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Olympus OM-D EM-5 Camera Modes Shooting Tips

Aperture Priority vs. Shutter Priority vs. Manual Mode | Which is Best?

By Michael Henson on January 16th 2015

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.

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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.

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Michael Henson is a St. Louis based photographer obsessed with everything creative. His photography interests span genres from still life to sports. When he’s not running around with his face to the camera or behind a keyboard writing, you can typically find a guitar in his hands or catch him out enjoying life with his family and friends.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Nikolay Kaloyanov

    Imo, the best mode is Manual + Auto ISO. I use by default the full manual mode but sometimes i am just forced to go for Auto ISO. I avoid using it at low light, though, as it rapidly goes to 3200-6400 which makes my A6000 unusable.

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  2. Amir Boroumand

    I’m usually in aperture priority mode but like others have mentioned, it depends on the environment.

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  3. Peter Nord

    In the old days manual mode wasn’t invented, didn’t exist. It was only when there was an automatic mode that a manual mode appeared on the scene. Who knew we were manual shooters back then. Did you become an auto shooter if you used a film pack, anyone remember them. If there’s a bear in the back yard or a flying saucer going by, I quickly pick P for Perfect exposure every time – those camera engineers are pretty good. Much easier.

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  4. robert garfinkle

    If there were an annual contest for the worst photography mistakes made for a given year, back in 2011 (when I first got my camera) I really believe I would have taken the “Mr. Depth of Field issue” of the year award, for sure, for sure…

    I will play the victim card here, still blaming myself though – as a freaked out first time snapper of them pictures – because probing the forums, calling camera shops, speaking to Yoda’s of the photography industry who stated USE MANUAL MODE (use the force Luke – trust your feelings), and I wanted to be JUST LIKE THEM, instantly I might add… So I stayed in that mode exclusively – and what happened, well, easy… my first and exclusive thought was “light” i.e. exposure, and I had the camera WIDE, WIDE open the whole year, the only thing left to control was shutter – heh, this was too easy. gosh, just love photography. Leave it in manual, open the aperture as wide as you can, and well, work two dials, shutter and ISO… Um, ok… I wanna be like the Yodas…

    t’would have only been “Luke” who would have had the Yoda intuitiveness to get imagery just perfect – on a feeling, landing images the way he wanted – because my name was ROB and I did not know how to use a camera. Lest I forget even Luke had training, right?

    Secret, I still don’t have it right.

    But, just the same, this article, excellent, not in the sense of explaining each mode, as I do know what they are for pretty much -just waiting for the 2nd nature part to kick in more or less, but he made me think a tad differently by using effect (end result) terms vs. physical attributes of what the camera does. bingo…

    does this mean blindly I go out with my Nikon light saber now and instantly become the Ansel Demille or the Cecil B Adams that everyone looks to become… maybe. :)

    have a nice day.

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  5. David Hall

    Manual Mode for me. I want total and full control. I don’t want the camera making decisions for me.

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  6. robert raymer

    No mode is inherently “better” than any other mode, but each mode is “better” at some things than others. When talking about shooting modes, the most important thing to getting pictures isn’t using a certain mode, but understanding each mode, knowing the strengths and limitations of each one and knowing when to use one over the other.

    For example, personally I use full manual when shooting in studio because having full control over the light and what is going on in the studio, I want full control of my camera as well. When I am shooting action sports (usually ice hockey) I tend to stay on shutter priority so that I can make sure to match the shutter speed to the speed of the action and avoid unwanted motion blur. I seldom use aperture mode, but I have found it useful on occasion for stitched panoramas orHDR or exposure blended landscapes in which I know the final image is going to be a composite of a number of images. I honestly almost never use full auto. The only time I am willing to give that much creative control to my camera is when taking snapshots, and in reality that is what I have my iPhone camera for.

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  7. Ralph Hightower

    Canon A-1: Most of the time it is set on [P: film] or Auto, just for convenience. I will use Tv, Av depending on the situation or Stopped Down for a lens that doesn’t support Canon linkage. I have used manual as detailed below.

    Av: I’ve used Aperture Priority at a night time baseball game. Yes, it was sports, but I set the aperture to wide open for the 80-205 f4.5 lens and let the shutter speed fall where it may using ISO 3200 film.

    Tv: Great for air shows to blur the propeller or helicopter blades, and for NASCAR races.

    Canon F-1N: Prmarily, it is set on manual always even though I have the AE Finder FN and AE Motor Drive FN.

    Canon EOS 5D Mk III: My most common setting is on P. I will change the setting via the quick dial for what I’m looking for. I don’t have my 5D set for Auto White Balance; I’ll set it to the environment as if I were using film.

    Manual: I’ve used manual settings for taking panoramas with my A-1; I metered for the darker section using Kodak Ektar 100 and set the aperture and shutter speed accordingly. To me, it made sense to have one exposure setting for the three frames.

    Next month’s “Show N Tell” theme is once again, Panoramas. I’ll use the 5D for three frames around four different areas because I don’t have the time for the film turnaround. The following settings will be manual on the 5D: Shutter, Aperture, ISO, White Balance, and Focus.

    With film, one has to set the ISO and either underexpose (push) or overexpose (pull). I wish I had that luxury on July 21, 2011.

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  8. Henri-Pierre Chavaz

    The article is interesting but misses ,in my opinion, the auto ISO evolution.

    Nowadays, depending of your camera, you can get a Manuel mode which, in fact, is a kind of auto mode.

    That let you set speed and aperture without bothering too much for luminosity.

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  9. Hans photoWerks

    Agree with John, a lot of time its more of a personal preference… I enjoy shooting in M, but sometimes, time, location and what I want to shoot that depicts what i use… and yes, just go out to shoot and enjoy it!

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    • Michael Henson

      Agreed! I think it’s important to know the strengths of each mode and be open to using all of them. Use whatever enables you to get the shot you want!

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    • Rafael Steffen

      This depends if you are shooting in controlled environments.

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    • Rafael Steffen

      Great article for explaining the differences of the shooting modes.

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  10. Ian Sanderson

    What about P ode? :P

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    • Jason Boa

      I agree – I was a professional photographer for 20 years and often would often use program . This left the ability to concentrate on framing and composition without having to worry about setting .that said if I was doing something creative I would use the appropriate mode A, TV etc

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  11. John Sheehan

    It’s a personal preference, but I always keep the camera in my hand in manual. Recently I’ve played with Shutter and Aperture priority, but I don’t think it’s for me. Maybe if I play with it some more I’ll like those settings better.

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    • Michael Henson

      I totally agree! I learned to use manual early and that’s my default fall back these days. Every so often though, depending on what I’m shooting and lighting conditions, shutter and aperture priority modes get some usage too…Like you said, personal preference.

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  12. تور آنتالیا

    interesting article for every photographer

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