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Understanding your camera’s PASM modes and how to use them

If you look closely at the dial on your camera, you will see that there are several adjustment modes.
Automatic and scene modes (portraits, landscapes, sport, macro, night, etc.) do not allow you to control exposure parameters. Just point and shoot. In other words, a compact device or a smartphone is more than enough. The device then calculates for you the necessary settings to obtain a suitable exposure. Correct then, but not wow!
Forget automatic modes for a while and let yourself be tempted by a personalized shot.

Let’s take a closer look at the P A S M modes. What do these letters mean? How to use these modes?
P A S M modes or creative modes allow you to adjust the exposure settings of your image. They vary depending on the amount of light and the desired photographic scene. With P, A and S modes, you have control over a separate parameter. With M mode, you have full control. Each of these modes has different characteristics and depending on the subject to be photographed and the desired effect, you will have the choice between these 4 modes. So, if you want to progress in photography and develop your creativity, then the rest of the article should interest you.

Understand your camera’s PASM modes and how to use them. Camera dial with basic modes and creative modes (PASM):

  • P = program (Program)
  • A = Aperture or AV = Aperture Value
  • S = Speed ​​or Tv = Time Value
  • M = manual (Manual)

How to use your camera’s PASM modes

P mode (program)

Program mode.
P mode is a semi-automatic mode, ideal for beginners. If you want to take a photo quickly without thinking too much, choose this mode. With this mode, you have the choice between different aperture/speed pairs. Useful to better understand the interactions between these different parameters. To avoid camera shake as much as possible, P mode automatically offers the largest or highest aperture/speed pair. Any impacted setting has a consequence on the other.

Examples of opening/speed pairs:

f/2.8″ 1/200
f/4″ 1/100
f/5.6″ 1/50
f/8″ 1/25
f/11″ 1/13
f/16″ 1/6

P mode determines the aperture and shutter speed settings based on the subject (still or not) and the amount of light captured. On the other hand, you can also play with the ISO sensitivity. Even if the general brightness remains the same, you can modify the aperture for a greater or lesser depth of field and the shutter speed for a more or less pronounced perception of movement.
For example, if you want to highlight a subject, set the aperture to a small value (f/2.8). To create motion blurs, choose a slow shutter speed (1/25ᵉ).
Practice! Take the same photo with different aperture/speed pairs.

Program mode is an essential step when you’re starting out. It allows us to clearly understand the effect of the 3 fundamental parameters which constitute the exposure triangle. It will be all the easier for you to tackle modes A, S and M when the time comes.

A or Av mode (aperture priority)

Aperture priority mode.
Mode A allows you to adjust the aperture of the diaphragm. While maintaining control over the ISO, you manually choose the desired aperture and the camera takes care of setting the right shutter speed for correct exposure of the image. This is the ideal mode for controlling depth of field. Depending on the aperture chosen, you will obtain a more or less accentuated background blur, also called bokeh (soft background blur).
This mode allows you to isolate a sharp subject with pronounced background blur (portraits, f/2.8 products, etc.) or conversely to have a completely sharp image (landscapes, f/22 architecture, etc.)
Mode A is also very popular in dark situations. For correct image exposure, you will need to have a large aperture and a faster shutter speed.
At this, you can increase the ISO, but watch out for digital noise!

S or Tv mode (speed priority)

Speed ​​priority mode.
S mode, unlike A mode, allows you to adjust the shutter speed. While maintaining control over the ISO, you manually choose the desired speed and the camera takes care of setting the right aperture for correct exposure of the image. This is the ideal mode for freezing a movement (sport, animals, etc.). Depending on the speed chosen, you will obtain frozen or blurred movement. To obtain motion blur and a creative rendering (torrent, waterfall, night landscape, etc.), choose a long exposure (1, 10, 30 s, etc.) and use a tripod to avoid motion blur. Conversely, to freeze a fast subject, prefer a short exposure time (1/30 s 1/250 s 1/1000 s…).

M mode (manual)

Manual mode.
In manual mode, you take control of the aperture, shutter speed and ISO sensitivity. This mode allows you to choose all the values ​​of the exposure triangle. It will take a little practice to become familiar with M mode. First of all, always ask yourself what photo you want to take. For example, if you want to take a portrait, then you will start playing with depth of field. You are looking for a beautiful background blur and therefore choose a wide, or even a full aperture. You then choose a value between f/1.4 and f/4. Let’s say f/1.8. It is from this value that you will have to adapt the speed. Try to be fast enough to avoid motion blur. Consider bringing a tripod.
Reminder: the shutter speed must be at least equal to the focal length.
Therefore, if you have a 50mm, try to be at least 1/50s, or even 1/100s. Finally, adjust the ISO (ISO 100 or 200, etc.) depending on the amount of light. Normally you should have ideal exposure.

To sum up

Leave aside automatic modes. Personalize your photos and be creative!

P mode can help you when you’re starting out by offering several different aperture/speed pairs. It’s up to you to adjust the settings according to the desired image.

Then, with a little more practice, try modes A (aperture priority) or S (shutter priority) to play with depth of field or motion blur. Finally, in certain situations it is necessary to take control over all the device settings. Hence the usefulness of M mode. That said, it is not my favorite mode, because it is too slow. Particularly for street photography or wildlife photography.