How to use shooting modes P, S (Tv), A (Av), M on your camera

You can find a lot of shooting modes on any modern cameras and it is not so easy to understand all of them in the beginning.

But do you want to understand them? If so, I’m going to describe them as simple and as interesting as possible. If your answer is NO then put your camera to AUTO and stop reading this article.


Your camera has four basic modes and, of course, the “favorite” one – AUTO. On the professional and more expensive cameras you can find the basic four modes only.

You can ask me – and what about my favorite “night mode” or “portrait mode” or any other scene modes that you frequently use? I can answer that they are just wrappers (around the basic four) that were made primarily for those who do not understand his camera. The scene modes can help you to get the ordinary pictures. But if you want to get more from your camera you have to understand the golden four - P, S, A, M for Nikon or P, Tv, Av, M for Canon cameras.


Auto mode

But let me say a few words about the most popular mode, which use 70% of the people - the AUTO mode. It is the “relax” mode which was built for those who don’t want to bother too much about what he will get at the end, he just pushes one button and his camera does the rest. It is not bad to use an AUTO mode if you don’t understand your camera or if you just bought your first camera. But sooner or later, I hope sooner, you will be tired of constantly pop-up flash or you will be less satisfied about the quality of your pictures or you just will want to learn more about your camera. But if you choose “no bother” way then set your mode dial on the camera to AUTO and stop reading this article here.


Program mode 

Let’s start our journey with P mode which is a Program mode. This mode is very close to AUTO but it is a semi-automatic mode where the camera selects correct pair of shutter speed and aperture. But you can select the different pairs if it is possible (in low light the camera will not allow you to do that). So, in that mode, the camera still controls most of the functions, but you are able to control ISO, white balance, and flash. That’s why that mode makes you start thinking about what you are doing and it can really add to your creativity. It's great for beginners to start exploring the camera's features. If you are still shooting in AUTO, I strongly recommend you to immediately switch to the P mode. It will not be worse – it will be much better.


Shutter priority mode

The next is S mode (or Tv mode for Canon) which is a Shutter Priority mode. In that mode you will have control over the shutter speed, and the camera will set the appropriate aperture for you. This mode is useful when you are trying to freeze fast moving objects or if you are shooting in low light but you don’t want to blur your image or when you want to use long exposures. So, Shutter Priority mode is especially useful with sport and wildlife photography.


Aperture priority mode

A mode (or Av for Canon) which is an Aperture Priority mode and is the opposite of the previous one. In this mode, you have control over setting the aperture (or another name: f-stop) and the camera will set the appropriate shutter speed for you. Control the aperture means that you can control both the amount of light that comes through the lens and the depth of field. That makes this mode the most frequently used mode by photographers. 90% of all my photos (outside the studio and without external lighting) I shoot using this mode. Why? Because this mode is very convenient mode – it is so easy to control the aperture instead of controlling everything in manual mode. Using Aperture Priority mode you have control over the amount of the image that is in focus (i.e. depth of field) that allows you to quickly switch between shooting a portrait and a landscape – which is a typical scenario in travel photography. To do so, you only need to change the aperture. Is it simple and convenient? Yes!


Manual mode

The last but not least is M mode which is a completely Manual mode. In this mode you have to control both the aperture and the shutter speed and thus to control the exposure. It means that you can adjust all functions to suit lighting conditions and other factors. Of course, using Manual mode requires a good understanding of the relationships between different functions - in particular of the relationship between shutter speed and aperture. This is the mode that professional photographers use the most of the time. But it does not mean that if you shoot in that mode you automatically will belong to the pro league. Professional photographers, first of all, clearly understand what they are doing and why, and they switch to Manual mode only if it is needed. Because of that, I would not recommend Manual mode to the most of beginners and mid-level photographers. Believe me, you will not be as fast and as good as the camera’s electronics that was design exactly for that purposes based on the years of experience. Of course, you can spend a lot of time trying to do the same that the camera will do in the milliseconds. Do you really want that? I’m certainly not! You are living in 21 century and you have your camera, which is a modern piece of art from a technology point of view, in your hand. Of course, in rare cases you have to switch to Manual mode, for example if you want to shoot fireworks, or if you work with strobe lighting in a studio or on the location. But I do not recommend using that mode without a need.

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