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A Guide To Exposure Controls: Manual, Program, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority Modes

digital camera settings

This is a quick guide to when to use the 4 main exposure control modes. Once you get the hang of manual mode it can be tempting to use it all of the time. But sometimes this can slow you down unecessarily. Often the situation only demands you control aperture or shutter speed, and sometimes full automatic mode is actually the best option. Let's take a look each mode individually:


Manual Mode

This was a tricky light to shoot in and manual mode gave me the most control.

Manual mode is only necessary in very specific light or when you are after a specific effect. For example:

Aperture Priority

I wanted to isolate the flower here using a small depth of field, so aperture priority mode did the trick.

I like to use aperture priority mode a lot because the depth of field is normally more important than the shutter speed and the light rarely causes the shutter speed to be so slow as to cause camera shake.

It gives me the best of both worlds: an automatically calculated exposure and creative freedom. Perfect! So aperture priority is great for:


Shutter Priority

I generally stick to shutter priority when shooting sports in order to feeeze the action

Shutter priority is handy when your major concern is shutter speed. For long exposure photography I like to use manual mode. So I select shutter priority from my digital camera settings when I want to freeze objects. This helpful for:


Program Mode

I often use Program mode for street/candid/travel photography to allow me to be quick.

Ok, so now you see that the simplistic 'manual' = good / 'program' = bad understanding of digital photography exposure is a bit rubbish! 

Well, half rubbish perhaps! Program mode rarely trumps aperture or shutter priority mode, which both automatically calculate exposure, whilst allowing creative freedom.

But program has some uses like:

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