Photography 101: What are Shooting Modes?

Last Updated on January 23, 2022

Shooting Modes in Camera Settings

Photography 101

There is a high chance that you might still be wondering why your brand new camera has all those icons on the main knob. Those are shooting modes, and that’s what we want to talk about in this section. The great thing about many cameras nowadays is that they allow us to shoot in manual mode or less-automatized modes since there are some in-between modes from auto to manual.

We genuinely admire camera manufacturing, especially when it comes to research and development, and we know that these folks have made an extremely hard work when it comes to auto mode, but honestly, we find it just too boring for us.

Auto mode is aimed to achieve perfect exposures every single time, without caring too much about image quality loss (due to high ISO values), or just too-perfect exposures when it comes to freezing everything out.

As photographers, sometimes (pretty much always), we are willing to capture things as we imagine or “see” them with our own eyes. In other words, we like to interpret reality in a way that we think it should look, and cameras’ auto modes can’t nail that (yet). Hence the necessity of being able to manage exposure in a freer way. There are mainly five modes when it comes to cameras, and there are some other “creative” modes that are usually embedded in entry-level cameras.

What are the Camera Modes?

Let’s start with the most automatic mode, and then we’ll dig deeper into the more manual modes.

Auto Mode

Shooting Modes in Camera Settings-Auto Mode

Read more: Camera Guide

Of course, this mode is the most automated way of taking photographs and is pretty much a default. You really want to stay far away from this mode since it will always produce perfect shots, but without understanding what you want to capture from the things that you are looking with your own eyes.

P –  Program

Don’t you dare to think that this is the Professional mode, trust us, we’ve heard it just too many times? The Program mode is fully automatic, but with a couple of nice treats. First, it allows you to change the ISO, delivering a somehow manualish experience.

Shooting Modes in Camera Settings-Program

And you can also tell the camera how you want the exposure to be. Therefore, you can select the exposure to be calculated one stop above or below the zero value, or something in between, or even further. This is a good way for at least watching how the camera changes the values as you keep on changing that exposure-expected parameter.

Now let’s get closer to the more manual modes, but that still rely a pinch on the camera’s brain.

Shutter Priority Mode

This mode allows you to set the shutter speed and the ISO and forgetting about the aperture. Therefore, the camera will decide which is the perfect aperture, given the parameters that you decided before.

Shooting Modes in Camera Settings-Shutter Priority Mode

This could be a wise move when you have a clear idea about how you want things to be captured by your camera, for example at a party.

Aperture Priority Mode

This one is the opposite of Shutter Priority Mode and allows you to set the ISO and the aperture value. After that, the camera will decide which is the perfect shutter speed to match those values. This one is perfect for street or documentary photography, or any other context in which constant moving is involved.

Shooting Modes in Camera Settings-Aperture Priority Mode


Don’t forget that in both cases, you’ll have to keep close attention to the exposure meter in order to capture things in the way that you want them to be. Now let’s walk into the fullest manual modes of all.

Manual Mode

In this mode, you’ll have complete control over ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture, therefore, is considered to be the most creative and the “pros’ choice” if you wish. Honestly, shutter and aperture priority modes are highly used by several professional photographers, although they might not recognize it. The important thing is to understand light.

Shooting Modes in Camera Settings-Manual Mode

Camera manufacturers have their own ways of calling “Aperture Priority Mode” and “Shutter Priority Mode”. The first one might be abbreviated simply with an A or perhaps AV, and the second one will be found under S or TV.

Beyond that, there is a high chance that your camera has some other icons in the shooting mode dial. These are “Macro Mode,” usually depicted with a flower, “Landscape Mode,” represented by a mountain, “Night Mode,” illustrated by a human figurine with a moon, “Portrait Mode,” showing a person and “Sports Mode” regularly represented by a man running.

Camera Modes for Beginners

Shooting Modes in Camera Settings-Macro-Landscape Mode

  • Macro Mode: This mode sets your camera’s exposure values to assist in close-up focusing.
  • Landscape Mode: This mode turns off the built-in flash, and sets the exposure values in a landscape logic.
  • Night Mode: This mode usually combines the built-in flash with slower shutter speeds to cope with low light situations.
  • Portrait Mode: Here, the camera will always try to use the widest aperture value available on your lens.
  • Sports Mode: And in this one, your camera will try to shoot as fast as possible in order to freeze action.

Check User Manual For Camera Modes

All these modes are decent for beginners, but if you want to achieve great results in each lighting situation, you’ll need to use Manual Mode. And for the Macro, you might need a Macro Lens.

Understanding these modes isn’t too hard; the important thing to know is when to use them, especially the Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes and the almighty Manual Mode. Remember to check on your camera’s User Manual for further explanation on the other shooting modes if you are interested in knowing more about them.

There comes a time in a photographer’s life in which having the shot is way more important than shooting in manual mode. Nevertheless, we encourage you to practice all we have shared with you about exposure in manual mode.

Understanding light is only achievable via constant practice, just like a sport or something related to the body; practice is the only thing that will make you a better photographer.

Further Readings:

Photography Courses – Best Online Classes

Smartphone Photography Courses

Top Adobe Lightroom Courses

Best Courses for DSLR and Mirrorless Cameras