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Choosing the correct shooting mode

A comprehensive guide about shooting modes and when to use them.

Welcome back! Today I bring you a fun topic. Again, I’ve tried to pack it with lots of information without overwhelming you with it. Also, all cameras are different so what you read here might not be exactly like it looks like in your camera so please familiarize yourself with your camera settings.

If you have questions or comments please contact me and I will try to help/clarify.

Camera Shooting Modes

You can choose the shooting mode by rotating the mode dial at the top of your camera. The picture below is from a Nikon Z7II so your dial might look different but you get the idea.

Nikon Z7II mode dial which includes Aperture Priority mode, Shutter Priority mode, Manual mode, Program mode and Auto mode
Nikon Z7II mode dial which includes Aperture Priority mode, Shutter Priority mode, Manual mode, Program mode and Auto mode

Auto Mode

Let’s start with the simplest option: The cozy Auto Mode - the ultimate "beginner's bestie". This mode is like having your own photography genie! It converts your DSLR or Mirrorless camera into a point-and-shoot camera. So literally point, click, and voilà! Your camera does all the work.

The biggest advantage this camera has is that it sets the settings to the optimal exposure (based on the light meter reading). Now this mode doesn’t let you do anything. You are there only to hold the camera and point it in the right direction. Don’t get me wrong, you will get great results, but you are not utilizing everything your camera has to offer. My recommendation is that this is a great first step into photography, but don't get too comfortable and when you are ready jump into another shooting mode.

When should I use Auto mode?

This mode is perfect for quick snaps when you're feeling a little camera-shy or simply want to trust your camera's brilliance.

Within the Auto mode, the camera has "scenes". I've included some of the ones Nikon offers. Different brands may have different names or even completely different scenes so make sure to check the user's manual to see what options you have available.

Scene modes

If you want to choose one of the scenes then make sure to set up your camera dial to the "SCN" option (see picture below). To choose between scenes, you'll need to rotate the rear command dial until you found the option you want. I got my hands on a Panasonic DMC-GF3 and used some of the scene modes so you can see what the photos look like. I tried to take snapshots of common things around the house and not anything fancy to give a more realistic view.

Camera mode dial of a Sony Cybershot camera.
Camera mode dial of a Sony Cybershot camera.

Some cameras might not have this option in the dial so you will have to go into the camera menu.

Portrait mode

This mode is intended for taking portraits as it adjusts the aperture settings to help the main subject stand out by creating a shallow depth of field. The camera uses a "face detection" system (this is not available in all cameras) to focus on people's faces. If there is more than one face, the camera will focus on the face closest to the camera. So if you are using this mode and you want to take a family picture, make sure you place everybody at the same distance from the camera to avoid having blurry people in your shot.

Dog looking at the camera in a driveway durng a sunny day in New Zealand