Embrace your DSLR’s Exposure Mode Selector

The Mode Dial.  Yes, I mean the largest and often overlooked and maligned dial on your DSLR.  This is also called the Exposure Mode Selector.  There is a lot of ‘Manual Snobbery’ out there.  Just speak to a few photographers and photog-wannabes and you you will see.


One of the funny things I come across when speaking to others in photography, is the obvious disdain many have for the preset or optimized exposure settings on the mode dial.  I find it funny when I hear someone with their nasally sounding, “I never use anything except Manual mode on my camera.”  They are trying to tell us that anything other than Manual(M) is beneath them.

Now let’s get real folks!  These are the same folks who dish out a lot of dough for a full-featured camera and for lenses with Vibration Reduction and auto-focus.  Every single one of these photographers uses VR(if they have it) and auto-focus.

While I usually have my Mode Dial set to Aperture or Shutter Priority, that doesn’t mean that’s the only way I use the camera.  I like the ability to adjust the exposure and settings but if I’m in a hurry and just want to take some photos, nothing is stopping me from using a preset mode, or even, manual snobs forbid, Auto.

We have different settings here.  On my trusty old Nikon D90, the most talked about options are:

Auto, Programmed Auto(P), Shutter Priority(S), Aperture Priority(A), Manual(M)

We also have the following to choose from, depending on what we want to accomplish:

No Flash(the lightning bolt crossed out), Portrait(lady with the hat), Landscape(mountain), Macro(flower), Action(running figure), Night(figure with a star in the background)

All of the above may be called or denoted by different names or icons and there may be more or fewer of these on your camera.

One of the things we pay big bucks for in a DSLR is the ability to get great pictures.  That’s what these modes help us with.  I would say that in most instances, the predefined modes do a very good job in setting exposure, thus enabling you to take the shot without a lot of worry.  You don’t have full control of what the camera is doing but you will get a good to great image.

Next time you get out there and start taking photos, try out the different presets and figure for yourself what works well with you.  Don’t feel guilty about using them.  That’s what they’re there for.  That’s what you paid for.  It’s not cheating.  In fact, I think some of these ‘Manual Snobs’ are a bit masochistic in that, sometimes, simple is better.  They just don’t want simple.  There are times to take full control of the camera and then there are times to sit back and enjoy the ride, so to speak, by letting the camera determine what will work.  It can be a great learning experience.

I have used each one of these at least once and can genuinely tell you that there is absolutely nothing wrong with using these predefined exposure modes.  In fact, they can be a great guide for helping to determine your settings should you decide to experiment with Aperture, Shutter or Manual.  Above all, have fun with it.