What Are Those Symbols on My Camera? — Wilderness North

Celebrating 30 Years of Wilderness North  –          

What Are Those Symbols on My Camera?

Continuing on from last week’s lesson, this week I’m going to explain what those cartoonish symbols on your camera’s mode dial are and how they work. Basically, each symbol is a way to give the camera direction as to what settings it will use to capture an image. Combining your knowledge of the workings of your camera (last week’s lesson) with this guide to the different mode available to you, you’ll soon improve your skills and be able to go full manual.

Sport Mode. This symbol or something similar to it is used to set the camera with a fast shutter speed. Using a fast shutter gives you the ability to shoot faster moving subjects without any motion blur.


Low Light or Night Portrait Mode. This mode will slow your cameras shutter down allowing enough light to hit the sensor for a properly lit background.  At the same time your cameras flash will fire in a short burst illuminating your subject, without any unnatural lighting.


Macro Mode. Macro photography is the term used for close-up photography.  Any subject that is either small or something you want to capture in high detail would be macro photography. Macro mode allows your camera to focus closer and close your aperture to a high f/stop number, so that your focal plane is deep enough to ensure every part of your subject is in focus.


Landscape Mode. Shooting a landscape photo is all about capturing a foreground and background together in focus, Using this mode will allow your camera to close the aperture, resulting in a high f/stop number (f/11) and a deep focal plane. Remember, “the bigger the number, the more of your subject will be in focus”.


Portrait Mode. Have you ever noticed fashion photos have the background nicely out of focus?This mode will give your portraits that professional feel to them. Having your camera set in this mode will give it a lower f/stop number so that just your foreground or subject is within the focal plane. Leaving your background out of focus and un-distracting.


Auto Mode. The green rectangle or green camera with the words “auto” above is the full auto mode. The P stands program mode. Either of these modes will choose both the cameras shutter speed and aperture, taking a semi intelligent guess as to what you’re trying to capture. Although P mode provides you with an option to add some -/+ compensation, I’d advise against these modes. Your camera just isn’t intelligent or even timely enough to process shots in the moment. Leaving your camera to choose settings for you will leave you with even more amateur looking photos. Plus you’ll want to someday be able to shoot in the modes I’ll explain next.

These last three are your ideal modes:

S or Tv is shutter priority. With this mode your aperture is chosen for you based on available light and your choice of shutter speed. If you undoubtedly need a fast shutter, this is your best mode.


A or Av is aperture priority. When you need a particular aperture for example a landscape photo, and can get away with having the camera choose your shutter speed, this is your optimum choice.


Now we’re taking about the big M, Manual mode. If you’re shooting in this mode you are on your way to mastering your camera. Nothing’s done in auto with this mode. Your shutter speed, aperture, and amount of detail captured is all under your control.

Until next time,
Clarence Fisher

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