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Photography Tips – 3 Most Common Picture Modes: Creative Control Without Technical Knowhow – Programmed Image Modes

Digital cameras have a lot of in-built functions to help the photographer get the most out of their picture taking. The auto mode is the first step for most photographers when they first take their digital camera out of the box, but picture modes (sometimes also called picture styles or programmed image modes) are a fantastic next step to gaining greater creative control of photographs. These are typically found on most compact cameras and entry-level to enthusiast digital SLR cameras.

Picture Modes – An Overview

Picture modes are an automated way of getting the most appropriate exposure (comprised of aperture value, shutter speed, ISO value), depth of field, and use of flash without the need for a deep technical understanding as to what these terms mean. (White balance and saturation can also be changed on some modes with certain cameras). This article helps the user to understand more about how they work.

The three most common picture modes are listed below:

  • Portrait
  • Landscape
  • Sport

Some cameras also have the following picture modes (these will be covered in a separate article):

  • Kids and Pets
  • Night Portrait
  • Fireworks
  • Snow/Beach
  • Foliage

Digital Camera Creative Picture Modes – Portrait Mode

This aims to set the aperture as wide as possible to give the best chance of blurring out the background. (Note that this may have minimal effect on a compact camera). As a consequence of this, the shutter speed will be as high as possible, which reduces the risk of blurred images from camera shake.

The ISO value (digital equivalent of film speed) will be set as low as possible – this keeps noise to a minimum – and flash will usually be set to auto-if-required – so it only fires the flash if the light level drops below a level satisfactory for controlling camera shake. In-camera sharpening is also minimised to give a softer, often more flattering, look to skin.

Digital Camera Creative Picture Modes – Landscape Mode

This aims to set the aperture as small as possible to give the best chance of keeping the whole scene in reasonable focus. This results in the shutter speed being relatively low. As the ISO value is also kept as low as possible to keep the noise levels to a minimum, it is often best to use a tripod or other support while using the Landscape Mode setting.

In addition, the flash will be switched off, as on-camera flash rarely reaches beyond 5m and landscape images tend to be much further from the camera. White balance is normally set to Auto, although some cameras may separately boost the saturation of green shades.

Digital Camera Creative Picture Modes – Sports Mode

This aims to set the shutter speed as high as possible to freeze the action. As a consequence this keeps the aperture wide (which on an SLR camera will often result in a very blurred-out background), and typically sets a high ISO (though this may be Auto-ISO), which will mean that extra noise is the downside for the best chance in freezing the action of the moving person or subject of the photograph.

Multishot mode is usually selected so pictures can be taken as rapidly as possible while the action is occurring, and flash is switched off (this speeds up the rate at which photos can be taken). Auto white-balance is usually selected.

Picture modes are a great first step for the photographer wanting to move from the automatic setting on their camera. While different cameras have different options, this article covers the three most common picture modes.

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