DSLR Exposure Modes

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Unlike point and shoot camera, DSLR's are equipped with several different automatic exposure modes as well as a manual mode that lets you to capture almost any kind of subjects. It depends whether you are a beginner or intermediate or advanced photographer, each of these modes offers different advantages. You can use each advantages to support your creativity in a photograph. With practice and experience, you will learn which mode works best under any condition.

There are 5 main exposure modes, Auto, Program (P), Aperture Priority (A), Shutter Priority (S) and Manual (M).
In other camera brand Aperture Priority (A) also called Aperture Value (Av), and Shutter Priority called Time Value (Tv).
There are also some other modes that usually called Scene Modes. The Scene Modes is different from one DSLR Manufacturer with another one. The most common Scene Modes are Portrait, Night Shot, Landscape, Sport and Macro.

Lets start with the simplest ones.


As the name suggest, this mode make your DSLR turns into a point and shoot camera. The DSLR processor will set everything for you, even pop the flash automatically if the camera feels necessary. So, basically it will become point and shoot camera with the image quality of a DSLR. This mode is useful when you want to emphasize on capturing the fast moment regardless the camera setting used.
Maybe you won't get the best speed / aperture setting in this mode, but it's designed for simplicity and to make sharp, well exposed photographs almost in any lighting condition.


In Program mode the camera automatically selects a suitable shutter speed and aperture depending on subject data and lens focal length. Usually this mode is ideal for taking snapshots or candid shots and anyone who wants to make images without worrying about camera setting. So this mode can provides instant readiness for those unexpected moments and surprises.

So what's the different between Auto mode and Program mode ?
The difference is, in program mode you can do some modification to the shutter speed or aperture setting that the camera given to you. This lets you control depth of field or action-freezing settings.
You can also alter exposure by using the camera's Exposure Compensation control that's usually indicated by a button with plus and minus signs and it's adjusted in positive or negative directions by some kind of wheel or control.

Exposure Compensation is not officially an exposure mode, but it's one of the most important parts/function of a digital SLR. You'll realize that the camera automatic settings won't always produce a "perfect" exposure under all lighting condition. So with the Exposure Compensation it lets you increase or decrease the automatic exposure by one-half or one-third stops depending on your camera and what its Custom Functions/Custom Settings allow, until you can achieve what you consider "the correct" exposure settings.
I recommend using the one-third stop option because it allows a more detailed increased or decrease in exposure.

Shutter Priority / Time Value

This mode is ideal for photographing subjects in motion, such as sports and action photography.
In this mode you set the speed that you want to use, and the camera will automatically set the aperture for you.
You can freeze fast moving subjects with high shutter speed or you can create a motion effect with slower speed.

For example, if it's raining in the day and your children that still playing out in the field getting wet, you want to capture their fun activity in detail including each rain drops and water splash, use high speed setting.
Another example, if you want to take photo of a waterfall or flowing river, and you want to give a motion and smooth effect to the water, use slow speed setting. And remember to use tripod if the speed is too low, to reduce the camera shake that can make a blurred image.

Sometimes due to lighting condition that too dimmed or too bright, even with the smallest or widest aperture that the camera can offer you, the in-camera light meter still read under exposed (-) picture or over exposed (+) picture.
In this case you should adjust your ISO. If it's under exposed, raise the ISO, if it's over exposed, lower the ISO.
It's also applied to Program mode as well.

Aperture Priority / Aperture Value

In this mode you set the aperture you want to use, and the camera will automatically set the shutter speed for you.
This mode is ideal for taking a portrait picture, snapshots, candid shots and landscape pictures.
The main reason for using this mode is to help control the "Depth of Field". With controlling the Depth of Field you can make a portrait picture with the blurred background to isolate the subject/Point of Interest or sharp background.
Use small aperture (large f numbers, 11, 16, 22, 32) to make a wider range of Depth of Field, result in sharp background. Good for landscape photography that needs to be sharp from front to infinity range.
Use bigger aperture (small f numbers, 4, 3.5, 2.8, 2, 1.8, 1.4) to make a shorter range of Depth of Field, result in blurred background and foreground. Good for portrait/snapshots/candid shots photography, to isolate the subject.

But please note that the Depth of Field is not controled by Aperture only. There are other factors that affected the Depth of Field, such as the range between the photographer and the subject and the background, etc.

It's same with Shutter Priority mode, if the lighting condition too dimmed or too bright, you may need to adjust your ISO.


This is the last and most powerful mode of a DSLR.
When all the automatic modes (Auto,P,A/Av,S/Tv) failed to satisfy you, this is the last mode that you can choose.
In this mode, everything is set manually by you. The camera won't do any automatic set of aperture or shutter speed. You will decide everything, whether you want to take the picture "purposely" under exposed or over exposed, or get sharp background or blurred background or fast shutter speed or slower speed, it's all up to you.

This mode work great if you work in the studio where you have complete control over the light source, light intensity and light angle or when you want to make a creative shots where can't be achieved by using other automatic modes up there. It gives you maximum control over everything in the scene.

Make sure you have basic knowledge in photography to make use of this mode.

So, that's all about DSLR Exposure Modes, hope this writing will be useful for you.
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