A Beginners Guide to Camera Modes

 You have in your possession a digital camera that offers custom exposure settings and scene modes and you have been confused by all the available options and this is hindering you from using your camera to its fullest creative potential. We’re talking about the different camera modes displayed on the mode dial of your digital camera.

While the standard Program, Aperture priority and Shutter priority modes are–and will be familiar to many, most digital camera models have many other modes which are confusing to the beginner. It’s my suggestion that you have an understanding and some knowledge of exposure and the effect the shutter speed and the aperture have on the final result of your image and having done this you will better be able to use these settings to their fullest advantage and almost predetermine the end result and the outcome in your pictures. Don’t be afraid to mail us if you feel you need further information and some help. 

This is the automatic mode found in all cameras. Generally used by beginners who want to take a quick picture without worrying about exposure settings. In the automatic mode, you will usually not be able to adjust the camera’s other settings.

The Shutter Priority Mode is best used when you’re taking fast moving photos and is usually found in enthusiast or advanced digital cameras. Here, you select the shutter speed and the camera chooses the best aperture. Some examples would include sports or wildlife photography, where you’ll need a high shutter speed.

The Aperture Priority mode is found in many enthusiast level cameras, what happens is that you select the aperture, thereby locking your depth of field? The camera then automatically sets the best shutter speed to match the conditions. When do you use the Aperture Priority mode? It’s suitable when you’re shooting a stationary subject and specifically want to control the detail in the background.

In this mode, you have full control over your camera and you would need to concentrate on all the settings including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, and any other settings or accessory that you may need in order to get the desired effect that you want. 


Sony Alpha with built-in image stabiliser.

If you choose to shoot pictures against a dimly-lit backdrop. Used for a natural balance between the main subject and the background in portraits taken in low light. Use of a tripod is recommended or employ any other means to eliminate camera shake or you will get a blurred picture.

As the name implies, the Landscape mode allows you to shoot pictures of landscapes. Your camera will select the smallest aperture possible under the conditions to maximize the depth of field in the image. Note that the Landscape mode attempts to deliver sharpness from the foreground to the background. 

Shooting close-ups of people or faces, the Portrait Mode is the mode to choose. When you choose Portrait mode the camera will select a wide aperture setting, minimizing your depth of field for a soft background effect, and also may adjust your zoom. In some cameras, the flash setting will try to switch to red-eye reduction.


Taking pictures of flowers or insects this mode is invaluable. The Macro Mode allows you to focus on objects at amazingly small distances – sometimes just centimetres from the lens. Use the Macro mode when you need to capture the smallest details in your subject.

If you want to capture fast action, then you’ll need the fast shutter speed setting offered by the Sports Mode. When you switch to this mode, your camera will automatically choose the fastest shutter speed possible given the situation. Some cameras will also activate continuous shooting (instead of a single frame), enable the evaluative metering mode and also disable the flash.

Other less common modes that could be included on digital cameras: •Panoramic/Stitch Mode – for taking shots of a panoramic scene to be joined together later as one image. •Snow Mode – to help with tricky bright lighting at the snow. •Fireworks Mode – for shooting firework displays. •Kids and Pets Mode – fast moving objects can be tricky – this mode seems to speed up the shutter speed and help reduce shutter lag with some pre-focussing. •Underwater Mode – underwater photography has its own unique set of exposure requirements. •Beach Mode – another bright scene mode. •Indoor Mode – helps with setting shutter speed and white balance.  • Foliage Mode – boosts saturation to give nice bold colours.


Nikon’s D3200 (amongst other Nikon cameras) employs a Guide Mode that enables you to take pictures and movies the way you want, even if you are a first-time user of a D-SLR. By just following the guides displayed in the monitor, a variety of image expression is realized easily, such as “Soften background” to emphasize the subject, “Capture reds in sunsets”, or “Take bright/dark photos”.