Wedding Photography

What Mode Do Most Professional Photographers Shoot In?

Do you find yourself flitting between different camera modes without much understanding as to which is the best? It’s pretty standard amongst photographers, and the only honest advice around seems to be ‘don’t use automatic’ or ‘use manual’. Well, I think that is pretty useless advice. After all, throwing someone in at the deep end of the manual isn’t the most productive thing to do. Check out our extensive list of Wedding Photographers in Melbourne to help capture your special moments.

When you buy a digital camera, it will come with a selection of camera modes. These are pre-programmed settings that allow you to choose the optimum shutter speed and aperture value for the photograph you want to take. They are helpful when you start and for the experienced photographer who needs to capture a shot fast. Familiarize yourself with these settings and get comfortable with them. 

Learn Shooting Modes in Photography

Let’s begin with what shooting modes are. They are merely the modes of your camera that determine which components of exposure you as the photographer will be in charge of and which the camera will handle.

Older cameras don’t offer shooting modes because older cameras don’t control anything. They are entirely manual. Technology has changed and grown so much over the years; now, cameras can select all settings by themselves. The camera shooting modes allow the photographer to choose how to handle this.

Let me start by saying, if you are unfamiliar with the components of exposure, check out my article on learning photography. It will give you a good foundation for photography and direction. The three components of photography are aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

As a photographer, it is your job to understand and control these three settings, which you do in manual mode. However, there will be times when you want to only worry about one or two locations. For those cases, you can choose to let the camera handle some of them.

What Are the Camera Shooting Modes in Photography?

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There are many shooting modes in photography, but we will focus on the most important. Those are:

  • Manual Mode 
  • Aperture Priority Mode
  • Shutter Priority Mode
  • Program Mode

All other shooting modes in photography are considered automatic modes, where the camera selects all the camera settings.

Program mode is meant to be a hybrid-type mode where you can adjust things like ISO, metering modes, etc. Program mode gives complete control of the components of exposure to the camera, and therefore, I consider it an automatic mode and tell you to avoid shooting in program mode.

None of these automatic modes is the best to use, simply because you cannot control any settings on the camera. The camera itself is making all the decisions. So avoid those, especially as you are learning about the shooting modes of your camera.

Shooting Modes in Photography: Manual Mode

So many photographers consider manual mode the holy grail of photography. Some feel that if you can’t shoot in manual mode, then you aren’t a photographer.


A manual mode is a tool, just like all the other modes and equipment you use in photography, so don’t let people bully you into shooting in manual mode. Just like I said above, I shoot primarily in aperture priority mode, and I have been a professional photographer for over 15 years!

When shooting in manual mode, you are in charge of setting all the exposure components; f-stop (aperture), shutter speed, and ISO. Be aware that most digital cameras have auto ISO, so if you want to shoot in a proper manual, make sure auto ISO is turned off.

Benefits of Shooting in Manual Mode

  • Your understanding of exposure increases as you make exposure choices with each image.
  • Your camera, it’s settings, and exposure becomes second nature to you.
  • You are in complete control, with no camera input on exposure choices.
  • Your understanding of exposure increases as you make exposure choices with each image.

The First Benefit of Shooting in Manual Mode Is the Fact That You Master Exposure More Quickly. 

When you make a mistake, you see it instantaneously (with digital cameras) and are forced to fix it by knowing what to adjust or trial and error. By doing this, you learn quickly what each set of exposure controls. Shooting this way is an excellent idea if you are out practising, but you do not want to be shooting by trial and error if you are shooting for a client.

Your Camera, It’s Settings, and Exposure Becomes Second Nature to You.

Similar to the reasoning above, as you gain experience with shooting in manual mode, the exposure settings become second nature to you. Therefore, when you find yourself shooting in a different camera shooting mode in photography, you will fix the problem.

You Are in Complete Control, With No Camera Input on Exposure Choices.

In all of the other modes, the camera is making decisions about your exposure as well. And let’s be honest, it guesses based on algorithms the camera manufacturer created, which means it can be wrong. It can be wrong often. By shooting in a manual, you are in complete control of the settings and not trusting an engineer that works for the camera company.

Negatives of Shooting in Manual Mode

  • Often when shooting in manual mode, your attention is too much on the camera and too little on the client.
  • You get in the habit of ‘chimping’ too much. ‘Chimping’ is the act of looking at your screen after every shot.
  • You’re not able to work as fast because you must constantly be adjusting exposure settings.

Often When Shooting in Manual Mode, Your Attention Is Too Much on the Camera and Too Little on the Client.

In my experience, the best images are taken when there is synergy between client and photographer. Sometimes, shooting in manual mode can interfere with this connection. As a photographer, it is up to you to help your customer feel comfortable and natural in front of the camera, and that can’t happen if you are constantly worrying about your settings. Getting out of manual mode can free you to connect better with your client and maybe even deliver better images.

You Get in the Habit of ‘chimping’ Too Much. ‘chimping’ Is the Act of Looking at Your Screen After Every Shot.

Stop looking at your screen after every image! Shooting this way truly breaks that all-important connection between client and photographer. When shooting in manual mode, you almost need to look at the camera screen after each shot.

To remedy this, use a light meter to determine camera settings before taking the image. This is how it was done back in the days of film.

You’re Not Able to Work as Fast Because You Must Constantly Be Adjusting Exposure Settings.

Because you are monkeying around with all of your exposure settings after every shot, you cannot work as quickly. It obviously will slow you down. As you become more adept at shooting in manual, it will slow you less and less, but you will still work slower. 

When to Shoot in Manual Mode?

Manual mode is fantastic for specific shooting situations, so don’t think that you shouldn’t learn to shoot in manual mode. You should! Maybe, just use it when it is necessary.

  • Choose Manual mode when shooting with strobes and lights that you control. If you are shooting with strobes or off-camera flashes set to manual, then plugging in manual mode is your friend. Understanding the concept that your shutter speed controls the brightness of the ambient light while your aperture (f-stop) controls your strobes’ brightness will help you know how crucial shooting in manual mode is when you are shooting with strobes.
  • Choose manual mode when shooting in a location where the lighting is even and consistent. If you find yourself shooting in an area where the light is even and continuous, selecting manual mode as your shooting mode could be the right choice. For example, when I am shooting an evenly lit wedding reception, I will switch to manual mode to force the exposure settings to stay precisely where I want them to stay.
  • Choose the manual method in tricky lighting situations. If you find yourself in a challenging lighting situation where the light meter built-in to the camera is getting fooled, then shooting in manual mode is the way to go. One problem I find where this is the case is when shooting for sun flare in my images. If I am trying to get sun flare, the light meter on my camera always gets the exposure wrong, and therefore shooting in manual mode would be the best choice.

Shooting Modes in Photography: Aperture/shutter Priority Modes

I have listed these together merely because the pros and cons are the same. I will detail why you want to shoot in each mode Nikon and canon shooting mode dial separately later in the article.

When shooting in aperture priority mode, you select the f-stop, and the camera will choose the shutter speed. If you are not in auto ISO, you will also need to set the ISO.

You can select aperture priority mode by selecting the A or Av on the shooting mode dial. Shooting aperture priority mode is for photographers who are primarily concerned with the depth of field in their images, like portrait or nature photographers.

When shooting in shutter priority mode, you select the shutter speed, and the camera will choose the f-stop. If you are not in auto ISO, then you will also need to set the ISO. You can select shutter priority mode by choosing the S or Tv on the shooting mode dial. Tv stands for time value, as shutter speed deals with time.

Shooting in shutter priority mode is for photographers primarily concerned with motion or movement in their images, like sports and action photographers.

Benefits of Shooting in Aperture/shutter Priority Modes

  • Allows you to pay less attention to the camera settings and more attention to creativity and the client.
  • You’re able to work quickly without having to look at your camera after each shot to check exposure.
  • “Chimp” less often when shooting in aperture or shutter priority modes.

 Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes Allow You to Pay Less Attention to Your Camera Settings and More Attention to Your Clients. 

Because you are dealing with fewer settings, you are more able to focus on your clients. Set your f-stop while in aperture priority mode or your shutter speed while in shutter priority mode, and let your camera handle the rest. Remember to shoot in auto ISO as well; this will allow you to not worry about ISO.

You’re Able to Work Quickly Without Having to Look at Your Camera After Each Shot to Check Exposure.

Because you are only worrying about one component of exposure, you can work much more quickly. Adjust that single setting, whether f-stop or shutter speed and get back to shooting. When shooting in aperture priority mode, change your f-stop and don’t worry about your shutter speed unless it is getting too slow.

“chimp” Less Often Because You Are Adjusting Only One Setting.

Chimping is a bad habit many photographers have. When shooting in aperture or shutter priority mode, you will need to see the image less often because you are only adjusting one setting. By shooting this way, you will have more confidence in your settings and focus more on the client.

Negatives of Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode

  • Your camera determines some of the settings for your exposure.
  • You may not learn orientation as quickly because you’re not doing it all yourself.
  • You MUST learn to use exposure compensation.

Your Camera Determines Some of the Settings for Your Exposure.

As a photographer, you must be in control of your exposure settings. Allowing the camera to pick any of the exposure settings may be too much for you! While in aperture or shutter priority mode, your camera will choose some of your settings.

You May Not Learn Exposure as Quickly Because You Are Not Setting Them Yourself.

Learning to master exposure is imperative in photography, and when your camera is choosing some of the settings, you may not know as quickly. Shooting in manual until you have your settings down is the best way to handle this.

You Must Learn to Use Exposure Compensation. Exposure Compensation

When shooting in aperture or shutter priority mode, your exposures may be incorrect because the camera chooses some of the

settings. The only way to fix this is with exposure compensation. Follow the previous link to learn more about exposure compensation.

When to Shoot in Aperture Priority Mode?

I would recommend shooting in aperture priority mode when you are taking photographs of people. As a portrait photographer, your primary concern is the depth of field. A group of 20 people will require a different depth of field than a couple, and therefore an adjustment to the f-stop is needed.

Plus, getting that beautiful separation between your subject and the background requires a combination of distance and depth of field, which happens by setting your f-stop.

When to Shoot in Shutter Priority Mode?

I would recommend shooting in shutter priority mode when you are shooting things that deal with motion. This could be a waterfall where you want to blur the water to give it that glassy look or sports to freeze the action.

Whenever you deal with motion, shutter priority mode is your go-to camera shooting mode in photography.

Do Professionals Use Aperture Priority?

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The quick answer to this question is yes; they do. It is the reasoning behind using aperture priority that prompts them to use this mode at all for most professional photographers.

Portrait and wedding photographers, in particular, choose to use aperture priority mode for ease to control the depth of field.

Most professionals are quick to size up the lighting at each venue where they are commissioned to shoot. They set the ISO to a level where the shutter speed will be fast enough for sharp images, no matter the aperture they choose. This, in turn, leaves them the simple choice of changing the lens aperture quickly on the fly to suit the type of shot they wish to achieve. Looking for the best Wedding Photographer in Melbourne? Check out our ultimate list here.

Semi-Auto Modes

These modes are often tarred with the same brush as fully automatic mode, just because ‘auto’ is in the name. It’s a myth I always do my best to bust, as semi-auto modes are, in fact, some of the best methods available to you as a photographer. They allow you to hand over some responsibility for maintaining exposure to the camera’s technology, freeing you up to concentrate on composition and the other critical, creative elements of an image.

You’ll find that most professional nature photographers out there will be using semi-auto modes in a lot of their work. Just because you aren’t in a completely manual way, it doesn’t mean you cannot shoot in full manual. It just removes the wasted time spinning the wheels to adjust the exposure for changing light conditions. With natural scenes, whether it be wildlife or landscape, the light can change quickly. If you have to adjust the exposure for every tiny alteration in ambient light, then you’re going to be missing opportune moments.

A perfect example of when this will come into play is shooting a subject on a white background. You’ll probably find that the camera meters for the snow and ends up underexposing your issue. Choosing a positive exposure compensation will brighten the overall image, bringing your subject into proper exposure.

Aperture Priority Mode

I’m a big fan of aperture priority, and it is my go-to choice of camera mode as a wildlife photographer. It’s probably referred to as A or Av on your camera, depending on the brand you use. With aperture priority mode, you can control the aperture of the lens. So, if you set an aperture of f/5.6, then this will be held until you change it. The camera will then adjust the shutter speed to balance the exposure of your shot. This is done using the camera’s light meter – you can read more about those settings here.

Using aperture priority mode is excellent for dealing with changing lighting conditions, particularly with wildlife.

Unless you have set your ISO to auto, you will also have control over this value. The higher the ISO value, the more sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. Increasing the ISO will allow the camera to achieve a faster shutter speed when balancing the exposure. If that doesn’t make sense, then I highly recommend you read about the exposure triangle.

Why would you choose aperture priority mode? Well, it allows you to maintain control of your aperture. Lots of wildlife photographers want that lovely soft bokeh to their photos, but you can’t achieve this if your camera is selecting a small gap (high f-stop value) automatically. More importantly, you will always get a photo appropriately exposed because there is no absolute limit to how fast or slow the shutter can fire. If the balancing shutter speed is getting a little slow, possibly introducing a camera shake, then you just need to increase your ISO to give it some more room to play.

Shutter Priority Mode

Known as S or Tv, shutter priority mode is one that I never touch. Working similarly to aperture priority mode, this camera mode will freeze the shutter speed of your choice. It’ll then balance out the exposure using the aperture value.

The problem here is that your aperture can only go so wide. It’s very tempting to set a fast shutter speed to eliminate any kind of a blur, but if the camera can’t get enough light through the lens’ aperture, you’re going to be underexposed. Sure, you can increase the ISO, but you’ll find the frames you’ve taken before you realize this is underexposed. Plus, the ISO can only go so far before introducing bags of digital noise.

Even the fastest lenses at f/1.8 will eventually come up against this problem. So my recommendation is not to touch shutter priority mode.

Manual With Auto Iso

This is another highly favoured mode amongst photographers. It allows you to set the aperture and the shutter speed as you wish, giving you the best of the other two semi-automatic camera modes. The camera then uses the ISO to balance the exposure.

To do this, switch your camera into manual mode – it’s most likely M on the mode wheel. Then, adjust your ISO to auto. You can do this by going through your camera’s menu, where you would usually alter the ISO speed and selecting it from there. Some cameras will let you hold down an ISO button and spin one of the wheels to get there faster.

What’s the downside? With the ISO in automatic mode, it can get too high and introduce too much noise. You can limit the ISO in how high it can be set, but you will run up against problems with underexposed photos eventually. But perhaps it’s just time to stop shooting then anyway!

Many wildlife photographers choose this setup because of the ability to remove motion blur and maintain a soft bokeh. It’s something I’ve toyed with before, and I can see the merits of it. It’s just a force of habit that I prefer aperture priority over this. But my only reservation is that lack of control over the ISO, so if that bugs you too, then opt for aperture priority.

Full Manual

You’re more likely to find yourself in this mode as a landscape photographer. It allows you complete control over everything: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. You won’t be able to use exposure compensation in this mode, as nothing is available for the camera to control.

By all means, learn how to use the entire manual, but (at least as a wildlife photographer) there are few situations when this is truly necessary. It’s a lot of adjustments for changing light that is usually unnecessary. You may miss shots or do it at the cost of your composition. Something to think about!

This can be good if you have no idea of what settings to choose and also when you need to shoot quickly. The shot here is correctly exposed as the day is well lit, though auto-exposure may struggle in situations where the light is uneven, and it tends to trigger the flash even when it’s not necessary.

Other Camera Modes

Portrait Mode

Portrait mode will “think” that there is a subject in the foreground of the frame and choose a shallow depth of field to keep the human subject-focused, but the background blurred.

If the camera reads the scene as dark, it will add a fill-in flash. Fill-in flash is useful in sunny conditions too, when the sun casts a harsh shadow. Portrait mode generally works best in well-lit conditions.

Macro Mode

Macro mode is handy for taking photographs of subjects smaller than your hand.

Remember that macro mode will not give you super close up images; you will need a macro lens for this. Macro mode will work best in bright conditions and choose a shallow depth of field to focus on the subject. Therefore, if the light is low, use a tripod. Your focusing also has to be more precise when taking a macro image. When you use a shallow depth of field, you give yourself a smaller margin for error.

Landscape Mode

Landscape mode usually uses a small aperture (high f/number) to create a well-focused image from the foreground into the distance. Landscape mode tends to suit a wide lens and works well if the scene is well lit. It will use flash if it reads the foreground as too dark, but you can manually turn this off.

Sports Mode

Because sports are fast-paced activities, sports mode will give you a high shutter speed of at least 1/500 – 1/1000 of a second.

A high shutter speed to freeze movement means that the flash is usually not necessary – though once again, this works best on a bright day. Sports mode can work well alongside continuous shooting mode, where images are taken consecutively, resulting in many shots that capture the action.

Night Portrait Mode

In the night portrait mode, the camera will try to balance the background’s darkness with the need to light the subject in the foreground.

The aperture will have to be pretty wide to allow enough light in to capture the background and keep the subject in focus, but at the same time, flash is necessary to illuminate the person and avoid blur. Sometimes the night portrait mode will double flash, creating an unusual double exposure look.

Advanced Camera Modes

On most DSLR cameras, there will also be the letter modes – M (Manual), AV (Aperture-Priority), TV or S (Shutter-Priority) and P (Programmed Auto).

Manual mode required the photographer to set every single setting:

  • Aperture-Priority allows the photographer to set the aperture value, and the camera automatically sets the correct shutter speed
  • TV lets the photographer choose the shutter speed first (for example, when shooting sports), and the camera automatically sets the correct aperture
  • P-Program mode is similar to the Auto mode in that the camera determines the shutter and aperture settings, but the photographer can adjust other settings manually


Camera shooting modes in photography are essential as they determine which components of exposure we are photographers are in charge of and which the camera takes care of.

As you go out and shoot, give them all a try, don’t be afraid of them! The more you get used to them, the more you will learn which settings work best for you on a given shoot. Like I said before, I love aperture priority mode and use it all the time. You, however, may prefer something entirely different. Here at Boutique Events Group, we have compiled an exclusive list of Melbourne Wedding Photographers to help capture your special day

Some people consider it amateurish to use predetermined settings when, in fact, there may be times when we are in a rush and cannot adjust everything manually.

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