Understanding Your Camera

When you first get a DSLR camera, it is easy to stay on the automatic mode and take pictures without worrying about changing settings. While staying on the automatic mode is not necessarily bad, it can limit your camera capability and growth as a photographer. Figuring out what each mode does and how to use them appropriately is the first big step to exploring outside of the automatic mode. In this post, we will explore the different modes and the basic overview of what they do. Most camera modes can be broken down into two basic categories: the “creative zone” and the “basic zone”. In this post, we will cover the “basic zone” modes and the specifics of each one. Although I will be using my Canon DSLR modes for the purpose of this post, the basic camera modes can be found on other DSLR cameras as well.

Basic Zone

If you are not comfortable jumping into Manual mode as a beginner, then the basic zone modes are for you. When I first got my camera, I spent a lot of time taking pictures around Virginia to practice these basic modes before I ventured into the creative modes. These modes will not produce images with the advanced results of Manual mode, but it is still a way to add variety to your images. These modes are typically marked on the dial with images that describe the mode’s use. For instance, landscape mode has an mountain graphic and portrait mode has an image of a face. Most of these modes are pretty simple, however, let’s walk through a few of the basics.


Portrait mode typically has a fast shutter speed and an aperture around f/4 – f/5.6. This creates a blurred background and ensures that your subject is the only thing in focus which draws the attention of your viewers. This setting is ideal for portraits and is best used when zooming in close to your subject.


In contrast to the portrait mode, landscape mode keeps all of the image sharp and in focus by using a small aperture around f/16 – f/22. Instead of a short depth of field, your image will have a wide depth of field. If you are shooting a landscape or a scene with multiple points of interest at various depths of field, use this mode to keep your image sharp. Sometimes the shutter speed is slow, so make sure your camera is stable or on a tripod to avoid motion blur.


This mode is very similar to portrait mode because it has a fast shutter speed and wide aperture. The fast shutter speed effectively controls the camera shake that occurs at close distances. Use this mode when shooting any macro photography on the basic zone modes. If there is still some camera shake, be sure to use a tripod so your images stay sharp.


When taking pictures of sports or fast moving objects, switch to this sports mode (otherwise known as action mode). By increasing the shutter speed up to 1/500 seconds or faster, you can freeze motion and keep a clear sharp image, making it possible to capture sports, animals, cars, or any other moving subjects.

Night Portrait

Night scene mode allows you to take pictures at night with the flash built into your camera. The shutter speed on this mode is set at the correct range to expose the background of a night scene accurately while also exposing your closer subject. However, this means that the shutter speed is slower, so it is important to use a tripod.

Hopefully this post has been helpful in discussing the basic zone modes of your DSLR camera. While these modes can be a great start at capturing different types of photography, they do not always have the correct settings for certain images. If you want more control, the creative zone modes will allow you to make adjustments to fine-tune your images. If you are curious about the creative zone modes, then check out the upcoming post next week for more on the advanced modes. Remember that reading about these modes will only be helpful if you actually practice with the different modes on your own camera. Practice with each mode and notice how each one can change the appearance of your images.