Many digital cameras have a little dial
somewhere on the camera body with choices such as "Normal",
"Landscape", "Portrait" etc. These are known as Modes and are
shortcuts to built-in combinations of settings designed to suit
different subjects and situations. The available modes will
vary from camera to camera and the list on this page is
not exhaustive, but hopefully it will help to explain some of the
more common modes and when to use them.
Modes range from fully automatic, where the camera reads the
conditions and balances the shutter speed, aperture value and
sensitivity (ISO) to produce an acceptable picture, to fully manual,
where you have to choose all the settings yourself. Between these
two extremes are what can be described as semi-automatic modes where
you can specify certain requirements (a faster shutter speed, for
example) and the camera compensates by changing the other settings
to accommodate your choice.
Switching to one of the automatic modes can be useful as a quick way of
ensuring a reasonable exposure, but you may find the results are not
always as spectacular as you would like. This could be because, as
built-in features, they have to be designed to work best
within an average range of conditions. You are aiming for good
photos, not average ones, so you should never be afraid to experiment in order to capture the photo the way you want
The digital camera selects automatically from Normal,
Portrait, Landscape, Macro and Moving Object modes, based, among
other factors, on the distance from the camera of the focus point.
This is the basic picture-taking mode. After
taking a reading of the available light, the digital camera sets its
shutter speed, aperture and sensitivity values to try to produce a balanced
exposure, avoiding extremes of light and shade. Although the "easiest" mode to use, the
results may sometimes be disappointing. The camera takes
no account of the subject matter of the picture, so colours may be dull and
moving objects may be blurred.
The settings in this mode are weighted towards a
narrower depth of field, which concentrates the sharpest focus on a small area
of the picture while softening the rest. The effect can be used
to emphasise the subject, making it useful for portraits and general
Allows more of the scene to be in sharp focus and
increases contrast, saturation and
brightness. To ensure a greater depth of field, the camera sets a
smaller aperture than it would use in Normal mode. It then balances
the exposure by setting a slower shutter speed, so unless you have a
very steady hand you might want to use a tripod to avoid moving the
camera during the shot.
The extra contrast, saturation, etc can give a quick boost to your
photo, but bear in mind that if necessary you can make these
corrections later on the computer, where you will have more control
over the amount of adjustment to apply.
Suitable for extreme close-ups, when the subject is very close to
When shooting a moving subject,
such as at sporting events, you will often want to
"freeze" the movement to avoid the subject appearing
blurred. This mode is weighted
towards a faster shutter speed to give this effect, balanced by a
corresponding change in the aperture setting to maintain the correct
exposure. Although the digital camera sets a faster shutter speed than it
would choose in "Normal" mode, be aware that this may still not be
enough to capture a very fast moving subject and completely
eliminate the risk of blur.
Night Scene Portrait
Used to capture portraits of people against a night view.
The settings are the same as
Normal, but the built-in flash is prevented from firing
Shutter speed and aperture are automatically set for the proper
exposure, which at face value sounds similar to Normal mode.
There are subtle differences, however. Depending on the camera,
there may be several variations of Program mode that can be
specified through one of the menus. This is something like choosing
between Landscape, Portrait and Moving Object modes, but in Program mode it is
also possible to overrule the camera's choice of settings within a
certain range by changing the exposure compensation to tell the
camera that the picture should be lighter or darker.
Tv (Shutter Priority)
This is the first of the 'semi-automatic' modes.
You set the shutter speed and the digital camera automatically adjusts the
aperture value to balance the exposure. You could choose this mode
if you want a faster shutter speed to avoid the blur caused by
shaky hands, or inadvertently moving the camera during the shot when not using a tripod.
It can also be useful if you need a slower shutter speed that will allow moving objects to
be deliberately blurred.
A little more adjustment may possible by
changing the exposure compensation setting as well, but in practice,
you can only specify shutter speeds within a certain range because
the camera will not change the aperture values beyond pre-set
Av (Aperture Priority)
Another 'semi-automatic' mode - this time you
can change the aperture setting in order to control the depth
of field, and can also adjust the exposure compensation setting.
The digital camera will set a suitable shutter speed, which may be too slow
for you to hold the camera steady during the shot, so be aware that
it may be necessary to use a tripod to avoid the risk of blur.
Sv (Sensitivity Priority)
Similar to the previous two modes, except in this case you specify
the ISO value you want to use and, as before, the camera adjusts
the other settings to suit. This advantage of using Sv mode is that it
allows you to fine-tune the sensitivity setting in a way that is not
usually possible through the menus.
TAv (Shutter/Aperture Priority)
As the name implies, this mode lets you set
both shutter and aperture values of your choice, with the camera
compensating by changing the ISO value to suit. Be careful when
using this mode - high ISO values can cause problems with noise, so
if you force the camera to choose a high value you may find the
resulting photo is too noisy to be of any use.
This mode gives you freedom to choose shutter speed and aperture settings
in any combination you like (sensitivity settings are accessed through the menus).
The camera will not compensate for the
settings you choose, although a display in the viewfinder or screen
may warn you if your current settings will cause the image to be
under or overexposed. Once you have become familiar with your
camera, Manual mode will give you full control over how your
photographs will appear, so the time spent on practice is well worth
For use when a very long exposure is required, in this mode the shutter opens when the shutter release button is
pressed and remains open until it is released.