Photography Techniques - Which mode is the best to take photos?

Photography is writing and painting with light...
Photography is writing and painting with light... | Source

Light and its control - The crucial factors

Ever seen the P, M, A and S modes on your camera? Mostly, the manufacturer or marketer will tell you to go to the fifth “Auto” mode and shoot for best results with the least hassles.

A friend once told me about the other modes on his camera and then concluded with a question,

“Tell me which mode is best for photography?”

If that is the question, then my answer would be,
“Auto mode, unless you are interested to know something which will improve you as a photographer.”

“What should I know to become a good photographer?”

This is the second-most frequent question that is asked after "Which is the best camera to buy?" And that is because the realization dawns that just good camera is not sufficient for good photography.

Photography is partly science and partly art. It is done through the head as well as through the heart. The head without the heart is uninspiring while the heart without the head is ineffective when it comes to photography.

When I have pondered on this question, I understand that photography is like painting a picture with light. Each painter will develop his/her own style in due course but the quality of the paint and knowledge on how to use paint are prerequisites. Knowing how to use the light and the quality of light available are of paramount importance in photography. Those are the basics that we shall examine here.

Since light is the most important ingredient, methods to control light and increase quality of light help improve photography. Photography is one place where quality and quantity of light are almost synonymous. If there is bad light, there is not much photography that can be done. (Low-light photography is a different subject. That is why I said that quantity and quality are ‘almost’ synonymous!). So, we are on a quest to increase the available light for our cameras.

Modern cameras offer 4 ways to control and increase the quantity (and thus quality) of light available. Like everything else in life, each of these methods have their own tradeoffs. Knowing these four methods of light-control and the compromises each of them entail will help us better to choose the ‘Mode’ we shoot in. So, here they are. The super-four of light control.

1. Shutter Speed:

Shutter speed is the rate at which the shutter of the camera opens and closes to allow light. Common sense says that the longer the shutter is open, greater is the amount of light that gets into the camera. Thus, one way of increasing light for the camera is to shoot images at a slow shutter speed.

In your camera shutter speed will show as 40, 60, 80, 125 and so on up to 4000 or 8000. These are actually fractional measures. 60 means that the shutter opens for 1/60th of a second. Thus, 20 or 10 is a slow shutter speed. You can also have shutter speeds like 1 second or 5 seconds and they display on the camera as 1” or 5”.

The trade off - When you slow down the shutter speed to allow more light, the images can get blurry due to shake. According to me, a novice can hold absolutely still for about 1/60th of a second. (This is the standard setting on all cameras). An expert, with years of practice can hold steady even for 1/10th of a second. When a beginner goes slower than 1/60 of a second, the subject appears shaky either because your hand shook or because the subject moved. Even experts find it difficult to shoot slower than 1/60th of a second because the subjects (mostly people) move in such a short span of time also! Talk about us being an impatient species! The following pictures show the result of a slow shutter speed.

Picture taken at 1/60th of a second

The subjects are clear and sharp.
The subjects are clear and sharp. | Source

Picture taken at 1/10th of a second

The subjects are blurry and shaky.
The subjects are blurry and shaky. | Source

And so, there is only a certain extent you can go to while slowing your shutter speed. As a rule of the thumb, do not push for less than 60 on your camera.

There is a whole lot of stunts, tricks and tips that can be done by playing with the shutter speed. They form the basis of slow and fast photography which we shall discuss elsewhere. We will now move to the next method of light control.

2. Aperture:
Aperture is that tiny hole in the lens through which light enters. This hole is located in front of the shutter. So, when the shutter opens, only the light let through by the aperture enters. Again, common sense tells that larger the aperture, greater is the light that enters. Aperture is measured as 2.8, 3.5, 5.6, 8 etc up to 22 or 26. Again, these are fractional measures and how they work also depends on the ‘zoom’ of the lens. That is a bit complicated and I will refrain from explaining it here. I will reserve it for an article on the aperture alone.

The trade off - When you open the aperture wider to let in more light, you lose depth of focus. Wait a minute!! What is that?

When you focus with a camera on a point, the regions in front of that point and regions behind that point are not in focus. When you reduce the aperture, a little of the region in front of the focal point and a little region behind the focal point also come into focus. As we keep reducing the aperture, more region becomes ‘focused’. Now you will understand what is the negative of opening the aperture wide. The focused region becomes very small! The photos below make the point clear.

Photo taken at aperture f/15

Both the dolls are pretty much clear though they are at a distance from each other. This is because of the 'large focused region' of a small aperture.
Both the dolls are pretty much clear though they are at a distance from each other. This is because of the 'large focused region' of a small aperture. | Source

Photo taken at aperture f/2.8

The blue Smurf doll is almost smudged out of existence because it is far outside of the 'small focused' region at large aperture.
The blue Smurf doll is almost smudged out of existence because it is far outside of the 'small focused' region at large aperture. | Source

This tweaking of aperture is actually used creatively for special effects which we shall discuss elsewhere.

3. ISO:

As explained in the article on which camera is the best one to buy, ISO refers to the sensitivity of the camera. This is the third way of increasing the light available for the camera. Instead of thinking of ways to increase quantity of light, we can think of a method of making the same amount of light more effective - by increasing the sensitivity of the sensor. Thus, ISO begins at a value of 100 and usually goes up to 1600 in most cameras. It goes to 3200 in some higher end cameras. So, instead of setting the ISO to 100, crank it up to 800 and the same photograph becomes brighter because the sensor of the camera is now more sensitive.

The trade off - The problem is that ISO does not actually increase sensitivity of the sensor. It only amplifies the light getting in just like a microphone and amplifier do to sound. Along with the light, the ‘noise’ also gets amplified. (like those squeaks, hums and random sounds in the microphone). As a result of this, the photo taken with a higher ISO becomes noisy and grainy.

Photo taken at ISO 200

A clean and neat photograph indeed
A clean and neat photograph indeed | Source

Photo taken at ISO 1600

You can see noise especially in the stomach region. Imagine the noise at higher ISOs.
You can see noise especially in the stomach region. Imagine the noise at higher ISOs. | Source

4. Flash:

Using an external flash is a straightforward way of increasing the amount of light. Within the specified range, the flash does an excellent job of lighting up the subject(s). Note that beyond its range, the flash almost becomes useless. Flashes that come attached to camera bodies usually have a range between 3-5 meters. Specialized external flashes have a range between 9-12 meters.

The trade off - All said and done, photos taken with artificial light do not appear natural. That is quite a trade off!

Photo taken without a flash

Notice the 'natural' looking kitchen with the interplay between light and shadows.
Notice the 'natural' looking kitchen with the interplay between light and shadows. | Source

Photo taken with a flash

The entire ambience of the kitchen is changed. New shadows have been created. It might be a good photo but is not 'original' in its looks.
The entire ambience of the kitchen is changed. New shadows have been created. It might be a good photo but is not 'original' in its looks. | Source

Those are the broad basics of controlling light which is central to good photography. That is the science part of it. The art comes in choosing which trade off would be the best under a given circumstance. That we shall discuss in other articles.

To conclude, let us go back to where we began - the modes.


S mode - Allows you to set the shutter speed of your choice and automatically sets the aperture needed to get a good exposure.

A mode - Allows you to set the aperture of your choice and automatically sets the shutter speed needed to get a good exposure.

P mode - Sets both the shutter speed and aperture needed for a good exposure. The camera intelligently calculates the optimum of both.

M mode - Completely leaves the choice of aperture and shutter speed to the user. Camera does nothing to ensure good exposure with the faith that the user knows what he/she is doing.

We shall delve into each of these modes in certain detail later. So don’t worry if you did not understand them completely. Till then, happy shooting and learning.

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Comments 15 comments

KrystalFAdams profile image

KrystalFAdams 3 years ago from The Tennessee Valley

As a person just starting out with photography this article and it's tips have been very helpful and have answered a lot of questions. I look forward to practicing my photography more with this new found information. Thanks!


ArvindHolla profile image

ArvindHolla 3 years ago from Bangalore

Usually, the so called "Easy to understand" guides to photography instill a lot of fear into the rookie photography enthusiasts (like myself), by using a lot of jargon and technicalities without explaining the basics with examples. But this article is neat and REALLY easy to understand. Thanks for the help brother..Cheers


VENUGOPAL.S 3 years ago

SAIRAM, very good guidance about photography and useful tips also. well said" Photography is partly science and partly art. It is done through the head as well as through the heart." When i see the photos taken by me I love them.


aravindb1982 profile image

aravindb1982 3 years ago from Puttaparthi, India Author

@ Sai Santosh - That depends.... If the subject you are shooting is absolutely steady - like a building, landscape etc. - then the tripod will help. But if your subject is itself moving - like a fidgety child (even a normal person posing will be a moving subject under 1/15 seconds), a tree moving in the breeze, a car etc. - then even using a tripod will not help.

Slow shutter speed photography needs both - a steady hand (or tripod) and steady subject.

Thanks for that great question. I will try to integrate this aspect too into the hub with some images. :)


Sai Santosh 3 years ago

thanks for the hub... Do the pictures look blurry with a slow shutter speed, if you use a tripod?


kavita dantala 4 years ago

Thank you so much now i got some knowlegde about it.


aravindb1982 profile image

aravindb1982 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India Author

Darrylmdavis - Thank you for that generous comment... Just want to share my experience for I learnt photography through others'!


Darrylmdavis profile image

Darrylmdavis 4 years ago from Brussels, Belgium

A great, easy-to-understand and use hub. It even includes some good reminders for more seasoned photographers!


photostudiosupply profile image

photostudiosupply 4 years ago from Rochester, New York

Very nice hub with helpful tips for good photography. Vote up for this!


aravindb1982 profile image

aravindb1982 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India Author

Thank you Sukanya and LetitiaFT. Loved making this hub and hope to do more such ones with illustrative photographs.

A photography hub has to have photographs is my firm belief


LetitiaFT profile image

LetitiaFT 4 years ago from Paris via California

I'm with Sukanya, this is the concise guide I've been waiting for! Very clever photos to illustrate, as well. Voted up and bookmarked!


Sukanya Sivakumar 4 years ago

Thank u anna! Had been waiting for this! :D


aravindb1982 profile image

aravindb1982 4 years ago from Puttaparthi, India Author

@ Deepak - Thank you....

@ Tireless Traveler - Thank you for your vote. For long I have wanted to combine my two passions of writing and photography and am glad that my first few steps have been good.

:) I did not realize that my hub was being hopped even as I edited it!

I am still not sure of how to go about with the Amazon capsule. Maybe I should learn now.

Thank you for your comment.


tirelesstraveler profile image

tirelesstraveler 4 years ago from California

Great hub, I would have liked to have seen pictures on the top half. For awhile I didn't think there were going to see any on a hub about photography. :(

Loved how you illustrated your points with the smurf and the other doll. Put a picture up near your title, add an amazon capsule and link to your other hubs and you'll love this hub.

Just went back to your profile and noticed a picture at the top.

Yeah! Don't you just hate it when your still editing and your hub is on the hopping list.


Deepak 4 years ago

Very, very useful tips.....

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