All digital SLR camera systems comes with a series of shooting modes. These are the Auto mode, the Shutter priority mode, the Aperture Priority mode and of course the Manual mode. The Auto mode is further divided into the Full Auto mode and the Programmed Auto mode. There is no single shooting mode which can be termed as the best for all situations. Each of these modes are designed to serve a specific shooting situation and a specific shooting requirement. This article is all about detailing each of these shooting modes and finding out the best one for specific shooting situations. However, before we venture any further we need to recap some of the basic aspects of exposure and the parameters that govern them.

Exposure parameters – What is shutter?

The key that fires an exposure when you press it down is the shutter button. But what it triggers is an elaborately choreographed set of movements that work with domino efficiency. When you press down the shutter button it triggers the shutter curtain. The shutter curtains (there are two of these) open to allow light to enter your camera. Once the exposure is done they then reset for the next shot. This is the simple mechanism of a shutter.

However, in reality, it is way more complicated than this and involves a lot more than just opening and closing of the shutter curtains. That discussion is however, beyond the purview of this article. We leave them aside for a future time.

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed, in plain English is the length of time for which the shutter curtains remain open to allow light to enter the camera. It is called speed for some curious reasons. Shutter speed is expressed in fractions of seconds.

What affect does increasing or decreasing the shutter speed have on your photos?

Longer the shutter speed, or in other words, longer the time frame for which the shutter remains open, more is the amount of light that enters the camera. Additionally, longer the shutter speed, more likely is the amount of motion blur you are likely to see in your images.

Shutter Priority Mode

Shutter priority mode is one of the creative shooting modes on your camera. It is referred to as a creative shooting mode because you can control the amount of light by controlling the shutter speed. In Shutter Priority mode you select the shutter speed of your camera while the camera selects the aperture value on its own.

This mode is ideally suitable when you need to select a precise shutter speed and you don’t really care about the corresponding aperture value. In real world scenarios, shutter priority mode is used less.

Some scenarios for the use of shutter speed could be –

When you need to pan with a subject and need a specific shutter speed. Let’s say you are covering a track and field event. You want to pan with the sprinters as they pace down the track. You need a shutter speed which would allow you to pan with your sprinters. After a few test shots you figure out that 1/30 is the right shutter speed.

You set your camera to shutter priority and allow the camera to select the aperture on the fly to correspond with that shutter speed. Since the exposure will vary in different shots depending on the lighting conditions, aperture will be auto selected by the camera. This saves you critical moments and hence, prevent you front losing out on precious images.

Shooting in bright outdoor conditions is another example. In bright sunlit conditions you don’t need a slow shutter speed. Plus, if your subject is moving about, you need to freeze the moment. You need to shoot at the fastest shutter speed that you can possibly shoot at.

That means you are likely going to select a fast shutter speed to (a) not overexpose the scene and (b) to freeze the subject. Shooting in shutter priority mode is the best alternative in this case. Aperture is auto selected by the camera.

What is aperture?

Aperture is the opening on the lens that allows light to enter the camera. Larger that opening more is the amount of light that enters the camera. Smaller that opening, less is the amount of light that enters the camera.

Aperture is controlled via the aperture diaphragm. Tiny blades form what is known as the diaphragm. These can be compared with the Iris of the human eye. The pupil here is analogous to the aperture, the actual opening that allows light to pass through.

What affect does increasing or decreasing the aperture value have on your photos?

Aperture, just like shutter, controls the amount of light that gets through and reaches the sensor of your camera. Additionally, aperture controls the depth of field of your images. Depth of field denotes the extent of the image which is in acceptable focus. Larger the aperture, smaller is the depth of field. Similarly, smaller the aperture, larger is the depth of field of your images.

Aperture Priority Mode

The Aperture priority mode, just as the name suggests allows you to set the aperture value of your shot manually. This is also a creative shooting mode. It is about manually setting the one aspect that you need fixed in your shot, i.e., the aperture value.

When you set your camera in to aperture priority, shutter speed is auto selected by the camera. Aperture value has to be manually selected by you depending on the scene and your requirement.

Depth of field

Why should you select the aperture priority mode? Aperture priority mode is ideal when you have a specific depth of field requirement or a requirement to selectively focus on something in the frame.

We learnt above that aperture controls depth of field of your images. In other words by carefully selecting the right aperture you can decide whether to bring almost the whole of the image into focus or just a small area. Let’s take a few examples.

Selective focusing with the Aperture priority mode

Flower photography is one area where we normally do selective focusing. It is accomplished by selecting a large aperture (f/2.8 and wider), selecting single-point AF and then focusing on a sweet spot on the flower.

When you do that everything except the aspect of the flower that you had focused on would be blurred. This technique is also known as selective focusing. This technique is used in a wide variety of other photography genres as well. This includes portrait, wedding, macro and product.

What is the Auto mode?

The Auto mode has this dubious distinction of being referred to as the ‘stupid mode’. But it is anything but ‘stupid’. Even pros have mixed feelings about it. Some use it others hate it. For beginners and amateurs, it is the one mode that allows them to get into the whole set-up of composition, focusing and building an image before making the transition to manually control exposure.

The auto mode as you may have imagined from the name, does everything automatically. It is marked by the word Auto. there are two Automatic modes on most cameras. The first one is Programmed Auto and the second one is Full Auto. In Programmed Auto mode the camera selects the aperture and shutter speed depending on the scene. All other settings can be done by you.

In Full Auto mode the camera selects everything. So all that you have to do is point your camera and press the shutter button. There are applications of both these modes in photography.

The full auto mode is similar to what you would find on standard point & shoot cameras and smartphones. It is the smartest mode and one that requires absolutely no input from the user except to press the shutter release. You don’t have to have an IQ of 135 to use this shooting mode.

The other mode is the Programmed Auto mode. In this mode you can still select the focusing point and use exposure compensation to change things a bit. The camera, however, selects aperture and shutter speed. Another thing that you can do is change the exposure value by using the command dial. Let’s say that your camera selects a combination f/5.6 and shutter speed 1/200. You can change things around to select an aperture of f/4 and shutter speed of 1/400.

Advantages of the Auto mode

Why should you use the program mode? Let’s first check out the advantages of the Full Auto mode. The most obvious benefit of using the Full auto mode is in situations when you are unsure of the scene. You don’t know what aperture or what shutter speed to use for the right exposure. Switching to the full auto mode allows the camera to take charge.

Let’s say your 9 month old starts getting up on her feet for the first time. It is a priceless moment, once in a lifetime moment. You really don’t have time to fiddle round with shutter speed and aperture at that point. All you should do is set your camera on auto and fire away as many frames as you can.

Then again auto mode is actually a very smart mode. It is built on the basis of, at least the auto modes on latest digital cameras, of years of experience of handling various shooting situations. It compares an internal database of hundreds of shooting situations and then applies the idea exposure settings based on the closest match.

Disadvantages of the Auto mode

The auto mode is a rough and ready shooting mode for making snapshots. It is not ideal for making creative photography at all. It hardly gives any opportunity to do that. With some degree of freedom, you have to accept the shutter speed and aperture that is selected by the camera on the fly. This mode is ideal for snapshot style photography. Thus, the auto shooting mode is perfect for beginners and occasional photographers who are learning the basics of composition, framing and focusing.

What is the manual shooting mode for?

shooting in bad weather

Finally the manual mode, also known as the ultimate creative shooting mode. Manual mode is only for users who have mastered both shutter priority and the aperture priority modes. With this shooting mode you can not only alter the depth of field of your images but also the shutter speed therefore controlling the amount of light and the extent of the image that in in sharp focus.

There are a million different instances when neither aperture priority nor the shutter priority mode is ideal for photographing a scene / subject. Let’s say you want to capture a waterfall with the smallest possible aperture and the longer possible shutter speed. You need to control both. This is not going to be possible using either of the above modes.

Let’s take another example. Let’s say that you are photographing someone against a bright backdrop. In the Auto mode or the other creative shooting modes, the camera will try to force you into accepting an exposure value that it thinks is perfect.

We have discussed elsewhere about the built-in metering mechanism of your camera. The built-in light meter invariably will get it wrong in this situation. It would think that the scene is too bright and suggest you a faster shutter speed or smaller aperture depending on the shooting mode you are in. Of course you can always use exposure compensation to override what the camera tells, but the best option would be to switch to Manual shooting mode.

The manual mode is the best shooting mode to tackle difficult lighting scenarios where the built-in light meter is likely to get it wrong. Plus, it gives the critical advantage of being able to control both the shutter speed and the aperture.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee

You may also like

Ben Novoselsky November 13, 2015

Shooting Wide Panorama of Cities

Even with a wide angle lens you need to realize that there is no way that you can shoot a wide ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 3, 2016

Getting Started in Low Light Photography

Introducing Low Light Photography
For those of you who primarily shoot with a smartphone or even a ...

Ben Novoselsky October 6, 2016

Some Basic Food Photography Tips

If you are a genuine foodie it would be a natural transgression to want to shoot images of the ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 23, 2015

Benefits of joining a photography class

Digital photography is a vast field of specialized knowledge. Well, even if not many ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 9, 2016

Advantage Of Shooting Film In The Digital Age

Old But Not Obsolete
The dawn of digital sensor also brought in the demise of film. In many ways ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 3, 2017

A Beginner’s Guide to Shoot Environmental Portraits

As a genre, environmental portraits are a challenge of sorts for most photographers. It is because ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 26, 2014

Don’t copy the masters’ style blindly, create your own style

Growing up as photographers one of the biggest source of guidance are the works created by already ...

Ben Novoselsky May 18, 2017

Best Metering Mode for Landscape, Portrait, Wedding Photography

One of the most fundamental aspects of photography is to meter a scene. Metering denotes measuring ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 30, 2016

Introducing Canon Dual Pixel RAW Technology

Last week, the much awaited Canon 5D Mark IV made its debut. The rumor mills have been abuzz for ...

Ben Novoselsky April 6, 2017

Correct Framing in Portrait Photography

Framing is an integral part of the whole process of image making. Be it landscapes, or portraits or ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 11, 2016

An Introduction to Hyper-lapse

What is a Hyper-lapse?
Hyper-lapse is one of those cool photography techniques which uses a ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 31, 2015

How to use the Panning mode in photography

Panning is the technique of going with the flow of a moving subject to make images. The movement of ...

Ben Novoselsky October 27, 2014

7 Silly Mistakes I Made as an Amateur Photographer

1. Leaving the lens cap on

Amateurs are guilty of making some of the most cardinal of mistakes. ...

Ben Novoselsky January 7, 2016

Product Photography Tips to Get Started

Apart from portraiture, product photography is one of those few genres which can provide a steady ...

Kelsey Fox December 18, 2014

How Properly Holding Your Camera Can Lead to Better Photos

The way you hold your camera is almost as important as choosing the right kind of camera to shoot ...

Ben Novoselsky September 12, 2014

The Basic Rules of Photography and Common Mistakes

Everyone, even professionals, makes mistakes, although their mistakes are rare and usually caused ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 5, 2016

Five Ways You Can Use An External Flash In Outdoor Shooting

This article is meant for photographers who want to learn how to use an external flash in outdoor ...

Rajib Mukherjee February 25, 2015

How to Make Your Backgrounds Blurred

Sometimes you may need to blur out the background of your images. Let’s say you are shooting ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 7, 2014

Understanding the Basics of a Good Exposure

Exposure is the key concept that governs all forms of photography where light in some form or the ...

Ben Novoselsky July 2, 2017

Best Books on Portrait Photography

In this discussion we shall take a look at some very useful books on a particular genre of ...

Ben Novoselsky September 17, 2015

About focal length and background distortion

You may have heard professionals talking about the right focal length and how choosing anything ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 23, 2015

Understanding ISO, the least understood of the three exposure parameters

If you look at the main aspects that govern exposure, you would obviously realize that there are ...

Rajib Mukherjee December 21, 2015

Some creative uses of Depth of Field

The main shooting mode dial on your camera has the letter(s) A or Av (depending on the camera ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 6, 2016

Basic Real Estate Photo Tips

The following real estate photo tips will help you to get started as a professional photographer. ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2017

Wedding Photography – the History of the Genre

The history of recording a wedding dates back to a time long before photography came about. The ...

Kelsey Fox June 29, 2014

6 Tips for Shooting in Harsh Light

Whether they dabble in photography or shoot with the pros, most photographers know that there is no ...

Ben Novoselsky May 2, 2016

How Does Hyperfocal Distance Affect Your Images?

Landscape photographers often use the terms focusing distance and hyperfocal distance in relation ...

Ben Novoselsky January 7, 2015

How editing your stock photography can lead to more sales

Before you can start selling your images on microstock websites you ought to know a few things ...

Rajib Mukherjee November 26, 2015

Photographing a landmark at night

Often, when traveling through a foreign land we find ourselves in front of an iconic building or ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 22, 2015

What is Focus Stacking?

Landscape photographers are obsessed with the idea of sharp images. They use a multitude of methods ...

Ben Novoselsky December 23, 2015

Outdoor Photography Beyond the Golden Hour

Landscape photographers love shooting during the golden hour of the day. They love the warm mushy ...

Ben Novoselsky July 18, 2016

How to Work with Leading Lines in Your Photography

Leading lines are one of the most important aspects of photography. They have the power to draw a ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2015

The Use of Diagonal Lines in Photography Composition

We often read about the creative uses of lines in photography. The horizon line is one such oft ...

Ben Novoselsky August 19, 2016

Why You Should Invest in a Tripod

There are probably a hundred reasons why you should invest in a tripod. I am not going to detail ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 6, 2016

Essential Tips to Improve your Photography

If you have recently migrated from a compact point & shoot to a DSLR you no doubt will be very ...

Ben Novoselsky July 14, 2015

Five Natural Light Shooting Tips

You may have heard, nature and natural light photographers often say this – you must head out at ...

Ben Novoselsky August 21, 2014

Tips for Shooting Fireworks Photos

Every Independence Day, or even Memorial or Labor Day, it’s common — a given, even — to see ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 17, 2016

How to Bounce an On-camera External Flash to Produce Better Images

Having purchased your first external flash you must be super-excited. You must be experimenting ...

Ben Novoselsky July 28, 2016

Why Adjusting White Balance Can Lead to a Better Image

One of the challenges faced by photographers on a daily basis is adjusting white balance of their ...

Ben Novoselsky August 6, 2014

Auto Exposure Bracketing: Everything You Wanted to Know


Multiple camera shots with different expose combined in HDR photo
by sumitrodda


If you are just starting out in digital photography, you have probably never heard about auto exposure bracketing (AEB). If you are an enthusiast photographer, probably you have heard about this but never quite mastered the concept to use it with confidence. Regardless of your expertise in digital photography this article can help you master an extremely important feature of your DSLR, i.e.; auto exposure bracketing (AEB).

Читать дальше...

Rajib Mukherjee March 21, 2016

Lighting techniques for shooting in studio environment

A studio setup allows you to be creative in ways you could never ever manage without lights. There ...

Ben Novoselsky August 3, 2014

5 Useful Tips for Making Great Images in Low Light

Cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D3X have completely changed the playing field when ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2015

Five features on your DSLR camera that you probably never use

Your camera comes with three handy metering systems. If you are using a Canon system camera yours ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 19, 2016

Choosing the Best Travel Photography Lens

A lot of amateur photographers find it difficult to zero in on the best travel photography lens for ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 8, 2015

Great Images Come From Great Underlying Stories

I am a photographer who loves making photos of people and places. So every now and then I pack my ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 25, 2014

Photography inspiration: How to keep shooting images

As an amateur we see images taken by photographers like Eric Kim or Jeremy Cowart or Chase Jarvis ...

Rajib Mukherjee January 19, 2015

Light Painting in Photography: An Introduction

Light painting is a very interesting technique in photography that predominantly uses artificial ...

Ben Novoselsky April 25, 2017

Background for Portrait Photography

Background for portrait photography – An Introduction
Backgrounds assume a critical importance in ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 6, 2014

Everyday photography ideas

I wrote a detailed article on the topic of photographic inspiration recently. The aim was to keep ...

Ben Novoselsky May 11, 2015

Understanding Lens Vignetting

A technical term that you are likely to hear a lot is lens vignetting. Lens vignetting (sometimes ...

Ben Novoselsky August 12, 2016

About Flash Sync Speed Limitations and How to Work Around It

We often hear about flash sync speed and how we normally cannot use a flash to sync at extremely ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 22, 2016

How to Photograph Christmas Lights

Watching the Diwali lights come on one by one, at each house in our colony I couldn’t stop thinking ...

Ben Novoselsky May 14, 2017

Survey of Photo Contests by Industry

Does photo contests make sense in participating? – For Recognition
Absolutely. There is no better ...

Ben Novoselsky June 29, 2017

7 Main Mistakes when Retouching Wedding Images

If there were one genre of photography that you could do without retouching then that genre would ...

Ben Novoselsky August 9, 2016

How to Use Backlighting to Isolate Your Subject

I love shooting with backlighting. Backlighting is one of those acquired tastes in photography that ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 10, 2014

An introduction to creating timelapse videos

Timelapse videos have become somewhat clichéd these days with an increasing number of photographers ...

Ben Novoselsky April 20, 2015

Low angle photography tips

One of the least used perspectives in photography is the low angle. I bet every photographer thinks ...

Ben Novoselsky April 25, 2016

How do you tweak the Sunny 16 Rule in Photography?

You are out with your family on a bright sunlit day. The kind of day on which photographers prefer ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 11, 2017

Camera Settings Presets for Shooting Different Scenes

Camera settings presets are a combination of buttons and dials that can be used to recall a ...

Popular posts

Rajib Mukherjee July 31, 2015

How to use the Panning mode in photography

Panning is the technique of going with the flow of a moving subject to make images. The movement of ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 16, 2014

7 Tips to Shooting Great Portrait Photographs

Portrait photography is like a bread and butter thing for professional photographers. No matter ...

Kelsey Fox September 24, 2014

8 Unique Ideas for Wedding Photos

A new spouse, a new last name, and photos - the three must-have takeaways of any wedding. Though ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 16, 2014

How to Get Started in Wedding Photography – Part 2

Compositions are everything in wedding photography; at least when you are not shooting candid ...

Ben Novoselsky November 6, 2014

Portrait Photography Lighting Tips

Portrait photography, especially when we talk about studio portrait photography, as a genre, is ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2015

The Use of Diagonal Lines in Photography Composition

We often read about the creative uses of lines in photography. The horizon line is one such oft ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 14, 2014

How to Get Started in Wedding Photography – Part 1

Weddings are not only fun but they are also one of the most solemn of occasions. Two souls unite ...

Ben Novoselsky April 22, 2016

How to Photograph Birds in Five Easy Steps

Bird photography is a supremely satisfying pursuit if you do it the right way and get results to ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 4, 2015

AF Tricks and Tips for Wildlife Photography

When it comes to wildlife photography, choosing the right auto-focusing mode can often make the ...