You may have heard it from a friend, from a popular photographer on the social media outlet of your choice, or read it on a blog somewhere. Maybe it resonated with you and you found yourself rotating that dial on your camera or diving into your camera’s menu to switch things around. Maybe it scared you, confused you, and left you in the barren wastelands of photographic information overload. We’ve all been there…

Olympus OM-D EM-5

What Am I Talking About?

Camera modes. Yup, that’s right, the preferred mode for capturing the memories, stories, and moments in your life. Some preach that the only way to take a decent photo is in manual mode. Others climb to the tops of proverbial, Internet-based rooftops to shout that this mode or the other is the true path to photographic enlightenment, and, if you know what’s good for you, you’ll switch out of the worthless mode you’re in now and follow their lead. (You know, to that fabled land where magic formulas really are magical and every photo turns out perfectly exposed and sharp with no distractions in the background…) Maybe they aren’t quite that intense about it, but you get the point…

Let me break it down for you.

Use the mode that helps you capture the image you want.

We’re going to take a closer look at the four main modes available on most cameras and discuss scenarios where each mode makes the most sense. Ready? Let’s dive in!


Auto Mode

This is the most maligned and overlooked camera mode. In Auto, your camera does pretty much everything but point itself. In this mode, your camera makes all the decisions relating to exposure based on where your camera is “looking” and the light your camera’s sensor picks up. It will select shutter speed, aperture width, and ISO. You point your camera, click the shutter button and move on. Done.

Olympus OM-D EM-5 Camera Modes

When Should You Use Auto Mode?

This is kind of a catch all, “snapshot” mode. Perfect for those that have neither the time nor the inclination to delve any deeper than the surface potential of their camera. I’m assuming that the majority of those reading thus far are interested in going a bit more in-depth, so let’s introduce…

 Aperture Priority Mode

This mode is great for times when you want a nice depth of field with separation between the subject of your photo and the background. This mode allows you to choose aperture and adjusts shutter speed to compensate for lighting conditions. You are able to adjust the ISO in order to combat lower light situations as well. If you are in a darker environment, increase your ISO to allow more light to get to your camera’s sensor.

Just Remember…

  • In darker scenarios, look out for blurriness due to movement. This is a sure sign that you need to increase your ISO or that you may need to open your aperture some more (lower your f stop number). For example, if you are at f11, try dropping it down to f9 or lower based on how dark your photo turns out.
  • In brighter situations, lower your ISO and decrease aperture width to allow for a greater depth of field.
  • Check out our Natural Lighting offerings for a more in-depth peek at working with available light!

Shutter Priority Mode

At your child’s ball game? Trying to capture some photos of the grandkids or your toddler running around the playground? This is likely the simplest mode for you as it allows you to control shutter speed. When looking to “freeze” motion, increase your shutter speed. The ideal shutter speed is going to vary widely based on the type of movement you are attempting to freeze. Start somewhere in the 1/250th of a second range and adjust things from there based on how the photo comes out.

Train to Nowhere

Just Remember…

  • Fast motion needs a fast shutter speed in order to freeze it. This will decrease the amount of light you are able to capture. You can adjust ISO to give yourself a bit more margin for shutter speed, but don’t increase it too much.
  • There are some instances where you don’t need a fast shutter speed but your shots in Aperture Priority (or another mode) come out slightly blurry because you are unable to hold the camera quite still enough. In these instances, try switching to Shutter Priority and increasing your shutter speed just a bit to compensate.
  • A general rule of thumb is that you want the denominator in the fraction to be equal to or higher than the focal length of your lens. For instance, using a 50mm prime lens? Start with shutter speed at 1/50 and see how things turn out. You can always increase it if necessary.

 Manual Mode

The ultimate in control over the functions of your camera! You are the authority regarding aperture width, shutter speed, and ISO. This is the mode that I heard shouted from the rooftops as the “only mode with which to use your camera” for a while. It wasn’t until I actually began talking to some industry professionals and became more comfortable with my photography that I realized that Manual Mode is simply another tool that gives you the ability to get the shot that you are looking for. It’s not a magic mode that is going to help you skyrocket into photographic brilliance. However, I certainly recommend that EVERYONE take time to learn this mode and become proficient in its use.

 How Do I Know If Manual Mode Is The Best Mode For This Photo?

Basically, this is something that you will learn as you become more acquainted with your camera and your personal preferences. I use this mode when things just don’t seem to be “gelling” for me in aperture or shutter priority. I think about my goals, such as:

  • Am I trying to capture motion?
  • If so, I might want to use Manual in order to increase my shutter speed while still maintaining my desired depth of field.
  • Am I trying to capture a specific depth of field (blurred background)?
  • Manual mode allows me to increase ISO and widen my aperture while keeping shutter speed within my control to avoid camera shake.
  • Am I experiencing some “camera shake” where I can’t hold the camera quite still enough?
  • There’s typically an adjustment that I can make in Manual to increase my shutter speed just enough to get rid of that tell-tale blur.

Camera Modes Shutter Priority

Ultimately, there are tons of options and it’s very easy to become overwhelmed when trying to determine which is best for you. The most important thing to remember is to get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot! You will learn more by doing that than you will any other way. Another invaluable resource to check out is Photography 101 if you are looking to improve yourself as a photographer!


Get out there and SHOOT! Share your favorites with us on your favorite social media platform, like us on Facebook, and be sure to sign up for email updates to stay up to date on the latest and greatest news, reviews, and photography articles! Also, don’t forget to leave your comments below! I’d love to hear back from you!

CREDITS : Photographs by Michael  have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.