Your camera’s Scene Modes automatically adjust important camera settings for typical subjects and situations. Most entry-level DSLRs and many midrange models have Scene Modes, as do the new mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras and most compact digital cameras. For those learning the art of photography, these modes can help you better understand settings that you also can make manually, and all photographers—even experienced shooters—can use these modes to react quickly when there isn’t time to evaluate the scene. Scene Modes vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and from camera model to camera model—these are some of the most common.
The best portraits focus on the people in the image by subduing the background. In Portrait mode, the camera sets a wide aperture to throw the background out of focus and keep attention on the portrait subject. With some cameras, Portrait mode sets continuous advance, so you can fire quick sequences and catch that perfect nuance of expression. It also may soften the sharpness and contrast, and adjust the color rendition for pleasing skin tones. For best results, position the subject as far as possible from the background, and use a short telephoto focal length.
Landscape mode is sort of the opposite of Portrait mode—the camera sets a small aperture to maximize depth of field, disables the flash, increases sharpening and contrast, and sets the color rendition to enhance greens and blues. While effective landscapes can be shot with everything from wide-angle through telephoto lenses, in this mode, you get best results with wide-angle lenses. With the flash disabled, it’s a good idea to use a tripod, especially in dim light. Besides holding the camera steady to avoid image blur due to camera shake, the tripod locks in your composition so you can study it (Live View mode is handy for landscape work), and so you don’t accidentally change the composition as you press the shutter button.
In Sports-Action mode, the camera favors faster shutter speeds to freeze action subjects. Flash is typically disabled, so ISOs are increased in dim light. Sports mode sets the camera’s drive to high-speed continuous advance, and with some, the AF mode to continuous. If your camera doesn’t set continuous AF in Sports mode, activate it manually—you definitely want continuous AF for action photos.
Close-up or Macro mode sets the camera for shooting close-ups, but note that it doesn’t make the lens focus closer than it can normally—for true macro work, use a macro lens (or extension tubes or close-up filters). Close-up mode favors wide apertures for good selective-focus effects. If you want to shoot at a small aperture to maximize depth of field and get as much as possible of an insect in focus, you use aperture-priority AE mode and set the aperture yourself. Close-up mode automatically activates the built-in flash unit when needed, and employs single-frame advance and single-shot AF. Note that if you use a macro lens, you should use an external flash (or no flash) because the built-in unit is so close to the lens that it may cause the lens to cast a shadow on the subject.
Night Scene sets the camera for photographing night scenes by natural light, adjusting exposure to maintain the natural "feel" of the scene. This involves deactivating the flash and employing long exposure times, so use of a tripod is wise. Some cameras increase the ISO in Night Scene mode and activate high-ISO and/or long-exposure noise reduction.
Night Portrait mode combines flash with a long exposure. The flash illuminates your nearby portrait subject, while the long exposure records detail in the dim background by ambient light. Position the portrait subject within flash range (generally within around 15 feet with the built-in flash unit), and put the camera on a tripod so the long ambient-light exposure doesn’t cause blurring. Since the long ambient-light exposure continues after the flash fires, ask your subject to remain still until the entire exposure is done.
BEACH & SNOW
Camera meters typically reproduce whatever you meter as a medium tone in the resulting photograph. That’s because a typical scene contains bright, dark and medium-toned portions that often average out to a medium tone. If you meter a particularly bright scene, such as a beach or snow field in bright sun, the meter can be fooled and provide an exposure that renders the sand or snow as a medium tone—way too dark. Beach & Snow mode automatically compensates for this by providing additional exposure to keep the sand or snow bright.
As you’d expect, Sunset mode punches up the warm tones—reds, oranges and yellows—and optimizes the exposure for sunsets. When the sun is right on the horizon, the light level is fairly low, so use of a tripod is wise. Although the tripod locks in your composition, remember that the sun is moving and changes position in the frame as it sets.
Safety Tip: To avoid eye damage, don’t look at the sun through a DSLR’s eye-level optical viewfinder, especially when using longer focal lengths; instead, use the camera’s LCD to compose.