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Part 2: Other Automatic Modes and why you should use them

In the last post I focused on how to get better pictures while in Auto mode. For this next post we’ll take what we learned there: 1) how to control your flash and 2) how to control your ISO and combine that with using the other semi-automatic modes to get great shots.

Before we go any further, I want you to pick up your camera and look at the control dial. Whether you have a dSLR or a point and shoot I guarantee you that you have these. They look like this. They are either printed on the control dial or the dial will list SCENE or SCN and then allow you to select from another menu using your screen.

Why Use these Modes over the Auto Mode?

Think of Auto mode as a general purpose Philips screwdriver. It comes in just one size so regardless of what size your screw you have good luck not stripping it or securely fastening it. Now think of these other modes as that snazzy interchangeable head screwdriver that lets you switch out different size bits depending on what size screw you have. The scene modes allow you to help your camera do a better job in guessing what settings to use. These modes can determine:

  • Aperture: You should be familiar with aperture. It’s determines how much is in focus (careful not confuse this with focal points) and is great for taking portraits where the background is really creamy and blurry (something that really distinguishes dSLRs from point and shoot cameras.)
  • Shutter speed: Here’s something else you should be familiar with as well. Shutter speed is one of the things that determines whether you can capture motion. Sometimes you may want to freeze the action like at a sports event and other times you may not like when capturing a waterfall.
  • White balance: This is a new concept. It determines how “warm” or “cold” you picture looks. An easy example is when you take a picture indoors and it turns out orangy. You know that’s not what the lighting was like but that’s how the camera captures it. Another example is snow. You may see it as perfectly white but when you capture it may come out gray-looking. It just means that the camera wasn’t able to capture the right tones. This can be fixed using photo editing software but it can be fixed by simply selecting the right color balance for the scene using the scene modes. That’s why you’ll see the “snowman”  as an option.
  • Flash usage: Some of the scene modes will also do funny things with your flash. Night mode will set your flash to a special setting to allow for better capturing backgrounds.
  • Auto-focus modes : This is an important one. Most cameras allow you a lot of control over how it focuses and on what it focuses. We call these focus modes. Does it focus on one thing at a time or does the camera follow the subject once it has locked in focus. Let’s not make it too complicated. Suffice it to say that which mode you use matters. If you’re shooting a football game you could use all the help you can get with following the action. Same with shooting small kids.
  • Light metering mode: Most cameras have at three metering modes. These determine how the camera decides which exposure settings (aperture and shutter speed) to use. I’m making a big assumption that you are manually setting your ISO like I taught you in the last tutorial. Depending on the mode, the camera will select the right metering to use. For example, if you are shooting a landscape, it will most likely select Matrix mode which takes everything into consideration.

What Can I do with these Different Modes?

Here’s where I get to point you to some great resources on the web that explain all these functions way better than I can. What I want to get across is that you can get so much BETTER pictures with your fancy camera by simply using these settings. My all time favorite is Portrait mode. I set my point and shoot camera to this setting all the time to get pictures with the nice buttery backgrounds. The only danger I would caution you on is making sure that you remember to change your modes between camera uses. That goes for the mode as well as your ISO!

Here are some great resources to help you with better understanding the different modes but make sure to read your camera manual to really get to know your own camera.

Things to Remember

  1. Always set your ISO manually! This will provide you with the greatest control even when using the scene modes
  2. Default your camera to Portrait mode instead of Auto for a quick fix
  3. If you are shooting at the beach or in snowy areas, change to those modes for truer colors
  4. Shoot kids and sports in the action modes in order to reduce the blur

That’s it for today. Next time we will get into all the magic you can create by moving from Auto or the scene modes to the Program mode! Can’t wait!

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