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A Guide To Exposure Controls: Manual, Program, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority Modes
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:
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:
- Shooting under studio lights which are very precisely arranged.
- Some low light photography. You may need to balance your selected aperture width (depth of field) with a very specific shutter speed to get the right result.
- For creative effects, e.g. long exposure photography. Long exposure photography is useful for capturing misty moving water or abstract scenes.
- Deliberately bright or dark images. Digital photography exposure is a technical means of achieving an artistic result. Just leaving things to the camera might not always create the effect/mood you are after.
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:
- Everyday shots, when the light is bright enough not to have to worry about shutter speed and you just want to focus on your subject.
- Landscapes. Provided you've got a tripod to negate the problem of camera shake, use aperture priority mode to set a nice big depth of field for your landscapes and snap away.
- Portraits. 'A' mode comes into its own with portraits. Whether you're isolating your subject from thir background or using a large depth of field, it's the best of the SLR camera modes for this type of photography.
- Street scenes. 'A' mode is my favourite of the digital camera settings to use for these shots because it gives me the freedom to keep a close eye out for the next shot and grab it spontaneously without fiddling around balancing the exposure.
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:
- Sports photography. Set a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action, whether it’s bowls or Formula 1, and let the camera do the rest!
- Wildlife photography. If you're lying in wait for a gem of a wildlife shot, make sure you're free to seize the instant spontaneously with a quick enough shutter speed.
- Some low light photography. You may want to simply use choose manual mode from your SLR camera settings when working in tricky low light. But often the biggest danger is camera shake, which can be dealt with simply by making sure the shutter speed is fast enough.
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:
- Sudden opportunity presents itself and you don't have a second to engage your brain! Just slip the digital camera settings to program and snap!
- Some reportage. In decent light when you are not interested in using a wide aperture to isolate your subject, just focus purely on getting the shot you need without giving any thought to the details of digital photography exposure.