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Bryon Anderson

DSLR shooting modes

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I shoot in Manual Mode +95% of the time. Factually, it can be considered the most creative mode as it positions the full creative emphasis on the photographer, while also passing full EV control to the photographer. Of equal importance is the fact that our meters are also set via the mode setting, via EV (perceived exposure value). Below is a small part of an educational tool that I wrote a while back, cut and pasted, hope that it helps and better explains the complexity of the mode settings. I think you will find that these DSLR cameras have an abundance of "missed or overlooked' amazing built in tools.


(The three points of an Exposure Triangle: Shutter Speed; Focal Ratio/Fstop aka Aperture; ISO)



Our built in meters are 18% reflective meters or close to the 18% target value. As with all reflective meters, they are not 100% accurate but they are close enough and do work great! Reflective meters only measure reflected light and, as we all know, our environments dictate that there are a lot of variables that influence reflected light frequencies. The first thing that we need to know is: The focal point and/or points also measure exposure values via the built in reflective meter and focusing system. Every time you half engage the shutter release button, for a focus, you simultaneously take a meter reading and this meter reading tells you if you are over exposed or under exposed. Each of the following three settings are simultaneous focusing and metering functions.

Matrix: This takes a sample of the whole composition and does its best to give us an accurate average for 18% as the mid point for achieving a focus and relative value of EV (Exposure Value) in the Greyscale. Some recommend using this mode most often and it is fairly accurate. Like any mode and/or setting, there is an applicational environment in which it may work but it is not a practical application for all uses.

Center-Weighted: This mode takes a sample from the area around the current focal point's, around the center most point. Again, it measures for an EV that is relative to the sampled area. This meter mode works best for objects or subjects that fit into the active matrix and disregards that rest of the composition, relative to the remaining composition currently in frame.

Spot Metering: This mode samples a tiny area in the composition, the point where you place your focus point. This is the most accurate measure of a singular defined area and is the one setting that is most commonly miss used. It is heavily weighted towards placing all of the control back into the hands of the user and gives control for evaluating an EV to be set by the user. It requires more hands on attention, from the photographer, requiring more skill and knowledge. In many ways, it is a kin to a feature for advanced application but very well worth knowing and using.

Just as important, if not more so, are the four primary camera modes: Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program Mode's. As well, is the importance of understanding the effect's that they have on both the exposure triangle and your exposure reading (reflective meter). Many may not know this but with these settings, only one is developed with an extremely important asset; dedicated recalibration and/or adjustment tool for our built in 18% reflective meter. In Manual Mode ONLY, the Exposure Compensation dial functions 100% as a calibration tool for adjusting your onboard reflective meter. Unlike the other modes, it will not affect or adjust any of your currently set exposure values. Here is the list of our built in Mode settings and how the Exposure Compensation dial affects them.


P: Stands for Program mode which is an automated mode that will set your exposure triangle to a comparable built in and programed algorithm. The Exposure Compensation function will alter any one of the three points of the exposure triangle, in some cases it may adjust 2 or all of the points simultaneously.

A: Aperture Priority will lock in the aperture that you dialed in. The Exposure Compensation will alter the SS or ISO singularly or simultaneously.

S: Shutter Priority will lock in the shutter speed that you dialed in. The Exposure Compensation will alter the Aperture or ISO singularly or simultaneously.

M: Manual Mode places complete control of the Exposure Triangle in the hands of the user. Additionally and most important: In Manual Mode, the Exposure Compensation is now a 100% adjustment for recalibration or adjustment to the reflective meter only. It will not effect any of the currently dial in exposure settings, only you can or will have to change any of the three points in the exposure triangle. Yes, this is the area where you can actually calibrate your built in reflective meter! Once you have adjusted this setting, via the Exposure Compensation Dial, it will only effect the reflective meter, again in Manual Mode only. If your reflective meter is off by 1/3 of a stop, from 18% grey, you can adjust the Exposure Compensation dial up or down by the 1/3, effectively correcting the meter calibration for a more accurate 18% reading. Once you switch back into any of the other mode's, the reflective meter sets back to its default setting and will be back off by what ever measure you have verified. You can also use this to set you camera so that each time you dial in a centered exposure, the true exposure is up or down by the value that you set your meter to read at. As an example, in Manual Mode, you decide that you want all of your pictures under exposed by one stop. Press the Exposure Compensation button and decrease the meter by one full stop. Once you release the button, your meter has been adjusted to read one full stop below 18% and even though you may be centering your exposure reading, it will remain underexposed by the one stop.

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I shoot in Aperture priority or shutter priority, depending on what I'm shooting. You seem to have that pretty well down. For software, I started out using Google's Picasa (FREE), then went to Photoshop Elements 11. Picasa is a great program, and will do most anything you need to do to your images. I still use it quite a bit for .jpg images. I use Elements mainly for processing RAW files and HDR.

I would second the motion on the polarizing filter. You'll find using a polarizing filter will also give you somewhat deeper colors for landscapes, and makes them pop a little more. Also, you can deepen the blue in skies, or darken them in black and white, with a polarizing filter.

I messed with 35mm film photography years ago. The basics (exposure, composition, etc.) haven't changed, but the equipment sure has! No more waiting for your results. You can experiment to your heart's content and see the results right away. Magic! Using a t2i now, and loving it.

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