What are these shooting modes on my Canon Camera?

by Brittany Horton on February 3, 2011

A few posts ago, we filled you in on some little secrets of the Nikon Camera shooting modes; don’t worry Canon users, you’re next. If you are wondering how to use your Canon digital camera shooting modes, this post will hopefully answer some of your questions.

The shooting modes are located on the mode dial, which is the large dial located on the top left of the camera.Canon Camera Mode Dial

Canon SLR Shooting Modes

Not all cameras have the same shooting modes; these are the basics mode settings on a Canon 40D. These modes are very similar to some shooting modes on Canon digital point-and-shoot cameras.

Full AutomaticFull Automatic Mode

The full automatic mode on almost all digital SLR cameras is the mode where the camera chooses all of the settings: focus, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, among many others. This mode is for every level of photographers, if you are just starting out and learning about your camera and looking through the lens, or if you are a professional and you need to take a quick picture without having the time to play with any of the other modes. The automatic mode will choose the settings for you based on the scene that is being photographed, if there is low light, it will choose to open the aperture and slow down the shutter speed, if it is bright outside it will close the aperture and speed up the shutter. The automatic setting also requires you to use automatic focus, so the camera will pick the focus and depth of field to be used. The automatic mode will also use the on-camera flash when more light is needed.

Quick Tip: When you are trying to focus on a subject and auto focus is not picking what you want to focus on, move your camera to center on your desired focal point, click half way down on the shutter to focus, do not release, and then move back to your original frame to complete your shot.

Portrait ModePortrait Mode

This automatic portrait mode setting is for when you want to take portraits or group shots. Along with softening skin tones, this mode will blur background tones. The blurring of the background details will allow your subject to pull away from the background more. Great for when taking portraits in front of any scenery or landscapes.

Landscape ModeLandscape Mode

This automatic landscape mode setting is for landscapes and scenery images. This setting is perfect for when you want to take a picture of something farther away to get “the big picture,” even if it is not just a landscape, as well as for wide shots, to have everything from near to far in focus. This mode will also increase the blues and greens in your scene to make your image more vivid. The on-camera flash will not be used in this mode so that you will not accidentally illuminate your foreground. Since the flash will not automatically go, this is a good scene for night landscapes as well. If you are not able to get close enough to the scene that you would like to get a photograph of, use a telephoto lens, like the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS USM, or if you would prefer one with a lower f-stop capability good for sports and action shots, then the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM would be good for you.

Close Up ModeClose Up Mode

This automatic close up mode is for anything that you want to get close to, such as flowers, bugs or butterflies, and any other miscellaneous small objects. It is highly recommended to use a tripod while using this mode since it is possible that any hand movement may blur the image. If you do not have a tripod, try to rest your camera on a flat surface during the shot. If your image is still coming out not in focus, try taking the image a little further away; the standard lenses are only able to get so close. If you would like to take pictures even closer, look into getting a macro lens, like the Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Compact Macro. The flash will go off if you are in a low light setting with this mode, sometimes this will throw off the balance, so try to make sure to move yourself out of any shadows and use as much light as possible.

Sports ModeSports Mode

The automatic sport mode setting will help you to take stop-action photographs of sports, running children, or other fast speed objects. Sports mode makes your shutter speed very fast allowing for items in the scene to be frozen. This is great if you are wanting to get stop-action photographs of any sports game, or to even try out during a firework or water-work show to freeze the water and light flares in motion. The on-camera flash does not automatically get used in this mode. To get closer to the field or to the show, use a telephoto lens, like the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. If your camera has the ability to do continuous shooting, hold down your shutter button continuously to take multiple photos.

Night PortraitNight Portrait Mode

The automatic night portrait mode will help you take a better portrait in low light or at night. This mode will help to make your background more natural looking. If you are able to use a tripod or flat surface with this mode it will help, though it is not required. Since the on-camera flash is used in this mode, your subject will be frozen, but hand movement may blur the background if it can not be reached by the flash.

Auto with Flash Off No Flash

The no flash mode is perfect for those locations that flash photography is prohibited, like museums and plays. If the scene is low light, but flash is prohibited, trying using a tripod or a flat surface to prevent blurring. This mode is also good for taking automatic pictures of other scenes that do not require flash, or when you know you do not want to use the flash. I prefer to not use the flash if it is not necessary, so I recommend this mode over full automatic so that you still get the camera choosing your settings, but you get to use the natural light.

Manual Mode (M) Manual Exposure Mode

The manual setting is one of the ‘creative mode’ settings on a canon, where you can choose your shutter speed and your aperture to create any match of the two that you desire. You will be able to choose if you want the image to be a little darker, a little lighter, or even a slower shutter speed, and you can interchange the two as needed. In this mode you will see the aperture and shutter speed numbers through the viewfinder called the exposure level indicator. You can use dials on your digital SLR to change these settings. In this mode you can have auto focus turned on or off, and you can choose which selectors to use for your focus if automatic focus is turned on. This setting is recommended for more experienced photographers. If you are just getting started with your camera, and you want to use this mode, start off experimenting with the settings and seeing what works, your goal is the get the smaller bars on the indicator as close to zero as your are able to, as zero is the “correct” exposure. Use of this mode may require a tripod and flash.

Aperture Priority (A) Aperture Priority Mode

If you would like to choose your aperture, allowing you to choose your depth of field, aperture priority is a good choice. Aperture priority will allow you to set the aperture, again with your dials, and will choose the best matching shutter speed for you. This will allow you to change your depth of field manually, so you can increase or decrease the focus on your background details, as well as let you bring both into focus if you would like. To increase your depth of field and allow more things to be in focus, make sure you change your aperture to a larger number, this creates a smaller aperture hole. To decrease your depth of field, and cause some objects to be out of focus, make sure to set your aperture to a smaller number, this creates a larger aperture hole.

Shutter Pirority Mode (S) Shutter Priority Mode

Shutter priority is the exact opposite of aperture priority, it allows you to select if you want a fast or slow shutter speed while the camera chooses the best aperture for the shot. You are able to use this for stop-action shots as well as blur motion images. If you slow down the shutter speed on a moving subject you can blur the action, illustrating the motion in the photograph. Both the aperture and shutter priority modes allow you to get out of the box with your images and experiment with what you can do with your camera.

Program Mode(P) Program Mode

If you would like to choose some of the settings, but not all of them, use the Program Mode. While on the P mode the camera chooses the correct shutter speed and aperture for your chosen frame. This mode is good for when you want to do something creative with your images and get different variations of light and depth of field, but still want the camera to help you with the settings. You still have control of the flash and focus in this mode. You can keep the correct exposure and set a lower aperture or shutter speed by toggling the aperture or shutter speed dials while keeping the shutter button half clicked. Make sure that if your shutter speed gets below 1/250, displayed as 250, to use a tripod (personal opinion, some people may want to use a tripod at higher higher speeds as well).

Custom User Setting 1 ModeC1, C2, C1 Modes

The C series modes are Custom User modes. You can set your favorite camera settings to these modes. You can register these settings by configuring all of your settings, including what mode you are in, your menu settings and any custom function settings, and registering the mode by following your cameras instruction manual. These are for those settings that you change a lot of configurations for, and you wish you could save them so you didn’t have to enter them in manually every time.

Auto Depth of Field Mode(A-DEP) Automatic Depth of Field Mode

The automatic depth of field mode will set the aperture for you. It will choose a higher aperture number, which is a smaller aperture hole, to allow the foreground and background to be in an acceptable focus.

Details and images are from the Canon 40D instructional manual. Please reference this for more details if desired.

If you have a specific question on your camera, leave a comment below for us and we will help you learn more.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kay June 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Could you tell me if my Canon A480 has a timer mode? Where I can set it up to flash in 2-3 sec and allow me to be in the photo as well

Keri Honea August 16, 2012 at 12:27 pm

I don’t have this camera myself, but I believe I found the answer for you here: http://www.fixya.com/support/t4100172-canon_a480_set_self_timer


Phyllis December 21, 2012 at 2:46 pm

I can’t seem to make a wallpaper out of any pictures I take with my Canon camera! Why is this? I have looked all over the place and can’t find any place to click on “make wallpaper” from a picture! Can you help?

I have the SX 150 IS.

Thanks for any help you can give me.

Keri Honea January 17, 2013 at 12:50 pm

Have you imported it to your computer first? Try doing this and then make the wallpaper directly from your computer.

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: