Photography Basics: Shooting Modes


Today I will be talking about shooting modes, sometimes called icon modes. Most cameras have a dial at the top where you will see a selection of icons. These icons represent the shooting modes available to you. While cameras differ, most will have the ones we will be focusing on today. They are:

  • Auto Mode

  • Aperture Priority Mode

  • Shutter Priority Mode

  • Manual Mode

  • Video Mode

  • Custom Modes

  • Scene Modes

Photography shooting modes.

Check your user manual to see which modes your camera has. You should especially be wary if you have a Canon as they use different icons compared to other brands. You can see in the picture above what modes my Canon EOS RP has.


Auto Mode

Auto Mode is exactly what it sounds like, your camera will pick all of your settings based on the available light to get a balanced exposure. While Auto Modes have gotten better over the years, they still have their limitations and take artistic control away from you. If you are wanting to get into photography you need to stop using Auto Mode ASAP!


Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture Priority Mode allows you to set your aperture, then the camera will pick the best shutter speed to get you a well exposed image. This allows us to choose an aperture based on the depth of field we want so we can get the photo we are after.


While you are learning photography and working to get away from Auto Mode, Aperture Priority Mode is where you will want to start. I suggest switching to Aperture Priority Mode for a month or two. This amount of time should give you a good grasp of using it. However, if you need more time then take it.


One trick I sometimes do is to raise my ISO intentionally. This keeps my shutter speed from getting to low and creating blurry images while shooting in low light.


Shutter Priority Mode

Similar to Aperture Mode, Shutter Priority Mode allows you to set your shutter speed and your camera will then change the aperture and ISO to create a well exposed image.


Where Shutter Priority Mode shines is when shooting action such as sports, wildlife, or kids. I have also used it to photograph waterfalls and wanted to smooth out the water as it flowed over the cliff/rocks.


Manual Mode

Manual Mode is where you are in total control of your settings. You control the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO to create your photos. For newbies this is a daunting task which is why I suggested starting with Aperture Priority Mode.


The way I use manual mode I learned from Michael Sasser. I set my aperture and shutter speed at the start of my shoot and then change the ISO based on the change in lighting and the shot I am after. Go ahead and give his video a watch and you will see what I mean.



One of the features I love about my Canon RP is the Automatic ISO. I set my aperture based on the depth of field I want, my shutter speed based on my lens focal length, and allow the camera to take care of the ISO for me. Mainly I use this feature when I am in a fast-paced environment and the light is changing rapidly on me, such as travel. If a shot comes out a little brighter or darker than I wanted I can always change it in post since I shoot Raw + JPEG at the same time.


Video Mode

I think you can guess what this mode is for. I’m not that big into video so I never use mine. If I need to take a video I do it with my cellphone.


Custom Modes

Custom modes allow you to program your settings for that mode. I set up my Custom Mode #1 to have an Aperture of f/1.8, a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second, and ISO 100. This is the boudoir mode I use when I have my 50mm f/1.8 lens on my camera.


Scene Modes

Most cameras will have additional modes that will allow you to pick your subject and the camera will do the work to get you a good photo. They might have their own icon or be grouped under a scene icon. Some examples are:

  • Landscape Mode

  • Portrait Mode

  • Macro Mode

  • Sports Mode

These modes are quite helpful for people who want good photos from their travels abroad or family events, but don’t want to spend the time learning about the finer points of photography.


Closing Thoughts

It can feel like a daunting task to get started with learning photography. But, learning your shooting modes and how best to use them will propel you forward and be a stepping stone to bigger and better things. For the next Photography Basics article click the link below.

Photography Basics: Camera Settings

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