Get To Know Your Camera – Summer Photography Series

We are ready and totally excited to start our Summer Photography Series here at 5 Minutes for Mom. Before we move on to learning technical terms and techniques, it’s important to establish a good base by learning more about your camera. After this week, you should be much more comfortable with your camera and what you can do with it!

Even though individual cameras are very different, the icons used for the automatic scene modes are pretty standard across the camera makers, as well as between SLRs and point and shoot cameras. Most point and shoots will only have the auto mode functions, but more and more basic cameras are now offering users additional creative control with some manual functions. Don’t worry if you don’t understand all of the terminology, like aperture and depth of field. We’ll get to that later!

This is a picture of the mode dial on a Canon Rebel digital SLR. Although your camera’s mode dial will likely look a little different, you should recognize many (if not all) of the icons.

Auto modes

The point of all of these automatic scene modes is to provide the camera user with a quick shortcut to commonly used exposures. You tell the camera what kind of picture you’re taking, and the camera will set the exposure for you.

  • Full Auto (green mode): this is the true “point and shoot” mode. The camera decides everything. The flash will go off most often in this mode, even when it’s unnecessary. Use this mode when you don’t want to have to adjust anything.
  • Portrait mode (lady’s head): Portrait mode uses a wide aperture to flatter the subject by making the background out of focus. The camera may recognize and focus on a face. If you are attempting to photograph a group of people this may not be a wise mode to use, due to the limited depth of field.
  • Landscape (mountains): This mode is used to capture expansive sceneries, keeping both the foreground and the distant images in sharp focus. It uses a small aperture to gain depth of field.
  • Macro (flower): Macro mode enables you to take very close and frame-filling photos of your subject such as a flower, or anything that you want to photograph close up.
  • Sports mode (running man): This mode will instruct the camera to use the fastest shutter speed possible with the existing light available. Sports mode turns off the flash to allow for the speediest camera operation and may also activate the continuous shooting mode, so the camera will fire as long as the button is held down as opposed to the normal single frame operation.
  • Night mode (a person with a star): This mode raises the ISO and uses a very wide aperture in order to take a photograph using the limited natural light, rather than a flash. This mode usually uses a very long shutter speed and you’ll definitely want to use a tripod in order to ensure a crisp picture.
  • Flash Off mode (Flash arrow crossed out): This mode turns off the flash, and adjusts the exposure for low light situations. This is a good mode to use when you can’t use a flash (such as in a museum) but will often result in blurry pictures if the flash is, in fact, needed.

Program modes

Not all cameras have program modes, which allow the user to have more creative control over the settings. Program modes make the move from auto to fully manual shooting.

  • Program mode (P): Program mode is very similar to auto mode. It offers partial control over shutter speed and aperture. The camera will select what it thinks is the correct exposure, but the user may over-ride. In this mode, input from the plus/minus bias control is allowed to provide minor exposure adjustments and the user controls whether the flash is used.
  • Shutter Priority mode (Tv or S): Shutter priority controls the shutter speed, and aperture is calculated by the camera. In this mode you select the shutter speed necessary to halt the motion being photographed. Just like in aperture priority, be aware that the camera may be forced into chosing an aperture that will not render the entire situation sharply.
  • Aperture Priority mode (Av or A): Aperture priority mode controls the aperture (f/stop), and the shutter speed is calculated by the camera. Pay attention to shutter speed in this mode, as the necessary shutter speed may not be attainable with the f/stop you select.
  • Manual Mode (M): In this mode, you set both shutter speed and aperture independently. Use this mode if you know what you’re doing, or if you want to over-ride the camera’s settings.

Auto or manual?

Many people ask which mode is best – auto or manual? The fact is that most digital cameras nowadays take more-than-decent pictures in auto mode. You don’t have to feel bad about keeping your camera on auto (sometimes even I enjoy the “freedom” of not having to think about the “best” settings to use), BUT it’s great to realize that anyone can learn how to use the other modes and settings on their camera. It just takes a little bit of learning followed by some practice. You’ll be amazed at the pictures you can capture when you take more control over how you shoot!

Your challenge

I’ll keep this week’s challenge very simple, as you get to know the functions on your camera. Chose a mode other than AUTO and go out to take some pictures. Then come back to this post and enter your post URL with the photo you took on the linky below. Be sure to mention what mode you used and why you chose that mode for your photo.

If you have any questions during the week, feel free to ask. I’m always here to help!

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Written by 5 Minutes for Mom managing editor Lolli. You can find me blogging at Better in Bulk and tweeting at @1momof5.


  1. says

    Thanks for keeping everything so simple to understand! I’m excited for this week’s challenge. My son’s birthday is on Saturday and because things are so busy I usually just keep my camera on auto so I can snap away. I’m going to make myself take the camera off auto a couple of times during the party and compare pictures. Can’t wait!

  2. says

    Wonderful article! I used to be Auto only, then switched to the Flash Off mode but I can’t wait to experiment with other modes. Thank you for taking the time to put this series together!


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