How to Use Automatic Digital Camera Modes Creatively
Most digital cameras are equipped with various automatic modes (or presets) that help beginner photographers get more control over the resulting images without venturing too far into camera settings. If you don't feel quite ready for semi-manual or manual modes, you may start discovering your camera from these presets, letting the camera help you according to the situation. By understanding how the automatic presets work, you will learn how to use them creatively and to adapt them to various cases.
Fully automatic mode
This is the easiest way to use the camera - simply press the shutter release, and the camera will decide on all the main settings, such as shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance, focus, and even flash. While no instructions are needed for this mode, you will still have to think about the subject and composition of your image.
In full automatic mode, the camera is "guessing" the kind of image you would like to get and chooses the settings accordingly. If you would like to give it a few more hints and set it into a particular direction, try any of the following:
As the name suggests, this mode is specifically adapted for portraits. When taking someone's portrait, we want to emphasise him or her in the photo by blurring the background and making the person stand out, as attention always goes to the subject in focus. In photographic terms this means that the camera will set the aperture on a low f-number for shallow depth of field.
To make the most of this mode, make sure that the person you are photographing is close to you and the background is far. For more blur, zoom in to your subject. Knowing this, you may also use Portrait mode for any other subject that you want to stand out from a busy background, such as a statue or flowers.
Macro mode allows you not only to blur the background in your photo, but also to get way closer to your subject. It reduces the focusing distance between the lens and the subject and thus is perfectly suitable for very small objects or textures. If in a Portrait mode the minimum distance to a subject is around 30 to 45 cm, in Macro mode you may get as close as 5 to 10 cm, depending on your lens.
Use this mode to capture details, such as plants, small creatures, various textures or food. Even familiar things, such as a cookie or a cup of coffee, may look interesting and unusual when captured from a very small distance! For very tight close-ups use a tripod to avoid any camera shake.
For landscapes and cityscapes, for castles and skyscrapers, for fields, seas and canyons, or for any other wide scenes at a distance, use the Landscape mode. This is the time when you don't want any blur in your photos, but want everything to be nicely in focus. In photographic terms, this mode sets the aperture for a high depth of field (high f-number). It works best in bright light, so if you use Landscape mode in lower light, make sure to keep the camera steady by resting your elbows on a horizontal surface or leaning against a wall.
As you might have guessed, this mode can be used not only for sports, but also for all sorts of action and moving subjects, such as running children, flying birds or sprinkling water in a fountain. The camera will set itself on a fast shutter speed and higher ISO, and will freeze the action in a tiny fraction of a second. For this reason, it also works best in bright light.
Night mode - no flash
Night mode slows down the shutter speed, or, in other words, the amount of time the lens remains open to let more light into the camera. Suitable for various low light situations, it doesn't add flash as an additional source of light and therefore relies solely on the available ambient light. For the best results in Night mode, use a tripod or secure your camera safely on a level surface to avoid any camera shake.
Night mode with flash
This is by far one of the most creative and cool modes to explore in low light: not only it slows the shutter speed down to capture the ambient light, but also adds a flash to illuminate closer subjects. It can be used traditionally for portraits of your friends and family by the famous landmarks after the sun goes down, or creatively at a club or a party to capture people moving or dancing. Also called "slow shutter sync", this mode allows to capture moving subjects in low light and add some interesting light streaks to your image. Keep the camera steady for moving subjects or move it yourself for some creative results!
This is a short overview of the main automatic modes, or presets, of a digital camera. If you feel that it's time to have more creative control over the resulting images, join one of our Photo tours in Paris or London and we will be happy to help you!
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About the Author
Nadia is passionate about the visual aspect of life and the personalities she meets along the way. Living in the heart of Paris, Nadia never stops exploring the City of Light through her camera and readily shares her knowledge and love for photography.