How To Choose The Best Camera Mode For Any Photo

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How To Choose The Best Camera Mode For Any Photo You Take

You Camera mode is the first thing you’ll need to decide on before you take a picture. Camera modes are in charge of how your camera will operate the settings to capture your photo. There is a wide array of options you have at your disposal, some proving more useful than others. Each mode has its own time and place, which is why learning how to choose a camera mode is so important.

Once you understand how your different camera modes work, you can pick the right one for the shot in mind. Choosing the right camera mode can help you capture the perfect photo more efficiently than before. It also will help you to focus your creative control in the right areas, rather than spending time on settings that don’t matter. In this article, you’ll learn everything you need to know about how to choose the best camera mode for any shot you take!

Types Of Camera Modes In Photography

Before we get into the details, let’s take a look at the bigger picture. In the most basic sense, your camera modes break down into three primary categories. Each category ranges in the amount of control your camera has over your settings. Ranging from fully automatic to completely manual, there is a camera mode suited for all skill levels and situations.

– Automatic Camera Modes


Automatic modes are completely automatic, meaning your camera does all the work for you. This can be useful if you’re a casual hobbyist or don’t want to think about your camera settings. More often than not, your camera will choose adequate settings for a nice balanced exposure. All you have to do is point the camera and press the shutter button. The downside to a fully automatic mode is that you don’t have the creative input towards your shutter speed or depth of field.

Types Of Fully Automatic Modes:

  • Automatic Mode (A)
  • Scene Modes (Portrait, Landscape, Night Time, etc.)

– Semi-Automatic Camera Modes


Semi-automatic camera modes are the perfect in-between from automatic to manual. These camera modes offer you control over the essential settings required for a specific shot. For example, if you’re shooting sports, you’ll want to control your shutter speed to freeze movement. Since a lot is going on at once, you don’t want to waste your time messing around with additional settings. A semi-automatic camera mode like Shutter Priority would allow you to pick your shutter speed while automatically choosing the rest. Semi-automatic camera modes are perfect for when you need to focus on getting the shot without messing around with your camera settings.

Types Of Semi-Automatic Camera Modes:

  • Shutter Priority (Tv or S)
  • Aperture Priority (Av or A)
  • Programmed Auto (P)

– Manual Camera Modes


As the name suggests, manual camera modes leave everything up to you. When using a manual mode, you’re in charge of every setting on your camera. Nothing is done automatically for you. Manual camera modes allow you to have the most creative input into your image since you’re in charge of it all. If you want to unleash your creativity or learn how your settings actually affect your image, manual modes are for you.

Types Of Fully Manual Camera Modes:

  • Manual Mode (M)
  • Bulb Mode (B)

Learning How To Choose The Best Camera Mode For Your Photo – 3 Questions To Ask Yourself

The best camera mode for you will depend on several things. More often than not, the right camera mode will change depending on where you’re shooting or the contents of your frame. To make the decision easy when choosing a camera mode, ask yourself these questions:

Question #1: What’s Your Creative Intent?

Before you choose a camera mode, think about what you’re trying to capture. Is there a specific effect you’re trying to create, such as a long exposure or shallow depth of field? Do you want a balanced exposure or a slightly under or overexposed look for creative reasoning? These types of questions are what you first need to answer before you choose a camera mode. Depending on your answer, you may want to opt for more manual control to match your creative intent.

Question #2: Are You Crunched For Time?

In some situations, you don’t have a lot of time to snap the perfect photo. Whether you’re photographing an event, out on a leisurely hike, or at a family gathering, the amount of time you have will change. Obviously, the most important thing on your to-do list is getting the best shot possible. So you don’t want to miss it because you were messing around with your settings. In situations where you’re pressed for time, using automatic or semi-automatic settings will make life much easier. Then you can rest easy knowing you never missed a moment!

Question #3: How Bright Is It Around You?

The amount of light in your shooting environment can greatly affect your photo. In low light situations, your camera may struggle to get an accurate exposure reading. It also may have difficulties matching your settings to suit whether you’re shooting handheld or on a tripod. In some cases, automatic modes will make it extremely challenging to shoot in low light. In these situations, the more manual control you have, the easier it will be.

Camera Modes Explained – The Uses Of Your Different Camera Modes

To learn how to choose the best camera mode for your photography, you must understand what they each do. This section breaks down all the most important camera modes you have access to and what they do. By learning the uses of each camera mode, you can better assess which one will serve you best.

– Automatic Mode


Automatic mode (noted as Auto on your mode dial) does all the work for you. In this mode, you can sit back and relax with no thought about your camera settings. This is an ideal mode for any newbie photographer who feels overwhelmed by their settings. With automatic mode, all you need to do is press your shutter button and your camera takes care of the rest.

In automatic mode, you have absolutely zero control over your settings. Your camera will choose the best options for you, depending on how much light is in your scene. The only real bit of customization you have in this camera mode is whether or not your flash fires. Depending on your camera, you may not even have the option!

Automatic mode works well in most lighting situations. Its primary goal is to capture the most balanced exposure possible in every photo. This camera mode doesn’t take into consideration any creative intent or reasoning for your settings. All it cares about is capturing a good photo without the hassle of choosing your own settings.

– Scene Modes


Scene modes are another fully automatic camera settings, but with a twist. Scene modes allow you to tell your camera the type of photo you’re taking. Whether that be a portrait, landscape, or action shot, for example. Since each of these image styles requires slightly different settings, your camera will make a note of that. For instance, in portrait mode, your camera will favor a wider aperture to create a shallow depth of field. This blurred background look is a staple of most portrait photos, so the portrait scene mode ensures to accommodate that.

Scene modes are a great option for any beginner photographer who wants to stay in automatic, but with slightly more input. Although you still aren’t changing any specific settings, you can give your camera an idea of what you’re shooting. This way, it can automatically favor certain settings to suit the specific image style.

Scene modes are often denoted as icons showcasing each specific scene type. For example, there are mountains for landscape, a face for portrait, and a runner for action type images. To use a scene mode, just select the icon related to what you’re shooting!

– Programmed Automatic


Programmed Automatic (noted as P on your mode dial) is a semi-automatic camera setting that borders between semi and fully automatic. Unlike fully automatic settings, Programmed Auto gives you control of settings like drive mode, white balance, metering modes, and ISO. However, it still takes control over your main exposure settings by automatically choosing the shutter and aperture. This makes it hard to have much creative control, but it’s a step in the right direction from Automatic.

This camera mode is great if you want to have slightly more say in how your image is captured. Say you want to use a burst mode while still staying automatic, then Programmed Auto would be your answer. Programmed Auto is a great stepping stone for photographers trying to step out of fully automatic camera settings. This camera mode will help you to further understand your settings and how your camera works.

– Shutter Priority


Shutter Priority (noted at Tv or S on your mode dial) is a semi-automatic camera setting that gives you total control of your shutter speed. Once you select your desired shutter speed, your camera will balance out your other settings to suit the exposure. This is an amazing camera mode to have creative control without wasting your time. Shutter priority is beneficial for sports photography since you don’t have the time to play around with your settings. By using shutter priority for your action shots, you can focus on what matters. Keeping the subject crisp and your shutter speed fast. Your camera will take care of the rest.

This semi-automatic camera mode is perfect for professionals and beginners alike. There is really something in this camera mode for everyone and a super valuable tool to use. Shutter priority lets you choose any shutter speed you wish to use, while your camera automatically chooses the aperture and ISO settings. You do have the option to set your own ISO setting if you wish to prevent too much noise in your photo. The downside is that you run the risk of an underexposed image.

In Shutter Priority, you can also control things like drive mode, white balance, or metering modes. These additional settings won’t affect your exposure, but they will change how your image is captured, or how the color temperature looks. If you don’t feel comfortable with these settings, you don’t have to use them and can still get a great image. Regardless, it is nice to have the option of added control!

– Aperture Priority


Aperture Priority is very similar to Shutter Priority, except it lets you control the aperture rather than the shutter! Aperture Priority is noted as either Av or A on your camera’s mode dial. This is another semi-automatic camera mode that’s perfect for situations where the depth of field is all that matters. Your depth of field is how much of your image can be in focus at once and is the deciding factor for background blur. With portrait photography, this is an important creative aspect of your image. With Aperture Priority, you can focus on keeping a shallow depth of field without worrying about additional settings.

This camera mode allows you to choose the aperture setting on your own while automatically choosing the shutter and ISO. You also have control over additional settings like the drive mode, white balance, and metering mode. This is a great camera mode to use when the depth of field is an important aspect of your photo.

Depending on how bright the scene is, you still need to be aware of what shutter speed your camera sets. If the shutter speed is too slow, you may end up with a shaky photo when shooting handheld. If you find yourself in a lowlight situation using Aperture Priority mode, make sure you’re using a wider aperture!

– Manual Mode


Manual Mode (noted as M on your mode dial) gives you 100% control over every setting on your camera. Nothing is chosen automatically in this camera mode, it’s all up to you. For those just starting out, this might seem daunting, but it’s the best camera mode to accurately translate your creative vision. Manual Mode allows you to use any shutter speed, aperture, or ISO setting you wish. This makes it easy to capture things like long exposures or night photography.

Manual Mode can be used for any style or situation in photography. After you get comfortable with it, you’ll find that choosing your settings becomes somewhat second nature. You won’t have too much issue to quickly alter your settings to better suit a situation. With that said, there is a lot more to think about in this camera mode compared to the automatic or semi-automatic settings.

If you have a particular creative intent or the automatic settings just aren’t quite doing it, Manual Mode will be your answer. To learn how to use Manual Mode in your photography, you must remember the three pillars of exposure. You can learn how these work by using the exposure triangle.

– Bulb Mode


The last camera mode to discuss is Bulb mode. Bulb mode (noted as B on your mode dial) essentially gets rid of your preset shutter speed. Rather than setting a specific shutter speed to use, Bulb Mode leaves your shutter open as long as the button is pressed. This means you could take a 1/2 second exposure, or a 30-day exposure if you really wanted. Besides this unique twist, it still operates much the same as Manual Mode. You still are in charge of choosing your aperture, ISO, and all related settings on your own.

Bulb Mode is more of a specialty camera mode that you won’t find yourself using often. It’s typically used by those capturing long exposure photos with very dark ND filters. In situations where a 30″ exposure still is too dark, then Bulb Mode is your only other option. Since most photographers don’t want to sit with their finger on the shutter for hours on end, it’s important to use a remote trigger to get the most out of this camera mode.

What Camera Mode Is Best For Beginner Photographers

The best camera mode for beginner photographers will all depend on the level of comfort with your settings. It’s common for most people to start fully automatic just to get their bearings with the camera. This way you can focus on your composition and getting a feel for your camera without too much stress.


With that said, it’s important to learn how your camera settings work as soon as possible. This is really hard to figure out if all you use is Automatic Mode. Since your camera does all the work, it’s easy to forget what’s actually going on. Opting for a semi-automatic setting is a good way to get your feet wet in learning camera settings before going to Manual Mode. Ultimately, if you want to get the most out of your camera, learning how to use Manual Mode will be extremely valuable.

For beginner photographers looking to improve their skills, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, or Manual Mode will be the best. These camera modes offer different levels of complexity, all while teaching you how to use your camera settings. If you’re looking for a clear path to improve your photography and camera know-how, be sure to check out my 12-Week Photography Blueprint.

What Camera Modes Do Professional Photographers Use

Believe it or not, not all professional photographers use Manual Mode for every photo they take. When you’re taking photos full time, efficiency becomes the name of the game. A lot of professionals will switch between different camera modes depending on the purpose of their shoot. It’s not uncommon to see people using the Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority modes for the majority of their work. These types of camera modes make it easy to focus on your subject and spend less time choosing settings.


Manual Mode, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority are the most common camera modes of professional photographers. The mode being used will solely depend on the situation and the creative requirements of the image. Besides that, it really comes down to personal preference. There’s no shame in using automatic camera modes if it’s going to make your life easier. Even as a professional photographer!


After reading this article, I hope you’ve learned more about how to choose the best camera mode for your photos. Remember that camera modes are a tool to help you decide how your photo is captured. There isn’t one specific camera more for every situation, that’s why it’s important to learn the uses of each. With the knowledge of how each camera mode works, choosing the best one for your photo becomes easy.

If you know someone who struggles with choosing the best camera mode, be sure to share this post with them! Your sharing helps to support this blog and the creation of more free content like this one.

Once you’ve got a handle on your camera modes, it’s time to learn how to actually take better photos. Be sure to download my 12-Week Photography Blueprint to give you a clear and direct path to mastering your photography, faster!

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I'm a Canadian photographer and photo retoucher turned founder of bwillcreative.com. Around here I help you to decode the mystery of photo editing with no-fluff videos and written guides to help you achieve your creative goals. Outside of shooting photos and my passion for educating, you'll find me mountain biking or on the trails with my dog, Sunny!

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Thanks for the advice! I’m still very much learning. Greetings from London.