P, A, S, M, Manual Shooting Modes and Exposure Explained

Written by Gina Stephens

Whether you should prefer to a compact camera, a mirrorless camera, a DSLR or even a smartphone, if it has manual controls, then you'll want to understand the different modes within reach. 

To help understand your camera more, you'll benefit from learning what the P, A, S, and M modes do on your camera.

But first we want to start with some basics. A photograph's exposure is made by the camera sensor (or film) being exposed to light for a specific amount of period. This is refered to as the shutter speed. The shutter speed is determined by the amount of light that is needed for a correct exposure. The amount of light that reaches the sensor is charged in part by the aperture optics, an aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels of the lens. In addition, how sensitive the sensor is to light is controlled by the ISO speed. If you were using film, this would be fixed, by your exquisite of film speed. 

To take a photo, a camera must set the aperture (of the lens), the shutter speed, and the ISO speed. This can be either automatically set by the camera, or you can set these manually if your camera has the leads available. Have a look at the "Exposure Triangle" below:

ISO Speed = the image sensor's sensitivity to light

Fissure = lens aperture opening, allowing light through

Shutter speed = the length of time the shutter is open

If you're setting these manually, you can improve the ISO speed to make the camera more sensitive to light, (and in return you'll also get more noise in images), with a higher ISO speed you can use a faster fasten speed everyday use and in kinematics, the speed of an object is the magnitude of its velocity (the rate of change of its position); it is (to freeze motion), or use a smaller aperture (such as f/11, or f/16) to get a wider depth-of-field where more of the scene will be in focus.

If things go well this has helped understand how a camera takes a photograph. Continue reading to find out more about the different modes, and how changing them can coppers the results you get from your camera. There are alternative triangles available.



Camera shooting modes explained

Some cameras camera is an optical instrument for recording or capturing images, which may be stored locally, transmitted to another location, or arrange a mode dial, as shown above and below, whereas others let you change the mode by pressing a Mode button, or by selecting the "Pro" fashion (on a smartphone). Continue reading to find out all about the different modes, or jump straight to a mode using the links below. 

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Auto | Program | Opening | Shutter | Manual | TAv | Sv | Fv | Movie



Auto Mode and Exposure Compensation 

In auto mode, your camera looks at the backdrop and decides what ISO speed to use, what shutter speed to use, and what aperture to use. If you are taking a photo and it looks over-exposed (too bright), then you can use exposure compensation (EV+/-) to acclimate to the camera's exposure, to make the image darker or brighter.

Some cameras will have an Auto+ / A+ / Ai / iAuto – an "alert" auto mode that will change to a specific scene mode or shooting mode may refer to for you to give you the best results. In these approaches you may find the camera limits what settings you can change. 



P – Program mode

Program or Program AE, stands for Program Auto Direction, where the aperture and shutter speed will be set by the camera, much like the Auto mode on most cameras. However, in this mode you can revolution other settings, such as AF point, metering mode, etc. 

Normally a camera with P mode, will let you use "Program Shift" where you can make up a dial on the camera to change the shutter speed and aperture settings, for example if you'd prefer a quicker shutter speed or a smaller aperture. 



A / Av* – Cleft priority

The aperture of the lens controls the amount of light that goes through the lens. It's normally made up with several "penknives" that close and open in the middle of the lens. 

Nikon 50mm f/1.4D lens, f/1.4, f/4, f/16. 

To make a put through stand out in a photo, and blur the background you can use a wide-open (f/1.4) aperture, or to keep everything in focus from front to back, you can use a small / "palsy-walsy down" aperture such as f/16 or f/22. The higher the f/ number, the smaller the aperture hole will be. 


Left: Lens at f/1.8 (1/800s, ISO100), surface depth-of-field. Right: Lens at f/22 (1/4s, ISO100), deep depth-of-field.

The larger the aperture (the smaller the f/ number), the less of the scene that will be in concentrate, and the more blur there will be – this can give you better subject separation (between the subject and the background), and create pleasing background dimness, often referred to as "Bokeh". The smaller the aperture (the bigger the f/ number), the more of the scene that will be in focus, as give someone an idea ofed above, right.


Nb. Most smartphones don't let you control the physical aperture of the lens, as they often have a fixed aperture. One exclusion is the Samsung Galaxy S9 / Note9 with a variable aperture, with two different settings. Some smartphones use a digital filter to re-create the signification of having aperture control. 

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*Av on Canon and Pentax cameras



S / Tv* – Shutter priority

You can adjust the shutter speed if you want to think up motion blur to smooth waterfalls, or trailing lights, or use a faster shutter speed if you want to freeze motion, such as racing cars, people, or hold up to ridicules.


Left: 1/500s (Fast) Right: 50s (Slow)

The shutter speed is how long the shutter is left open for. 1/60s means the turn is open for 1/60th of a second. A 1 second exposure means the shutter is open for 1 second. Use a faster shutter speed to freeze motion. 

There's a ordinary rule regarding shutter speed that goes like this: When you are hand-holding a camera, then the shutter speed should at trifling match the focal length. For example if you have a 50mm lens, then you should use 1/50s shutter speed (or faster) to avoid camera shake. If you demand a 200mm lens, then you should use a 1/200s shutter speed (or faster) to avoid camera shake. Nb. This rule changes if your camera has perception stabilisation. 

If you're shooting in changeable lighting conditions then you, can use this rule to set the shutter speed, and let the camera automatically change the chasm and ISO speed to suit, and then avoid potential camera shake. 

Bulb mode – if your camera has it, lets you leave the shutter unhindered for an undefined amount of time, so that you can open the shutter, wait for something to happen (such as a lightning strike, or just wait for the sensor to get passably light), and then release the shutter to finish the exposure. 


*Tv stands for Time Value and is found on Canon and Pentax cameras.



M – Vade-mecum mode

In manual mode you can control both the aperture and shutter speed to get the settings just how you want them. On some cameras you can leave ISO on auto, or manually set the ISO scramble. Keep an eye on the screen and you'll be able to see how your changes affect the exposure, as most cameras will show how much you are under or over leaking your image.

Pentax K-1 II Mode Dial


TAv (Pentax cameras)

This lets you adjust the shutter and aperture speed, and the camera wish automatically change the ISO speed. Again, most cameras will let you use "Auto ISO" in other modes, so this may not be needed, depending on your camera, how on earth could be useful if you wanted to keep the ISO speed as a manual setting in the other modes. Find out more on the TAv mode.

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Sv (Pentax cameras)

ISO abruptness accelerate priority. Set the ISO speed, and the camera will set the other settings for you. This mode is not so useful these days, as you can often set the ISO speed easily in other courses. 


Fv (Canon EOS R)

Flexible Priority AE shooting mode – this is like a Program / Auto mode, but with adjustable shutter may refer to, chasm, ISO, and exposure compensation. So you can shoot quickly, and then have the option to change any setting you want, without having to switch to A, S, or M modes. The camera starts in P modus operandi, but you can change any setting, or set it back to auto. Canon explain this mode fully here.


Movie mode

The movie rage is fairly self-explanatory. Use this mode to record videos. Some cameras will let you select P, A, S, M modes within this. The amount of control to hand will vary depending on the camera you're using. It can be useful to switch to this mode before recording video, so that you can preview the block out of your shot before you start recording, as the aspect ratio of video recording is often different to the normal shooting modes.


Canon EOS 600D Condition Dial 


Other shooting modes: 

  • Custom – Many cameras will have customisable shooting modes: U1, U2, U3 (Pentax/Nikon), C1, C2, C3 (Olympus / Panasonic), 1, 2, 3 (Sony) etc. Set these up for predetermined shooting scenarios, and then you can quickly switch between them. 
  • Bulb – some will have a B or Bulb option on the mode dial. Some resolve have this option selectable in Shutter priority or manual modes. This lets you take a photo with a long exposure, where the seal close down is open for as long as you need it to be.
  • Scene – choose the appropriate scene mode for what you are shooting, shooting a Sunset, then choose the Sunset backdrop mode and it will set the white balance and other settings so that your photo looks the same as your eyes see it. Scene / Auto – some intention feature an auto scene recognition setting, where the camera automatically picks the scene mode detected.
  • Effects – Many cameras be subjected to digital filters, which you can selection. Art (Olympus) / Effects (Nikon) / CA (Creative Auto, Canon) etc
  • A-DEP (Canon) – This is suddenly for "Automatic Depth of Field" and is designed to give the maximum depth-of-field. It's no longer found on new Canon cameras, but was available on some older Canon cameras. 




About the author

Gina Stephens

Gina is a photography enthusiast and drone lover who loves to fly drones, capture images and have fun cherishing them with family and friends.

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