How to use camera modes

Sample Canon DSLR Camera Mode Dial.

This post talks about when to shoot in manual, aperture priority or shutter priority mode. If you haven’t looked at the prior posts on aperture and shutter speed, please review those before getting to this post.

How does each mode differ?

In short, the mode tells you what settings you can control.

  • Aperture priority mode lets you control aperture and auto-adjusts shutter speed accordingly.
  • Shutter priority mode lets you control shutter speed and auto-adjusts aperture.
  • Manual mode lets you control both the aperture and shutter speed.
  • In comparison, Auto mode doesn’t let you control any of the settings – all settings are automatically set by the camera. It’s the same as a point and shoot so you don’t get the advantages that a DSLR gives you – that control is part of what you pay for.

Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture priority mode (normally indicated by an A or Av on the camera) is my favorite mode. It is really simple to use because all you have to do is set it to be such that the entire product is clear. The camera analyzes light availability and automatically sets the shutter speed.

Shutter Priority Mode

Shutter priority mode (indicated by an S or Tv on your camera) only allows you to control the shutter speed. In this mode you can adjust the shutter speed and the camera adjusts the aperture. In the case of product photography, this is not ideal because don’t want to risk parts of your product being blurred.

Manual Mode

Manual mode (normally indicated with an M on the camera) allows you to adjust both aperture and shutter speed.  Most photographers use manual the most because it gives you the most control.

To summarize, manual is the most flexible mode since you can control all settings. However, for product photography, Aperture mode works well in many cases. In some lighting setups, in aperture mode, if the product still doesn’t look like it’s lit well enough, then you should switch to manual mode and tweak the shutter speed till the image looks right to you – here is more detail on how to set DSLR camera settings.

Which mode do you typically use?