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.