A Guide to Understanding Your Camera Modes

As a beginner photographer there are lots of new details to get used to on your camera. So many in fact, that simply looking at the camera dial can send you into a confusing tailspin which for some newbie photographers is enough to completely put them off their new hobby.

While you’re not likely to utilize all of the modes on your camera, if you want to take the best pictures possible and have control over how they look it’s still worth knowing what they do and why you might want to use them.

Before you get stuck into this guide, if you’re a complete beginner there are a few important photography terms that you should make yourself familiar with to help you understand it.


In auto mode the camera selects settings based on the light and what it thinks you are trying to capture. It automatically adjusts aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, and may also bring the flash into play giving you the least possible control over your images. This can be useful if you simply want to take pictures without worrying at all about the technical side of things.


Full manual is the opposite of auto meaning you are in charge of selecting settings for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, plus white balance, and all of the other more intricate settings available on your camera. This means that you’re able to translate exactly what you have in mind into your images. To be proficient in selecting the right settings for the conditions and what you’re trying to achieve is generally the aim for most beginner photographers but usually takes plenty of practice.

Aperture Priority

Aperture Priority mode puts you in control of the aperture and ISO settings while giving the camera responsibility for everything else. This allows you to concentrate solely on choosing your depth of field which will allow you to get different parts of the image in focus while the camera will do the work on the exposure. Examples of where this can be useful are for portraits where you want a crisp subject and blurred background, or landscapes where you want the whole thing in focus.

Program Mode

Similar to auto, the program mode will select settings for aperture, shutter speed, and ISO based on the conditions. However, you also have the ability to change the white balance, shutter speed, and aperture settings individually and the camera will adjust the others to compensate giving you a slightly larger degree of control. This can be extremely useful for beginners as the camera will select what it thinks are suitable settings which you can use as a guide or base before tweaking to exactly what you want.

Shutter Priority

Virtually the opposite of Aperture Priority, this setting allows you to change the shutter speed and ISO while adjusting to a suitable aperture setting. This allows you to achieve certain effects that relate to the exposure time such as freezing moving objects with a high shutter speed or using a slow shutter speed to create a blurred effect of a night time light scene.


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