DSLR: Dial Modes

March 21, 2013
1 min read

This post lends itself more towards photography than DSLR filmmaking, but if you ever want to catch a quick few on-set photographs, you’ll know what mode to set your camera in.

The dial on top of the camera has many settings you can turn it to; each setting directly affects how the camera behaves and how much control you have over the camera settings.

Dial on top of a camera.

What Do The Dial Modes Do?

Full auto mode will likely be represented by the words ‘auto’ or a green box. This mode sets the shutter speed and aperture to achieve correct exposure, and you can’t individually change the shutter speed or aperture. If the camera is set to this mode and the internal settings think the scene is too dark, it may activate the flash.

Program mode/P – Program works in a similar way to full auto, but you can usually after the aperture/shutter speed combination if you need a specific aperture or shutter speed.

Shutter Priority/TV – You set a shutter speed and your DSLR sets the appropriate aperture. If light levels change, the same shutter speed is used and the aperture changed.

Aperture Priority/AV – This works in the same manner as the shutter priority, but this mode allows you to choose a specific aperture, and your DSLR will choose the appropriate shutter speed.

Manual – You manually set both the aperture and shutter speed independently of each other, so neither changes unless you adjust them, even if light levels fall or rise. If you are using your DSLR to make films, you should always have the camera set in this mode.

Subject Modes – These program modes are tailored to suit a specific subject, such as portrait, landscape, snowy scenes; these alter various camera functions like the AF, WB, flash, and exposure systems set accordingly.

Bulb/B – This mode allows you to determine the speed of the shutter. The shutter will stay open until you release the shutter button. This mode is great for capturing long exposures.

Custom/C1 – If your camera is a more advanced model, it may have the function to store your own personal shooting mode.

Additionally, you may find that some cameras have icons representing an object, such as a flower or a person’s face. These modes have been specifically configured to get the best results when shooting those subjects. For example, a dial mode turned to the icon of a flower would likely be better served when taking photographs of the flower. It’s also likely that there would be profile changes such as increased saturation.

While each mode has its purpose, it’s always suggested to build yourself towards using manual mode.

Lewis McGregor

Lewis McGregor is a filmmaker, photographer and online content creator from Wales.