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Understanding Your Camera - Using Auto Mode Settings

Greetings fellow photographers! Last time we examined the Manual Mode settings on your camera: shutter speed, aperture, depth of field, and ISO. These basic settings are the foundation for all photography; they determine how your photos will turn out. You can either use these settings manually, as we discussed last time, or have your camera set them automatically. With a basic understanding of these settings, it is much easier to comprehend exactly what your camera is doing when you use an Automatic Mode. Just as a mechanic needs to know how to use the proper equipment to fix your car, it is important for you to know how to use your camera to take better quality pictures.

Below is a list of common camera settings, their official definitions, and an example of when to use each setting:

  • Auto – The camera decides everything (shutter speed, aperture, flash, and ISO). This is the most common setting; use it whenever you want the camera to do all the thinking and technical work.

  • P (Program) – Similar to Auto, but you manually set the white balance, ISO, and flash. Use this setting to enable the flash when the Auto mode is not triggering a flash, but you know one is required.

TV (Shutter Priority) – You manually control the speed while the camera selects the aperture. When shooting action shots, such as a child’s sports game, the Auto mode may be taking blurry photos. Switch to this mode and set a higher shutter speed.

  • AV (Aperture Priority) – You manually set the aperture while the camera selects the shutter speed. Use this setting in a low light situation and set the aperture to open the lens wide.

  • M (Manual) – You control all settings: shutter speed, aperture, ISO, flash, and white balance. Use this setting whenever you want to control all aspects of the photo, and whenever you feel the urge to experiment with your camera.

The next level of settings are called Scene (SCN) settings or Basic Zone Modes. These are more specific to a photo type. The following list explains these settings:

  • Portrait – Use this setting for a head and shoulders photo. The camera gives you a short depth of field; your subject is sharp, but your background is out of focus.

  • Landscape – Great for scenic shots, this setting gives you a deep depth of field, so that everything is in focus.

  • Sports – As the name suggests, the camera will select a fast shutter speed to avoid blur on fast moving objects (or children!).

  • Night Scene – This setting automatically attempts to balance the subject with the existing background light to eliminate black backgrounds. Use this setting at night when you want to see the subject and the background surroundings. Just remember that the darker the scene, the slower the shutter speed will be, which could cause blur.
Depending on your camera, there may be several more of these types of settings: Kids and Pets, Indoor, Snow, Beach, Fireworks, Aquarium, Underwater, Color Swap, and so on. Generally, the name of the setting will describe its ideal usage situation.

There is one more setting type to mention – the WB (White Balance) setting. This setting helps balance color for each photo you shoot. Colors will often shift depending on your shooting conditions; the WB setting helps compensate for those color shifts. For instance, an overcast day or open shade can make a photo look blue. Taking a photo indoors can shift the color to orange, or taking a photo under fluorescent lights will turn it green. With those shifts in mind, the WB setting can be incredibly useful. Here are your choices with a brief explanation of what each of them does:

  • AWB (Auto White Balance) – The camera examines the scene and attempts to balance the colors automatically.
  • Tungsten – Adds a blue tint to an indoor scene to balance the orange given off by a normal incandescent light bulb.
  • Fluorescent – Adds magenta to a photo that may turn green because of fluorescent lighting.
  • Cloudy/Shade – Warms or brightens up a photo that would otherwise be cold or blue.

Well, that’s everything we wanted to share with you about understanding your cameras’ modes and settings. Hopefully now you have a basic understanding of how everything works. Of course all cameras are different, and if we missed anything, you may want to consult your manual. We hope that these last two discussions have been both interesting and informative without boring you too much with technical terms! Next time we’ll talk about photographing children, and give you some tips on how to capture a brilliant fireworks display, just in time for the Fourth of July! Until then, have fun, and control your camera… don’t let it control you!

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