About Camera Modes

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A good example of natural lighting is to capture the color of a red rose faintly reflected in a subject, a technique straight from fine art.

Notes from Lyle

By Lyle Trusty



I was talking to a friend the other day, and during the conversation he said his favorite camera setting was M (for manual) I said I could see using it during a portrait shoot under strobe lights, but for every day shooting? No way, Jose! However, there are times when manual is the wise choice, which I'll cover

There is a mode for every occasion on most digital cameras, and multiple uses for every one of them. Thankfully there is "Auto" for beginners, which allows them to capture some relatively good images during their initial efforts. When the "camera break-in" period has been sufficiently investigated there are advanced modes that will provide much more creative freedom. We don't have to have a high level of technical expertise about apertures ("f"-stops) and shutter speeds (in fractions of a second) to become adept at using various modes in our quest for image excellence. We just have to grasp the concept of what makes an image look its best. So, knowing what any given mode is for enables the family member with a camera to graduate from the ranks of snap-shooter, or family event-recorder to the exalted position of "A Photographer with a good eye".

AUTO, as the name implies, does everything for you. It sets the f stop and shutter speed to optimal mid range values, automatically focuses on what the camera is aimed at, turns on the flash if required, and can even change ISO if need be to enable capturing an acceptable exposure in poor light. Notice, however, your freedom to choose has been usurped by Mr. Canon, Mr. Nikon, or whomever, and you have to accept the results, whatever they may be.

P, Program mode, restores some of your lost freedoms. It is a mid-range setting, to give you control of the flash, so you can shut it off if you want "Natural Lighting". A good example of natural lighting is to capture the color of a red rose faintly reflected in a subject, a technique straight from fine art. Beyond that, It also gives you synchronous control of both shutter speed and aperture, whereby changing one will result in the other changing automatically, to maintain a good exposure. This mode still controls the rest of the camera, much like Auto. Mr. C, or Mr. N have restored three freedoms! That's enough for some, your images are getting better, and you have entered the creative arena.

A. Aperture Priority is the mode most used by many photographers. It gives one the freedom to control depth of field. This is a very subtle attribute that reveals your level of expertise in the field of photography. This one thing, an important element of a winning image, is often the deciding factor in judging a picture. In "scape" photography the depth of field must be tack sharp from the first blade of grass to the smallest tree on a distant hill. The general f-stop range to get the desired result in a Digital Single Lens Reflex camera is from f-8 to f-16, and the general lens length equal to 24 mm because the shorter the lens the greater the apparent depth of field. As a rule of thumb, if you don't have a depth of field scale on the lens, focus on a spot halfway to your subject, press the shutter release to the first detent to lock the focus on that point, then, without letting up on the shutter release, re-compose on the subject and take the picture.

The opposite extreme applies in the case of a portrait, where the picture should be out of focus beyond the subject’s ears. This requires that the aperture be set to a large opening, and the lens focused on the subject’s eyes.

T, Is for Shutter Priority: This mode locks in the shutter speed that you select, and the aperture value automatically changes to control exposure. Shutter speed is commonly set to the reciprocal of the lens length as a minimum, to prevent blurring, and to provide the smallest aperture for the greatest depth of field. For example; For subjects standing still, a minimum of 1/50th of a second, or faster, is the rule for a 50 mm lens, 1/250 of a second or faster for a 200 mm lens, etc,. When there is high speed motion involved, speed that setting up to 1/500th or 1/1000. Get control of motion with this mode either to freeze it or feature it. Interesting images frozen in a blurred background results from panning with the subject at a relatively slow shutter speed. A high shutter speed is useful to freeze an apparently high speed subject like a football game. In this case depth of field is sacrificed to stop motion. In addition, If your camera has image stabilization you can usually take pictures at 2 or 3 shutter speeds slower than normal, allowing you to recover 2 or 3 stops worth of depth of field. This mode, similar to aperture priority, synchronizes shutter speeds until an aperture or auto focus limit is exceeded and the camera won't take a picture.

M is for Manual. Using this mode means that the photographer must synchronize both aperture and shutter speed to get the desired exposure, depth of field or control of motion. Focus usually remains in Auto Focus dependent upon the situation, however, auto exposure modes are turned off in portraiture because the speed of the strobe lights, generally from 1/1000 to 1/2000 of a second determines the equivalent shutter speed. The actual shutter speed on the camera is generally set to 1/100 to 1/250 so that the strobe flash occurs during the time the focal plane shutter is wide open. In practice, the shutter speed and f-stop are set to 1/150 and F-8 as a starting point, and the strobe power adjusted to obtain an ideal histogram that reflects the desired contrast and correct exposure. In this case, because the length of the lens is ordinarily 80 to 130 mm for the desired portrait perspective the depth of field is significantly reduced, and an aperture between f-3.5 and f-8 will produce the desired limited depth of field.

The other uses of Manual mode occur most often in situations like those found in shooting multiple exposures for panoramas. For example, if the camera were set to any auto mode the overall exposure value could change from frame to frame going from up-sun to down-sun. Likewise, the blue tone of the sky, when using a polarizer, will often change from light to dark and back in a 180 degree sweep of the scene due to the effect of the polarizer being at a maximum at 90 degrees to the sun, and a minimum at zero or 180 degrees to the sun.

In many complex lighting situations such as that found on stages or in studios, Manual mode provides a "canned" solution after empirically determining the correct exposure for a subject surrounded by distracting or confusing light values for which the camera's exposure system cannot adequately compensate. In summary, using Manual mode can solve some problems, but raise others. Knowing when to use it and how to use it can provide justification for it being included in the array of exposure modes.




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