Which Creative Mode To Shoot In

Figuring out which mode to shoot in can be confusing. Even if you have an understanding of what each mode is for, figuring out which one to use and when can still be difficult to decide on. Different photographers have different preferences, but you will usually find that they like one mode and stick with it for most of their photography.

I tend to use TV most of the time because I like to be able to set the shutter speed and have the camera decide on aperture. But I also really like using Manual mode when I shoot landscapes.

Today I have a run down of what each mode is for and when it's best to use them.

P - the camera decides for you

Program mode automatically chooses the shutter speed and aperture for you, but unlike auto mode you still have some control over things like flash and ISO. Program mode is a great place to start instead of just using the Auto mode. You can gain some understanding of exposure with this mode by pointing your camera at differently lit subjects and seeing how this mode will automatically adjust the aperture and shutter speed for you.

When to use this mode: 

Use P if you're just starting out and want to move away from auto mode. If you're comfortable using AV or TV you don't need to use this mode at all, but it can be handy when you need to capture a moment very quickly before it changes and you don't feel confident with the other modes.

AV - semi-automatic mode where you choose aperture and the camera decides on everything else

Aperture Priority mode controls the depth of field (DOF) in your photographs. This mode allows you to create a shallow depth of field with a wide aperture opening (low f/stop numbers) or to keep everything in focus with a narrow aperture opening (large f/stop number).

When to use this mode:

If, like in the photo below, you want to keep attention on one part of the image and have the background blurred you would use AV mode. A wide open aperture will create a soft blurred background to keep the focus where you want it. Some photographers prefer to use AV for landscape photography to ensure that the entire image is focused. IMG_0576

TV - semi-automatic mode where you choose the shutter speed and the camera decides on everything else

Shutter Priority mode allows you to control the amount of time that the shutter is open but lets the camera decide on the aperture. TV mode is great for capturing movement. Depending on what you are shooting and how much light is available, this mode will let the camera decide on a shallow or deep depth of field. You can adjust ISO, which will affect the aperture, to increase depth of field in this mode. I prefer TV because I find it easy when I am out and about to just quickly change the shutter speed to snap a shot without having to worry about what aperture to set.

When to use this mode:

Use TV mode to freeze or blur motion. In the image below I set the shutter speed to 1/1000 to capture the movement of the fast running dogs, but my camera automatically chose aperture f/4 to allow the most amount of light to hit the sensor without increasing ISO, so the dogs in front are in focus but the background is slightly blurred. TV can also be used for blurring motion by increasing the amount of time that the shutter is open. This works well when you want to capture the motion of running water from a waterfall, or moving lights in a night shot.


Remember when you are shooting in TV, the faster you set your shutter speed the wider the aperture will be. In other words, when you freeze motion you will automatically have a shallow depth of field unless you increase ISO.

M - Manual mode allows you to control everything

In Manual mode you control all three elements of exposure; aperture, shutter speed and ISO. In this mode you can decide on depth of field with a narrow or wide aperture, freeze motion or blur it, and take long exposure shots with the settings exactly how you want.IMG_7890

When to use this mode:

Use manual mode for landscape photography, portraits or situations where the light doesn't change much and for long exposure shots. I always use manual mode for landscape photography, or just whenever I use my tripod. If I am taking landscape shots I can set the aperture to f/16 or higher to ensure everything is in focus and then use the light meter to adjust exposure.

You can find the light meter on your camera by looking through the viewfinder. It looks like this on Canon cameras (-2...1...0...1...2+). As you adjust the exposure a small flashing line will appear which you can adjust to 0 (correct exposure) +1 (overexposed), and -1 (underexposed). A lot of the time I will overexpose by +1 to make sure I don't lose detail in shadow.

The only way to find out which mode you prefer is to practice

Take your camera out and try some of these activities to see how you like each mode.

  • AV Mode - set you camera to the widest aperture (smallest f/stop) and take some shots up close. Try a portrait or a picture of a flower. Notice how the background changes as you change the aperture.
  • TV Mode - Practice using TV mode by photographing moving objects (like running water or a moving vehicle) and see how you can freeze motion or blur it as you decrease or increase the amount of the time the shutter is open.
  • M Mode - Set up you camera on a tripod and practice altering all three elements to capture the correct exposure. Try a landscape shot with wide and narrow aperture, fast and slow shutter speed and increased or decreased ISO and see what works best. Remember use the light meter for exposure readings.

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