Unlock the Real Potential of the SLR (Manual Modes)

I’ll be posting more detailed articles about these modes later, for the time being, you can check out your camera manual to get a good idea of how to use them…


Cameras these days advertise as “will do it all for you! An idiot could take pictures with this camera!” Wrong. You are the photographer. You decide on creative choices like shutter speed, aperture, ISO and angle. Also, a camera is an idiot in a lot of situations.

Because the camera is an idiot, I avoid program modes at all times. On a Canon camera, the running man, person, mountains… They are very functional in their specific conditions, but I am experienced enough (most of the time) to be fast without them. I just recently made a lot of use of the P mode, considered one of the creative modes on a Canon brand, but still too automated for my liking.

Tasked with photographing a fundraiser for a young-and-expecting women’s shelter, I was confounded by a tiny bar’s mixed-light. From the front, a huge bay door converted to windows provided a pool of natural light that faded away towards the back, where the left was a yellow-looking light and the right appeared to be tungsten lit.

First I shot with flash, eliminating ambient light with a fast shutter and closed aperture. I assume people will be annoyed with flash, so I avoid using it as much as possible. Especially in enclosed spaces. I then switched to natural light only, switching between a slow 18mm – 55mm EFS and a fast 50mm EF.

Near the window things went OK, but creatively was limiting. Anywhere else and people looked all sorts of odd colours. Trying to figure out the best settings left me chimping constantly, and I’m sure I missed a lot of moments. I decided on the P mode as my best option, and switched only my white balance for the latter half of the evening. I even gave up so much as to use auto-ISO, which isn’t as terrible as I always thought it would be. 


The “Creative Modes” are common in function in most DSLRs. They may have slightly different names, but they essentially perform the same. Some have extra modes, but the main ones are (as appearing on a Canon camera):

P – sets aperture and shutter speed automatically. Allows user to set ISO. Seems to do its best to set up for hand-held photography, but not always (Not a very creative mode, actually)

Av – Aperture Priority: user sets aperture, camera decides on shutter speed. User sets ISO.

Tv – Shutter Priority: user sets shutter speed, camera decides on aperture. User sets ISO.

M – Manual: User sets everything. A.K.A Master Class, Man(ly) Mode. User sets ISO.


A-Dep – as far as I know sets aperture to make sure as many things are in focus as possible, then sets shutter speed. Does not prioritize for hand held. User sets ISO.

These modes are so-called creative because they allow you to make real decisions about how a photo looks, like the depth of field or motion blur. At first, they are confusing. With experience, a photographer is able to snap the camera as close to the preferred look as possible, only to make minor adjustments. It takes experimentation, a lot of it, but these modes do become second nature.

My advice: using these modes at first might be a little slow, and you will mess up a few shots. That being said: are you a photographer? Then get into them! You will be thanking yourself less than a year later. Promises.

One Comment Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.