Taking better pictures: camera settings

Ever wondered what you can do for taking better pictures? Having already exploded in detail the photography parameters involved when taking a photograph, it’s time to have a look at how these are controlled on modern cameras. In particular, we will look at the various A, S, P and M modes. These modes are available on most modern digital cameras, although in some cases the terminology might be slightly different. Spend some time and get familiar with your own gear, and then get creative! Let’s go!

Photo by ShareGrid on Unsplash

Photo by ShareGrid on Unsplash

Camera modes

Modern cameras come with an electronic light meter and offer several intelligent ways to control the exposure, going from fully automatic to fully manual, via camera modes. Let’s take a closer look at the most commonly found.

Auto mode

In this mode, the camera determines the best combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO, based on the current light meter reading and the length of the lens. In some cases, it will automatically pop the flash to fill in the scene if necessary, although in some cameras there are ways to prevent this from happening.

Scene mode

This mode is very similar to auto mode, but offers some control. You can select what type of scene you are photographing, which allows the camera to prioritize some parameters over others. For example, in portrait mode, the camera will prefer lower apertures, while in landscape it will prefer higher ones; in sports mode it will prefer higher shutter speeds. The remaining parameter are calculated to yield a well exposed image.

Program mode (P)

This is a semi-automatic mode. Upon metering, the camera will determine a set of aperture, shutter speed and ISO values for the scene. You are though given the opportunity to override any of them, while the camera will recalculate the other values accordingly.

Aperture priority (A, Av)

This is a semi-automatic mode, where you have control over the aperture. Mindful of the desired depth-of-field, the camera will calculate the complementary values of shutter speed and ISO to match the selected aperture.

Photo by Dmitri Popov on Unsplash

Photo by Dmitri Popov on Unsplash

Shutter priority (S, Tv)

This is a semi-automatic mode, where you have control over the shutter speed. The camera will calculate the complementary values of aperture and ISO to match the selected shutter speed.

Manual mode (M)

This is a fully manual mode, where you have full control over all of the parameters.

Other considerations

In all the semi-manual and fully manual modes, you have additionally control on where the camera takes its metering information from. This allows you to easily control what portion of the image you want to correctly expose. So, for example, this could be a colorful sky during a sunset, or a tree in the shade. Depending on camera model and manufacturer, ISO value could be left in automatic or manual mode. Or even automatic with a set maximum ceiling value. Your camera manual is a trove of information.

Photo by ShareGrid on Unsplash

Photo by ShareGrid on Unsplash


In closure of this mini-series about taking better pictures, it is important to clarify few things. In these articles we have overlooked all creative aspects of the process of taking a picture. Things like composition, lighting, focus, etc… We have instead focused on the technical aspects to achieve a sharp, well exposed image. These are not firm rules. Once you have a good understanding of how aperture, shutter speed and ISO play in an image, you will be able to use that knowledge to capture your vision in your photograph.

If you liked this article, consider sharing it with your friends and use the referral links included when proceeding to a purchase. It helps me a lot, and does not cost you a dime.

Here are few book recommendations.

Bryan Peterson, Understanding Exposure, Fourth Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
Buy it on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2FdkwYi

Rick Sammon, Rick Sammon’s Exploring Photographic Exposure: Master Image Capture 1st Edition
Buy it on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2BBGlAP

Jeff Revell, Exposure: From Snapshots to Great Shots (2nd Edition) 2nd Edition
Buy it on Amazon – http://amzn.to/2FdThN0

By using my links to buy/browse gear, you’re supporting my photography and articles.


  • Featured image by ShareGrid on Unsplash
  • All other images in this post by ShareGrid on Unsplash