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Photo Tips > Exposure Modes Explained

Your camera has exposure modes on a dial or in the menu.

If you understand what each exposure mode does, your photography will benefit.

Use the Exposure Mode Chart below to photograph using each exposure mode.

Your camera may have more exposure modes than those on the chart.

Learn how to use the ones below, and then try the others.

Also, go to Exposure Modes.

Exposure Mode Chart

Icon/Letter Name What It Does Do This
Head Portrait

This exposure mode makes the background out-of-focus, if it's possible to do so.

This eliminates distracting backgrounds, and can make the subject stand out from the background.

The lens opening (aka f/stop or aperture) is the iris-like opening in the lens.

When using this exposure mode, the camera selects a large lens opening, such as f/4.

A large lens opening has a large opening, but the number is small.

For example, f/4 has a physically large opening, even though the number is small.

Because the lens opening is physically large at f/4, there's less depth-of-field.

That is, there's very little in focus besides what you focused on.

Do a head-and-shoulders portrait outdoors.

Do one photograph with the exposure mode set to the P icon.

Do a second photograph with the exposure mode set to the Head icon.

Compare the two photographs.

Mountains Landscape

This exposure mode makes everything in focus.

This exposure mode is of little use.

 

Flower

Macro

(Close Up)

Makes the entire subject in focus, if it's possible to do so.

The camera selects a small lens opening.

Lens opening (aka f/stop or aperture) is the iris-like opening in the lens.

A small lens opening has a small opening, but the number is large.

For example, f/16 has a physically small opening, even though the number is large.

Because the lens opening is physically small at f/16, there's more depth-of-field.

That is, there's more in focus besides what you focused on.

Do a close-up of a flower outdoors in bright light.

Do one photograph with the exposure mode set to the P icon.

Do a second photograph with the exposure mode set to the Flower icon.

Compare the two photographs.

Runner Action

This exposure mode freezes motion.

The camera selects a fast shutter speed, such as 1/100th of a second.

The shutter consists of metal blades that open and close.

Or, the sensor turns on-and-off quickly.

The shutter opens and closes so quickly, movement is frozen.

Find a scene with motion, such as a fountain or joggers, in bright light.

Do one photograph with the exposure mode set to the P icon.

Do another photograph with the exposure mode set to the Runner icon.

Compare the two photographs.

Person &

Star or Moon

Night Portrait

The flash illuminates the foreground, while the shutter stays open long enough to expose the background.

Normally, when using flash, the background is dark.

By using flash and a slow shutter speed, both the foreground and the background are more apt to be well lighted.

Find a scene at night where there's something in the foreground, and an artificially illuminated background.

Do one photograph with the exposure mode set to the P icon.

Do another photograph with the exposure mode set to the icon of the person with a star or moon.

Compare the two photographs.

Building &

Star or Moon

Night Landscape

This exposure uses a long shutter speed.

Photograph a scene at night.

Do one photograph with the exposure mode set to the P icon.

Do another photograph with the exposure mode set to the icon of a building with a star or moon.

Compare the two photographs.

Green Camera

Icon

Green

Rectangle

&/or

Auto

Auto

This exposure mode sets the camera to the factory default settings

As you become familiar with the other exposure modes, use them.
Don't automatically use Auto.
P Program The Program exposure mode sets both the aperture and shutter speed for you.

 

S or Tv Shutter Priority

You set the shutter speed when using the shutter-priority exposure mode.

The camera sets the lens opening for you.

Often, you change the shutter speed by turning a knob near your shutter finger.

When using a telephoto focal length (making far away subjects closer), use a fast shutter speed, such as 1/500th of a second.

Find a moving subject in very dim light.

Use a slow shutter speed, such as 1/8th of second, to blur motion.

You may need to use a low ISO number to make the sensor less sensitive to light.

Often, you change the ISO by pressing and holding an ISO button, and then turning a knob near your shutter finger.

That's because there's a lot of light striking the sensor due to the slow shutter speed.

Find a moving subject in bright light.

To freeze motion, use a fast shutter speed, such as 1/500th of a second.

 

A or Av Aperture Priority

You set the lens opening when using the aperture-priority exposure mode.

The camera sets the shutter speed for you.

You can vary the depth-of-field with this exposure mode.

For an in-focus background, use f/16 in bright light.

For an out-of-focus background, use f/2 or f/2.8 (point-and-shoot) or f/4 (digital SLR).

Often, you change the aperture by turning a knob near your shutter finger.

Compare the two photographs.

There may be little difference between the two photographs.

Most digital cameras have far more depth-of-field than film cameras.

M Manual

You set both the lens opening and the shutter speed.

This exposure mode is little used.

Don't confuse the M on the exposure mode dial, with the M on or near the lens.

That other M is for manual focus.

 

Scenes Various Many cameras have a variety of scene modes, such as for snow, stage lighting, and fireworks.