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Get Out of Auto N GO PRO [Camera Modes Explained]

cait with a camera in venice
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What Are Those For anyway? A, P, S, M. Get out of Auto and GO PRO with Camera Modes

auto to manual camera modes
Auto to Manual

Want to actually use your DSLR camera for what it is made for? Then get out of Auto and Go Pro with Camera Modes. All the Camera Modes are explained with a simple approach below.

Lets get started.

When I am at a picturesque scene of beauty out in nature or simply at a Mets Game, I normally find myself surrounded by people with a bunch of expensive cameras, and every time they ask me to take their picture, they smile widely as I look down to quickly glance at their settings – And NOT to my surprise, AUTO MODE???

What? You spent upwards to $1,000+ dollars on a camera and lens package to do something your point and shoot camera could do better?

And nowadays, with how good phone cameras have become I wonder if a side by side picture comparison is really that different?


So please do me, and your camera a favor, get out of auto mode and start going PRO! The camera modes explained below will help you get an edge above the rest.

Our cameras are unique. The craft can be molded, twisted and manipulated to do what you want, you just need to know How To Do It. Going pro with photography means that you’ll first need to understand the basics.

Here Are the Basics in Camera Modes:

ISO  –  Sensitivity to Your Cameras Sensor – if your image is too dark, the Sensitivity in your camera, (the number next to the ISO) will go up. Cool huh? Well kinda, the problem is, the more that number goes up, the more digital noise will be seen in your image… And each camera mode you set your camera in will need an ISO number attached to it. Most cameras nowadays can do this automatically and it is super helpful, so check into your specific camera and do a quick google search to help you figure out how to set this up. 

Auto ISO

An image with less noise is usually at a number below 3200, but if you are a true pixel peeper you might be more comfortable with it lower like in the 1600, again the preference is up to your creative outlook.  But lets move on to the camera modes…

Aperture Priority Mode - F-Stop - or “A” on your camera -

This is my favorite part of a camera, It’s probably why apple named their photo manipulation software just that, cause its awesome. Aperture or “f” stop – is similar to the iris of your eyeball, if the room is dark, your iris will expand, get bigger so it can let more light in, the diaphragm blades that create an aperture in your camera do the exact same thing. So don’t let the numbers confuse you – like they did to me when I first started – a Low Number simply means a bigger opening, a larger aperture. A High Number means a small opening in your aperture. Just like the dark room example, if you were to walk out of a movie theater at 12 noon in middle earth Texas with nothing but the sun blaring on you, boom your eyes constrict so it lets less light in, same with the blades in the camera.

Auto to Aperture

ok, ok, ok, but truly why does this matter? Here’s the creative part, depending on your opening of the lens (the number of “f” the more or less depth of field you get and the more or less light you let in… So talk about creativity… if you’re doing a portrait shoot, typically you want your F-Stop to be a lower aperture number to single out your subject and to blur the background (bokeh – see the detailed article on bokeh here__) If your shooting landscape, maybe you’ll want that to be a higher aperture number so that more of the scene is sharp. Whatever your creative outlook is on a particular shoot, the aperture is going to play a key role in how the final image will look.

Depending on you creativity likes and dislikes you can play around to your heart is content with your aperture settings. 

See a more Detailed article where I spend more time discussing exactly what aperture really does HERE.

Shutter Speed Priority - "S" -

The shutter speed is more or less self explanatory, it has to do with the timing of the shutter opening and closing to get the shot. The longer the shutter stays open say, 1 or 2 seconds to get a silky smooth water fall shot or the faster the shutter opens and closes to get a pic of a dude dunking the basketball in mid air. In this mode the larger the number the faster the shutter speed, the smaller the number (until you get to seconds) the longer the shutter speed. Confused yet? I explain more about shutter speed here__ But in this mode, the camera will chose your aperture (depth of field) in order to get the shot exposed correctly but still maintain the shutter speed you are after. 

So if you are trying to stop time in its track you may want a shutter speed higher than 1/1000’s of a second, and if you want to have the silky smoothness of a waterfall, depending on the surrounding light, you may want your shutter speed a half a second to one second.

Shutter Mode Explained
Auto to Shutter

This mode is commonly used by Videographers as they are trying to capture a scene with smoothness and not jitter and if the shutter speed is too high then there is jitter in your subject.  If the shutter is too low then the video itself is choppy (frame by frame look). So if your shooting in 24 FPS video mode, then you will want to double that in your shutter speed and make the shutter speed 50-ish… The rule of thumb is to just double your frame rate you are videoing..  I.E. if your shooting 30 FPS set your shutter speed to 60ish.  Slow Mo at 120 FPS, then set your shutter around 240… Make sense? No? Then Google More 😉

Program Mode - "P" -

Program mode or Program Auto as some call it is very similar to the Auto mode on your camera, frankly I never use it – The main difference between the Program mode and the Auto mode is that you get to choose the ISO in program mode woohoo! The camera still automatically chooses your shutter speed and aperture in order to expose the scene your pointing at, but if you move your main dial forward or backward it will change the aperture and shutter speed for that shot for SOME creative control but then once you snap the pic, it goes right back to its original numbers. Long story short don’t use it, its stupid… we are moving on…. It doesn’t even get its own private article either.

Program Mode Explained
Auto to Program

Manual Mode - M -

Now if you ever want to Go Pro and truly understand camera basics, get used to using Manual Mode. In other words if you are a control freak and you like things a certain way, manual mode may be for you. Some photog teachers even recommend students to ONLY shoot in manual mode if they truly want to learn photography for a set number of days. Its a brilliant photo-life-lesson but hard as patoot to actually do. Because you have to manipulate EVERYTHING, all the time. The Aperture, the shutter speed, the ISO, the exposure compensation, focusing points, Everything in order to get the right exposure and detail in the shot. 

But talk about creativity. You can get so creative that shots no one has even thought about yet come to reality. I use manual mode when in the studio doing portraits like the one below while working with strobes. Its a necessity. I also at times use manual mode for when shooting landscapes, especially panoramas so the exposure isn’t skewed. But don’t get me wrong you can’t just walk up to a scene and point n shoot in manual mode, EACH SCENE will require tweaking of the camera, go ahead give it a shot, do it for a day, or two or four, I dare ya! You’ll be back in auto before the sun sets…. No please don’t do that.

So finally, I will say, with all that being said, Auto Mode, is a good solid mode, its the no-brainer mode. If you have never even touched a camera and dream to be Ansel Adams and just got your hands on a beautiful piece of machinery, sure play around in auto mode and then start looking up youtube videos, articles, anything to get yourself more educated on your new found craft. Auto mode is good because you still have a good camera body in your hands and a great lens on the front, so it will still be better than anything else you could be using. But its time to go away from auto and try some other modes on for size.

auto to manual camera modes
Auto to PRO

So what do these camera modes mean? Aperture, shutter, manual, Program (yuck)? It means that you have a tool, a paintbrush that will construct a canvas in a moment in time that no one else in that spot, position, time or place has EVER done before… sure the pictures may be similar, but they won’t be identical.


– So what mode is your camera set on right now? yup, right this moment?

– If you did use auto mode, will you make the switch today?

– What is your favorite Camera Mode?

I hope you find this article helpful, leave comments below, I try to take a “oh, your right in front of me” type of approach with writing and be more basic in the information I provide so you can get out there today and be a better shooter (with a camera of course) and the need to know instead of the fluff.  I hope it was useful to you!

Thanks for Learning With ME!

~ Jpeg Jimmy


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1 Comment

  1. Wow! Great simple review of the camera modes… great resource! Thanks!

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