Capture Modes


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 it.


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 own 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 close ups.


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 the camera.

Moving Object

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.

Flash Off

The settings are the same as Normal, but the built-in flash is prevented from firing automatically.

P (Program)

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 limits.

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 while.

B (Bulb)

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.