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Exposure modes

Exposure modes

There’s a lot of chat about exposure modes, and how switching to Manual will make you a real photographer, and how some modes are more worthy than others. Thankfully most of it is old tosh. Being a good photographer is more about being able to see an interesting picture rather how you might go about setting up your camera to take it.

Lumix cameras offer a range of modes for users to choose from, and they are designed to suit the occasion as well as the experience of the photographer. We have different exposure modes for a good reason, and if you want to be able to take control of the camera to ensure the picture you take matches the picture you hoped to take it is a good idea to understand what each of these modes can do for you.

Fortunately, they aren’t difficult to understand.

Intelligent Auto – iA

My usual reply to anything ‘intelligent’ in a camera is that ‘cameras aren’t intelligent, they are machines’, but this mode is annoyingly good. The camera looks at what you are pointing it at and tries to work out what it is and what the best way of shooting it will be. It can determine if the subject is a person, a landscape, a bird and whether what it is looking at is moving. It will then set an aperture, shutter speed and ISO appropriate to the scene as well as adjusting colour, contrast and brightness to suit the scene when you use the iA+ option.

Exposure modes

You’ll note that the camera’s menu is somewhat reduced when these modes are in use as the camera is dealing with things for you, which is great if you don’t want to control everything yourself. Of course, when the moment comes that you want to control something that the camera doesn’t allow in these modes you will release it is time to investigate the other modes.


Manual and semi-automatic modes

Different exposure modes are only really different ways of controlling the same things. Exposure modes are concerned with shutter speeds and apertures, and in short we just pick the mode that allows us direct control over the elements of exposure we think are most important for the situation.

Aperture Priority – A

I’m starting with this exposure mode as it is my favourite, and the mode I use almost all the time when shooting still images. I use it because I like to determine what aperture is used for the picture as I like to control depth of field – which is one of the main things that apertures do. I set the aperture and the camera automatically sets the shutter speed to give me the exposure it thinks is right for the occasion.

Exposure modes

In this shot it was important to make sure the man stood out from the busy background, so I used a wide aperture to create a very shallow depth-of-field. As the aperture was much more important than the shutter speed in use I selected Aperture Priority

Just because I’m concentrating on my apertures does not mean I neglect the shutter speeds, as I keep an eye on them to ensure they don’t get as long that I’ll get camera shake or subject blur – or too short that I exceed the shortest shutter speed available. If the shutter speeds are moving out of the range I want to use I adjust the ISO to bring them back into check.

Shutter Priority – S

Exposure modes

The flying skater boy was going pretty quickly, so I needed a short shutter opening to freeze him in mid-air. This frame was shot at 1/1600sec

If you are into shooting sport or fast moving action it makes sense to use the Shutter Priority exposure mode. This allows you to set the shutter speed that will freeze the action, and the camera gives you the aperture to make the exposure right. It is just like aperture priority, but with the user deciding the shutter speed instead of the aperture.

You might keep an eye on the aperture to make sure you are going to get the depth of field that the shot needs, but generally you leave the aperture business up to the camera, only intervening with an ISO adjustment if the required aperture exceeds what your lens offers.

Shutter priority isn’t just for freezing motion of course, as it is equally useful when we want to make sure motion is blurred.


Programme – P

In Programme Mode the camera picks the aperture and shutter speed for you to give you the right exposure, but you can adjust either as you wish when the situation changes. You press the shutter button half way down to make the camera display the settings it intends to use. If you don’t think the shutter speed it is offering will be short enough you can turn your rear or front control wheel to change it. As the shutter speed value changes the aperture value will also change to maintain the same exposure value.

This is quite a flexible exposure mode as you have two wheels to do the same thing, and whichever you move will give you a different set of aperture and shutter speed combinations – but the same exposure the whole time.


Manual Mode – M

In Manual Mode the camera sits back with a cocktail while the photographer chooses which shutter speed and which aperture to use for the shot that needs to be taken. Some people like to work this way – choosing both settings – as it makes them feel in control.
Inevitably at some stage the photographer has to decide whether it is the shutter speed or the aperture that is the most important part of the exposure. If it is decided that the aperture is, the photographer sets the aperture and then adjusts the shutter speed until the exposure meter at the bottom of the screen shows that the right exposure has been achieved.

You might wonder why anyone would want to have to dial in both settings when they could use one of the semi-automatic modes and only have to dial in one. And that would be a good question.

Exposure modes

Using manual exposure mode allowed me to select the aperture for the depth-of-field I needed and then to set a shutter speed that would show off the sunset at that aperture. I set the flash to give me the right exposure on the man’s face at the selected f/4.5 aperture

The time manual exposure certainly does come into its own is when using flash, as we often want to override what the camera’s exposure meter says as we know a burst of light is on its way. Using manual exposure in these cases allows us to use aperture to control the depth of field or the brightness of the exposure, while the shutter speed can be used to control the brightness of the background that’s beyond the reach of the flash.

Manual exposure is also useful for astro-photography as the camera is unlikely to be able to get the exposure right on its own, and other unusual exposure situations.

Exposure modes

You couldn’t expect the camera to get the right exposure in these circumstances, so some manual intervention is usually needed. In Manual Exposure mode I set the aperture to f/3.5 and opened the shutter for 480 seconds

Videographers commonly use manual exposure too, setting the shutter speed to correspond with the frame rate of the footage and the aperture to achieve the required depth of field. They often then use Auto ISO to ensure the exposure remains constant as the camera moves around the scene.

Subject and Scene Modes

Some Lumix cameras have subject and scene modes too, such as the Portrait Mode and Sport Mode that sometimes appear on the dial alongside the SCN – Scene – setting. The Subject Modes optimise shooting settings, including the shutter speeds, aperture and ISO appropriate to the conditions to make sure the camera is configured to match the subject. In Sport mode the fast drive setting also comes alive along with the continuous focusing mode, while in portrait mode we get more moderate contrast and face detection AF comes into play automatically. Night Mode will push the ISO up and introduce long shutter speeds, and Landscape Mode will boost colour saturation, close the aperture for an extensive depth-of-field and darken the shadows for more impact.

The subject and scene modes are fine when you are beginning your photographic life, as they will help to provide all the settings traditionally associated with these subjects, but as soon as you want to start creating pictures that look a bit different you’ll need to take a bit more control back using one of the other exposure modes.