Scene Modes

Posted by Gary Ramey on November 23rd, 2011

If you have a compact digital camera, you should have various Scene modes that can be used to ensure that you get the best shot. Don’t rely exclusively on Auto mode. Auto mode doesn’t know what you are shooting. Scene modes can be used to ensure that you get the best shot for particular subjects. Even DSLR cameras have some of these modes. You will find that Scene modes usually control aperture and speed in order to obtain the best photograph in specific situations. The following is a list of some common Scene modes and reasons for using them:


Usually, it is best to have the sharpest focus on your subject’s eyes and for the background to be out of focus. If the background is in clear focus, it will be distracting. Portrait mode mainly controls aperture in order to produce a limited depth of field. You will also want to zoom in on your subject because that will decrease the depth of field and throw the background even more out of focus. The icon for Portrait mode is usually a side view of a person’s head.


When shooting a scenic view, you will often want everything in focus including the foreground, middleground, and background. Landscape mode also controls aperture but, unlike Portrait mode, it increases depth of field. To get the most out of Landscape mode, zoom out, i.e. have your lens at its widest zoom setting. More of your subject will be in focus when you use a wide angle. The icon for Landscape mode is usually a mountain range with the sun.


To freeze the action of someone in motion, you need to use a brief shutter speed. Sports mode controls shutter speed so that the shutter speed is as brief as possible. The icon for Sports mode is usually a running man.


To take a photo of a night scene without using your flash and capturing the available light requires a long shutter speed. Night mode will change your shutter speed so that the shutter is open longer. It will also change your ISO so that the cameras sensor is more sensitive to light. You must use a tripod with this mode! In the very least, put your camera on a stable surface and use the timer to reduce camera movement. The icon for Night mode is usually a cityscape with a moon or star.

Night Portrait

Have you ever taken a photo of someone standing in front of a wonderful nightime cityscape? What usually happens is that your flash fires so the person is illuminated but the cityscape in the background is complete black. The exposure wasn’t long enough to capyure the city lights. Night Portrait uses a long shutter speed and also fires the flash. This means that the foreground will be illuminated by the flash and the cityscape will be captured by the longer exposure. As with Night mode, use a tripod. You will also need to tell your subject to stay still or you will see a ghost effect. The icon for Night Portrait mode is usually a person with a moon or star in the background.

By knowing what these modes control, you can use them for other purposes. Let’s say that you are taking a photograph outside but want the foreground in focus and the background out of focus — use Portrait mode. Just because it is called Portrait mode, doesn’t mean that you have to use it exclusively for taking photographs of people. What if you want to blur the action of an athlete? Try Night or Night Portrait. Experiment with Scene modes and you’ll be glad you did.


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