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The Beginners Photography Guide to Digital Camera Modes

Understanding the different digital camera modes on your camera is important for any photographer who wants to take better pictures.

While the majority of beginning photographers are likely to leave their camera in automatic mode it still helps to understand the many different digital camera modes available to you and the limitations and advantages of them.

In this section of our beginners photography guide we will cover some of the most common modes found on today's digital cameras and explain some of the key differences as well as advantages and disadvantages of the different digital camera modes.

To help breakdown this section of the beginners photography guide we will cover the different digital camera modes in three sections: Automatic Modes, Automatic Scene Modes and Semi Automatic Modes.

Automatic Mode

Auto modeAutomatic mode is just that...the camera chooses the exposure settings based on the available light. The advantage of the full automatic mode is that it makes taking a picture very quick and easy even on the most complex DSLR camera. The disadvantage is that even though today's digital cameras are very advanced, there are many times when the photographer wants more control over the exposure settings to compensate for difficult lighting conditions or to achieve a specific effect.

Automatic modes are basically a compromise as you allow the camera to control the exposure settings with little if any input from you as to the type of scene you are shooting etc. Automatic Modes generally use the more "standard" or "vanilla" settings including the type of creative style, color space, white balance, etc. that will be used. Also in most cameras the different types of automatic modes limit the range of ISO that the camera will use which means that you are not able to use have the full ISO range the camera is capable of unless you go to a different mode.

Shooting in automatic mode will generally give you good results but to get the most from your digital camera you must go beyond this mode.

Intelligent Automatic Mode

intelligent scene modeIntelligent automatic modes or intelligent scene recognition modes are a new and approved automatic mode available in a lot of newer cameras. You might consider them to be automatic modes on steroids.

These smarter automatic modes analyze the type of scene and lighting conditions and then the camera selects one of the cameras scene modes (more on these different modes to come) that has the best exposure setting for that type of picture. For example if you are taking a picture of a person the camera might switch to the portrait mode and enable the smile or face-detection so the picture is taken when the subject smiles.

These intelligent automatic modes do a good job and are certainly an improvement in many ways from a standard automatic mode. For many people this might be the only mode they use, yet even as good as these are there are still advantages to using one of the semiautomatic modes such as shutter priority or aperture priority.

Program Auto Mode

portrait modeProgram mode is another type of automatic mode where the camera will automatically select the shutter speed and aperture. The main difference between program mode and automatic mode if the camera has both settings is that any changes or settings you override such as ISO setting, creative style, or white balance are saved in program mode. Therefore when you turn the camera back on you will have the same settings while in automatic mode all the changes would be reset to factory defaults. On some cameras that have both automatic and program modes such as Sony DSLR's the flash if up will fire only when needed in the automatic mode but will flash all the time when up in program mode.

Even though the camera automatically chooses the aperture and shutter speed settings using the control dial will allow you to change the aperture (F-stop) and the shutter speed will be automatically be adjusted as well. This allows you to quickly change the aperture as needed to get a faster shutter speed to stop motion or a smaller aperture to get greater depth of field. Some DSLR's have a feature known as Program Shift that allows you to select whether you want to control the aperture or shutter speed when in the program mode. Check you camera's owners manual for more information on these features.

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Tags: Digital Photography Expsoure Camera Settings Camera Modes Aperture ISO Shutter Speed