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On the top of most cameras is a selector knob which will allow you to select different modes. These range depending on the camera, my camera (Nikon D5100) has several choices.

I have been told conflicting things about which mode to use. From my understanding most DSLRs have M (Manual) S (Shutter Priority) A (Aperture Priority) P (Program Mode) and possibly Auto mode. Some models (specifically entry level) have other modes some of which could be Night, Macro, Landscape, Portrait, etc.

I have been told by one person to use all available modes the camera has to offer as I learn more about photography. While another person said only use M, S, A, P modes and avoid all the rest while you learn.

Which of the statements is generally more correct?

A few notes: I have every intention and am currently attempting to learn as much as possible about the camera and how to capture great photos but I am a beginner. I shoot in RAW most of the time. And I want to capture the best possible shot with the camera (not have to process it in post extensively to get the best shot).

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Also: I make an argument related to this in my answer to Are there disadvantages to a prosumer camera for a beginner, aside from cost?, which I think is pretty helpful here, even if I do say so myself. –  mattdm May 14 '12 at 23:41
    
@mattdm - That was a helpful link. I had wondered that exact same question when I was researching cameras and had not seen that post. Thanks! => –  Lynda May 15 '12 at 0:31
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2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Which of the statements is generally more correct?

I believe the first one is correct which is

Use all available modes the camera has to offer as I learn more about photography.

I'll explain how:

Most entry DSLR cameras have the following modes:

  • Full Auto Mode: use this mode if you just want to get the shot, perhaps you saw something that will go a way and you want to shoot it fast but if you started to set your settings you will miss the shot, the fastest way to take the shot is to dial in Full Auto and snap the shutter.

  • Scene Modes: the actual names differ from camera from manufacturer to another, but functionality is similar. You may find Portrait, Night, Landscape or Scene, Macro, Sports or Pets & Children. These scenes are still auto but each one is trying to set the settings according to the chosen mode. For example, if you choose Sports (sometimes called Pets & Children) the camera will raise the shutter speed to freeze the moment/action. Night will raise the ISO, open the aperture more, lower the shutter speed, raise the flash. So these modes are still auto but when you choose one of them you help the camera to make a faster decision about its shooting settings. Use these modes with the Full Auto mode to learn about your camera decisions by looking at the chosen settings in your post processing program. You will build a feeling about the shot if it looks nice or not and what are the settings that the camera used to develop this shot.

  • Programmed Mode: This mode is more advanced than Auto Modes, it gives you more control on the camera settings. Basically you can control almost all the settings except for Aperture and Shutter Speed. You want to use this mode if you want to enhance your learning skills regarding changing everything except aperture and shutter speed. Learn when you should raise or lower ISO, when to raise your flash, and also how to compensate the exposure.

  • Aperture Priority Mode: This mode allows you to control aperture and sets the shutter speed automatically. Learn how to control Aperture and the different effects by different apertures. narrow aperture allows great depth of field (for landscape) while wide aperture allows shallow depth of field (for portraiture)

  • Shutter Speed Priority Mode: This mode allows you to control shutter speed and sets the aperture automatically. Learn the effects by slow shutter speed and fast shutter speed.

  • Full Manual Mode: Full manual mode allows you to control all settings in camera. In my opinion, this mode is there in DSLR to force you to THINK before you snap the shutter. My father has been a serious amateur 35mm film photographer for 30 years. When I got my first P&S camera almost 7 years ago, he was very annoyed by how fast I used to snap the shutter button and telling me this is not the right way to do it.

  • Bulb Mode: Keeps the shutter open as long as you are pressing the shutter button. Use this to learn about very long exposure photography and its effects.

Use all the modes to learn and practice. After time you will tend to use the mode that you feel it suites your needs, but you can't tell which one is it until you've tried all of them. Also get yourself into the habit of looking on your photos in your post-processing program and pay attention to the settings values, you surely will learn from that.

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The modes progressively give more control to the photographer and less to the camera in roughly this order:

  1. Full Auto
  2. Creative Modes(Night, Landscape, Portrait)
  3. Program Mode
  4. Aperture, Shutter, or ISO priority
  5. Manual Mode

They are all available for different situations, skill levels, and ease of use. If you have requirements such as shooting in RAW, you may not be able to select from all of the above modes and still shoot in RAW. If you strictly want to learn, you would benefit from fully understanding each mode to some degree, although I would consider the Creative Modes to be the least useful for learning purposes.

I won't recommend a specific one to use, as it really depends on your skills and understanding of the concepts behind each mode. If you are fully comfortable with it, Manual mode gives you the most control, and thus the most creative freedom to create the artwork that you desire. It is not always desirable in each situation, as it can be the most time consuming to adjust to changing conditions in the scene. That is why even professionals still utilize modes like aperture priority much of the time.

To sum it up, use whichever mode you are most comfortable with if you need to get the shot. As your skills progress, you will want to challenge yourself to become more comfortable with the more manual modes, and eventually you will find that you can become more proficient at making quality photographs in these modes.

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