Digital Camera Know How: Introduction to Scene Modes

One of the great things about digital cameras is all the creative controls they include. Unfortunately one of the downsides is learning all of those controls.  For new photographers the multiple options seem confusing and hard to get a handle on. A good and easy place to begin is to learn about camera scene modes.

Scene modes are pre-set exposure settings that are useful for getting creative with your digital camera. Scene Modes automatically generate camera settings which are ideal for specific photo situations.  They are great tool for novice and advanced photographers. Invest the time to get familiar with them.

Advice for photographers, regardless of type of digital camera.  Scene modes can be found on Dslr’s, point and shoot, tablet and smartphone digital cameras. Example photo of point and shoot camera by photographer Dan Splaine used to illustrate his photo how-to articles, photo workshops and photo education program.  ©2013 Daniel J. Splaine – All Right ReservedEvery type  of digital camera ( point and shoots, digital SLR, and smartphones) have many scene modes built into their menus. Take a look at your camera manual to find the variety your camera has available. Most cameras have ten or more scene mode to work with.  Each pre-set of the exposure setting combinations are designed to produce visual effect that is ideal for the type of subject you are working with.

Listed below are some of the most commonly used scene modes with a short explanation for using them and  how they make photos look.

Macro mode – The best setting for getting great close-up photos. It is excellent for flowers, small objects and capturing the little details we normally miss .  How close you can get to your subject depends on your camera’s particular limits.  Most digital cameras let you get as close as an inch or two from a subject in Macro mode.  This scene mode gives you a truly unique view to photograph with and is one of the most fun modes to experiment with.

Portrait mode – The camera selects a large lens opening (aperture) which has the effect of causing your background to be out of focus.  A portrait subject in sharp focus against an out of focus background keeps them as the center of attention in your photo.  Frame your shot so you are relatively close to your subject with them standing away from the background. To get the best result with the portrait scene mode increase the subject distance from the background.  This is ideal for head and shoulder shots and for full frame faces. Works equally well with people and pet photos!

Landscape mode – A scene mode that gives you the opposite effect that portrait mode does.  Your camera automatically selects a small lens opening  (aperture) which helps keep most or all of your scene in focus.  This is ideal for large vistas and big outdoor scenes. In this mode your foreground right through to your background will be in sharp focus.  Using your wide-angle lens with this mode maximizes this effect  and is an ideal combination for landscape photography.

Sports and action mode -Your best choice for shooting moving objects. In this mode your camera selects a fast exposure time (shutter speed) that has the effect of stopping motion. Photograph people playing sports, running pets or speeding cars in this mode. This is also your best choice when taking photographs when you are in motion, like riding on a boat or from a moving train.

Night portrait mode – Ideal for taking people photos in low light and dark conditions. Your camera automatically select s a long exposure time (shutter speed) in combination with firing your flash when you take the shot.  The slow shutter speed  helps gather details in the dark background and the flash lights your subject near the camera.  It is best to use a tripod or some other support to keep your camera steady when making this type of shot.  This mode is another fun setting to experiment with and a great way to make some very original photographs.

Movie mode -Adds a whole new level  of creativity to your image making.  Most digital cameras have the ability to capture still and motion pictures.  Having the ability to shoot movies and combine them with all the still photos (you shoot in the other scene modes)  really expands your storytelling  and creative photography options.

This is review of some of the most common digital camera scene modes. Your camera will likely have ten or more of these settings to choose from. If you are in a unique setting and you do not  know what settings to you use, simply select the automated scene mode that  matches your scene and shoot away.  But  knowing how to use this feature of your camera you will be ready to make some great shots no matter what subject you are photographing.

Use scene modes as insurance and for a starting point for getting creative with your digital camera. If you come upon a difficult scene , like a snowy landscape for example, make few shots in the Snow Scene Mode for reference. Review the shots on your camera display and note the exposure combination the camera selected for this type of scene. Move to a less automated exposure mode and compare your results with reference shots. Modify your exposure settings to the baseline.

Close-up photo of a bee on a flower made with appoint and shoot digital camera using the macro scene mode.   Example photo by photographer Dan Splaine used to illustrate his photo how-to articles, photo workshops and photo education program.  ©2013 Daniel J. Splaine – All Right Reserved

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Photographer and photo educator Dan Splaine has more than thirty years experience producing photography for public relations, marketing and editorial clients  Based in Nashua, NH he provides commercial photography services in studio and at client locations all over the world. Dan mentors and teaches aspiring photographers, and he presents a program of digital photography workshops and photography tours for adults throughout New England.  For more information about his photo education program go to the photo workshop and tour schedule page.

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