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How To Use The Mode Dial On A Digital SLR Camera

Updated on June 19, 2013

The large circular mode dial on top of your camera is one of the first controls you will notice. The dial lies at the very heart of the creative options of your DSLR. It is here that you can start to take control over key aspects of picture taking, such as the aperture and shutter speed settings, when making exposures.

On your dial there are many different letters and pictures. Each one has it's own settings. Here's what each one does and how it works for you in taking pictures.

A photo taken in Auto Mode from my Canon EOS 1000D
A photo taken in Auto Mode from my Canon EOS 1000D | Source

Auto

The auto mode is the only green one on your dial. It will have a picture of a camera, say Auto or have just a green box (like mine does). In this mode the camera takes control of most of the exposure settings for you. It sets the lighting, the flash, the focus, etc. Some models also lock settings such as the autofocus, ISO and exposure compensation. Although the mode is great for happy snaps, if you want to learn how to control exposure it is best to avoid using Auto mode from now on.

I use Auto mode when I'm in a hurry to take a photo. When it's something that I know is going to move or only last a second and I don't already have my camera out and already taking pictures, I just turn the dial to auto, turn on the camera, and snap my shot. Most of the time it turns out as a good picture (just not perfect).

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Shooting with the Sports settingShooting with the Macro settingShooting with Landscape settingShooting with Portrait setting
Shooting with the Sports setting
Shooting with the Sports setting | Source
Shooting with the Macro setting
Shooting with the Macro setting | Source
Shooting with Landscape setting
Shooting with Landscape setting | Source
Shooting with Portrait setting
Shooting with Portrait setting | Source

Scene Modes

These modes are very functional for many different reasons. These fully aoutomatic modes are normally indicated on the mode dial by small icons showing different photo subjects such as: sport (the little running guy), macro (picture of the flower), landscape(picture of a mountain), day portraits (picture of a persons head), night portraits (picture of a persons head in a square with a star), and no flash (a box with a lightning bold with a line throug it). These modes are popular with many DSLR usuers as they offer the most foolproof way of getting appropriate settings for a whole range of subjects, without having to think about it. Instead, using these modes instructs the camera to select subject-specific values for shutter speed and aperture etc, according to how the manufacturer has programmed the camera. If you want to learn more about photography, it is best to avoid these modes as well.

I use these modes when I am curious at how my camera sets it's self up. I will take a picture in micro, check the settings of the picture, and then change to another mode and make a few adjustments from what the micro mode told me. It's another way to learn how to use your other modes.

P - Program Mode

This mode is similar to Auto mode, in that it sets the shutter speed and aperture automatically, but does allow you a little more creative control. On most cameras you have control over settings such as exposure compensation and autofocus, plus you also have limited control over the combination of shutter speed and aperture the camera will use. Although this gives you some control, it is still not ideal when you are learning about photography.

TV, T, or S - Shutter-Priority

This mode is usually indicated by a T or Tv (Time value), this semi-automatic mode allows you to select the shutter speed manually but tells the camera to automatically select the correct aperture. This gives you control over how subjet movement is recorded. It can be frozen sharp or allowed to blur. It also helps you to avoid camera shake.

This is the mode I use when I'm taking lightning pictures or pictures at a race track or sports game. With the slow shutter speed I can set the shutter speed to a slow setting such as 30 seconds and get many different lightning strikes in one picture. You can also use the slow shutter speed to turn moving water into a soft blur. With a fast shutter speed you freeze an action shot like the perfect kick in soccer to make the goal or a dirt bike jumping a hill on a dirt track.

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One of my favorites because you can see the stars above the clouds!
One of my favorites because you can see the stars above the clouds!
One of my favorites because you can see the stars above the clouds! | Source
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Click thumbnail to view full-size
Poppy FlowerA field of daisy's you pick just one to photographAfter you pick that one you love snap your first photoZoom in and adjust your settingsZoom in again and adjust your settings to a small f-stop to your final picture
Poppy Flower
Poppy Flower | Source
A field of daisy's you pick just one to photograph
A field of daisy's you pick just one to photograph | Source
After you pick that one you love snap your first photo
After you pick that one you love snap your first photo | Source
Zoom in and adjust your settings
Zoom in and adjust your settings | Source
Zoom in again and adjust your settings to a small f-stop to your final picture
Zoom in again and adjust your settings to a small f-stop to your final picture | Source

Av, A - Aperture-Priority

This semi-automatic mose allows you to select the aperture manually, but tells the camera to automatically select the appropriate shutter speed to make a correct exposure. This gives you control over the amount of the image that will be in sharp focus, which is known as depth of field. This is probably the most useful semi-automatic mode to master when you are learning how exposure settings affect your images.

This is another mode I use alot. With a wide aperture such as f/2.8, you have the effect of minimizing depth of field by rendering only a small section of the image in focus (or sharp) and the rest will be blurred. With a narrow aperture such as f/20 the zone of sharpmess goes through the whole picture.

M - Manual Mode

With this mode you have to set both aperture and shutter speed yourself. Because of this it is probably best to leave this mode alone until you have mastered the controls in the semi-automatic modes.

I don't use this mode a whole lot but I have learned how to take some incredible firework pictures with it. The hardes part about doing this is you have to know what needs changed in order to get the perfect picture as fireworks don't last that long so moving fast is a must as well as keeping the camera steady. Challenging, yes, but worth the effort to get the perfect shot.

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The perfect shot!!!!
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The perfect shot!!!!
The perfect shot!!!! | Source

When taking photos which mode do you use the most?

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Comments

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    • Photoshark317 profile image

      Leroy Brown 

      7 years ago from Lafayette Orgon

      I shoot with a Nikon D300. It's a pro camera and that being the case it always gives me loads of information. I w atch my histograms and adjust accordingly. I shoot program mode if my subject is fast like sports cars or air shows

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Photoshark317 - That's a good rule to follow. I'm glad you use Aperture! Thanks for stopping by an the comment!

    • Photoshark317 profile image

      Leroy Brown 

      7 years ago from Lafayette Orgon

      I've been shooting Aperture for years. The only thing I need to do to adjust the light is to change the f stop. And I generally shoot the rule f8 and be there!

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      tillsontitan - I've got a hub coming up about the aperture and stops too :) Stay tuned for sure! I'm glad you can use this hub! I love using all my modes now that I know how :) Thanks for all the votes and the comment!!!

    • tillsontitan profile image

      Mary Craig 

      7 years ago from New York

      You always provide such great information about cameras and photos! You are really very helpful. I still have to figure out my aperture and stops but this hub is a great help using the choices we have on the digitals. Thank you.

      Voted up, useful, awesome, and interesting.

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Om - I was always using the scene modes too and after I learned about the other modes I couldn't help but play with them. Now that I know how to use them it makes my pictures and my photography so much more enjoyable :) I hope you enjoy working with the other modes! Thanks for the comment :)

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 

      7 years ago

      Nice hub! I have experimented with the scene modes quite a bit, but not so much with the aperture and shutter modes. Now I feel like I should! Thanks for sharing these tips and lovely photos, Cassy.

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      Angel052 - The sport mode is a lot of fun. I love capturing my kids while they are running, laughing and having a good time. Thanks for the comment!

    • profile image

      Angelo52 

      7 years ago

      Good information. Think I'll try the sport mode next time.

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      TToombso8 - I'm glad you found this hub helpful :) Thanks for the comment and stopping by :)

    • CassyLu1981 profile imageAUTHOR

      CassyLu1981 

      7 years ago from Spring Lake, NC

      leahlefler - When I finally figured out how to use my modes on my camera I was so excited!!! Now every time there is lightning in the sky I'm sitting out on our back patio with the camera ready LOL I'm glad you enjoyed my photos!!! Thanks for the comment and stopping by :)

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      7 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Great information, cassylu! Very thorough and well thought out, not to mention helpful. Good job!

    • leahlefler profile image

      Leah Lefler 

      7 years ago from Western New York

      Wow, CassyLu - this is a fantastic guide! I never really knew what the TV mode was for on my Canon. Your fireworks photos and lightning shots are amazing - what a beautiful set of photographs!

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