheels - you'll need them to start, but after awhile, they need to come off!
Aperture Priority Mode - Great for Portraits
A step up from full auto is aperture priority mode (A or AV on the camera dial).
In this mode, you get to determine the aperture and the ISO, and the camera determines a shutter speed to match.
The advantage of this is that you gain some control over what the camera is doing, but you don't have to be responsible for making all the decisions.
So, when you select an aperture value, the camera will decide what shutter speed is needed to get a good exposure.
That means that you have a little more control, yet still have a bit of a safety net that makes getting a well-exposed image more likely.
Another benefit of aperture priority mode is that since you control the aperture, you also control the depth of field.
Depth of field refers to the area of the image that's in focus, so if you want to take a portrait and you want a nice, blurry background, aperture priority mode allows you to do so by manipulating the aperture.
This mode is also good for photos in which the subject is stationary - like the portrait shown at the beginning of this section.
See how to use aperture priority mode in the video above by Wayne Moran.
Shutter Priority Mode - Great for Action
Another semi-automatic mode to be aware of is shutter priority (S or TV on your camera dial).
Like aperture priority mode, in shutter priority mode, you take control of some settings - giving you more power over how the image looks - while the camera controls others.
In this instance, you get to determine the shutter speed and the ISO while the camera decides what aperture to use to get the best exposure.
Again, you have more creative control over the shot, but you still have that safety net in place.
However, because the camera controls the aperture, it determines the depth of field. Instead, since you control the shutter speed, you control how movement is represented in the images you take.
For example, if you wanted to freeze the movement of a fast-moving object, like your kid running and playing sports, you could select a fast shutter speed to do so.
Conversely, if you wanted to blur movement, like a car passing by on the street, you could select a slow shutter speed to do so.
Shutter priority mode is also great for taking long exposure photos in which the shutter is open for 10, 20, 30 seconds or even longer, to get dreamy, ethereal results like the image at the start of this section.
See shutter priority mode in action in the video above by Mike Browne.
Program Mode - Great for Everything!
Program mode, or P on your camera's dial, is like "manual mode light," and for that reason, I consider it to be a step above aperture priority and shutter priority modes.
When you shoot in program mode, you get to determine the ISO and the camera will select an aperture and a shutter speed that makes a good exposure likely.
Again, you get to take more creative freedom while still being able to rely on the camera to help you out.
But, the difference between program mode and the previous modes is that in program mode, you can override the decisions it makes regarding the aperture and shutter speed that's used.
In other words, if you don't like what the camera is doing, you can make adjustments to aperture, shutter speed, and ISO as you see fit to get the type of image you want.
That makes program mode a great stepping stone to shooting in full manual, because you can get used to making adjustments to the three exposure settings but with the advantage of having the camera backing up your decisions.
That also means that program mode is ideal for all sorts of shooting situations - low light, landscapes, portraits, cityscapes - you name it!
See how to use program mode in the video above by Mark Wallace and Adorama TV.
Lastly, the big boy - manual mode, or M on your camera's dial.
The antithesis of full auto, manual mode puts you in control of absolutely everything the camera does, which is why it's reserved for experienced shooters.
But manual mode needn't be a big and scary thing that you never try.
In fact, after you cut your teeth using the modes listed above, it's only a natural progression to shooting in manual mode.
This isn't to say that you have to shoot in manual mode all the time once you get familiar with your camera.
Quite the contrary - the other modes discussed earlier might very well be more appropriate for certain situations.
However, learning how to use manual mode, and, for example, taking complete control over the exposure settings, allows you to build a better understanding of how your camera works and how you can manipulate how your images look.
That, in turn, will help you understand everything from lighting to composition, and having an understanding of such things will only aid you in taking better photos.
Get a detailed explanation of shooting in manual mode in the video above by Jana Williams.