Choosing exposure mode with your camera gear is a decision that all photographers face. Like most things photographic, there are different opinions about which exposure mode to use. This article discusses some of the basics about choosing exposure mode.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Most cameras have four basic exposure modes that can be selected: P (Program), A (Aperture Priority), S (Shutter Priority) and M (Manual). Let’s have a look at each of these modes.
P – Program
Program is a fully automatic mode. When we choose the P (Program) mode we give exposure control to our camera. It decides which aperture and shutter speed to use to obtain a proper exposure for our image. If your camera has very accurate metering, using its Program mode may give you very good results.
Many photographers, especially when starting out, find this exposure mode to be a good choice as it allows them to concentrate on composing their images, while not worrying much about exposure.
On the positive side, using P (Program) can help avoid major exposure blunders with images. The downside is that using this fully automatic mode can reduce the opportunity for a photographer to learn and fully understand the impact of aperture and shutter settings on their photographs. Having said that, some cameras do provide ways for a photographer to easily intervene as needed with program settings.
A – Aperture Priority
When using A (Aperture Priority) a photographer takes control of the aperture setting that will be used for their photographs. This can be important from a creative perspective as aperture is one of the key factors with depth-of-field. Depending on a camera’s sensor size and its pixel density, controlling the aperture setting can help avoid the image softening effects of diffraction.
Aperture Priority is a semi-automatic mode as your camera decides which shutter speed will be used. When using this mode it is important to always check your shutter speed before capturing your image. This helps ensure that the shutter speed selected by your camera is appropriate for the amount of subject movement. For example, on a windy day your landscape images may require a faster shutter speed to deal with moving foliage.
Using Aperture Priority when shooting handheld indoors can also be problematic at times. If you forget to check the shutter speed that your camera has automatically selected your may end up with blurry photographs. This can happen if your camera chooses a shutter speed that is slower than your handheld capability.
S – Shutter Priority
When capturing images of moving subjects photographers will often use Shutter Priority so they can avoid subject motion blur. Shutter Priority is also a semi-automatic setting as your camera decides which aperture will be used to obtain the proper exposure for your image.
Depending on the creative intent that a photographer has with a specific image, the aperture automatically selected by their camera when using Shutter Priority mode may not be optimal. So, it is always prudent to check the aperture setting when using Shutter Priority.
M – Manual
Using Manual mode gives a photographer the most direct control over the exposure of their images. It allows a photographer to choose both shutter speed and aperture settings.
Having a good understanding of the impact of shutter speed and aperture settings on an image is required to use this mode effectively. When using Manual mode many photographers will do so in conjunction with a live histogram, exposure compensation, and exposure warnings from their camera. Some photographers use an Auto-ISO range when using Manual mode. Others like to set their ISO manually as well as their exposure settings.
Which exposure mode is best?
The best exposure mode to use is the one that most consistently enables a photographer to achieve proper exposures with their images. There is no one ‘best exposure mode’ that applies to all photographers.
The choice of exposure mode can sometimes be impacted by the ease with which external body controls can be used to fine tune exposure settings.
Some photographers use more than one exposure mode, often choosing different modes depending on subject matter. Other folks consistently use one, preferred exposure mode. The key is to find the mode that best suits your shooting style and consistently produces properly exposed photographs for you. This is a personal decision that transcends “should use” advice you may hear from other photographers.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Image were produced from RAW files using my standard process.
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