The dial modes or the famous “select wheel” is the top wheel of all cameras. In this top wheel, we will select the most appropriate mode for the photography style we want to achieve.

When we are working in the automatic mode, we are inside our comfort zone and to leaving it, is always difficult. However, it is the only way to truly learn how to take creative photographs

There is good news: these symbols are Universal. You will continue recognizing them even if you change your camera. Therefore, this knowledge will always be useful for you in the future

In this post, we will take the experimentation with your camera a step further. Let’s start by getting acquainted with the most common symbols of the dial modes

The dial modes dial is divided into two parts:

  • Basic Zone: ranging fromautomaticto night portrait.
  • Creative Zone: spanning the area between “manual” and “programmed.”

In the Creative Zone, we will have control of at least one of the following: the diaphragm aperture, the shutter speed, the ISO sensitivity or all three at once.

In contrast, in the Basic Zone, it is the camera that makes all the decisions for us, adapting to the scene we indicated.

The Basic Zone is a very comfortable option. But it limits a lot our creativity. With practice, everyone can and should use the creative zone. It is where you can play and experiment with photography. Let us begin!

Where To Begin From

For Experiencing The Dial Modes

  • AUTO · Basic Zone

With Auto mode – also symbolized with a camera or a green box – the camera works automatically. As photographers, we will not be able to decide any qualitative aspect for our photographs. Our creativity is completely limited to this mode. Although it is very practical to take a classic, ordinary photo, to get out of a hurry.

  • Portrait · Basic Zone · 

With this mode, the camera automatically adjusts all parameters to highlight a person’s face over the other image elements. In this way, it is achieved to enhance the portrayed figure.

  • Landscape · Basic Zone ·

When this mode is selected, the camera will automatically close the diaphragm to achieve a greater field depth. Thanks to this, your whole landscapes will be completely clear-cut.

  • Macro · Basic Zone ·

By selecting the flower’s symbol, the camera will automatically adjust all parameters to perform any kind of macro photography. Obviously, the effect achieved in this case will also depend on your camera lens.

  • Sports · Basic Zone ·

Selecting this option on your mode dial, the camera will automatically start shooting at fast shutter speeds, achieving to freeze the movement so that sportsmen/sportswomen do not come out moved.

  • Night Portrait · Basic Zone ·

Automatically, the flash fires to illuminate the portrayed. With this mode, it is extremely convenient to use a tripod so that the photo does not come out moved. Since the shutter of the camera will remain open for a longer time than the flash light also getting the background lighted up.


So far we have reviewed all the modes of the Basic Zone.

Now we are going in into the funniest part: the Creative Zone!

The Dial Modes And Its Creative Zone

  • Manual Mode  · Creative Zone ·

With M mode, all controls become manual. Now you are the one in control and you must select all the parameters yourself; the shutter speed, the diaphragm aperture and the ISO sensitivity.

Close to the trigger button there is a black wheel similar to a gear. By pressing this wheel you can change the parameter and when you turn it to one side or the other, you can choose the different values.

This dial mode is the most complex to master. However, having all the parameters under your control, you can take any of the photographs of all the previous examples and also all the following examples.

  • Mode A or Av · Creative Zone ·

When selecting the A or Av mode, we will give priority to the diaphragm opening. You will be the one in charge of indicating the diaphragm to your camera and the camera will select automatically shutter speed – exposure time

Remember that the diaphragm aperture is always represented by the number “F”. Let’s quickly review the most common diaphragm apertures; F1.4, F2, F2.8, F4, F5.6, F8, F11, F16, F22.

This is one of the semiautomatic modes of your camera and we will choose to work with it, depending on the photograph to be made. If we want to achieve certain effects it will be completely useful. For example, if we want to achieve the following effect-what is in the foreground coming out completely clear-in focus – and what is found in field depth comes out diffused-out of focus.

Let us remember also that: the more open the diaphragm-lower F numbers-we will have less field depth- consequently, only the objects closest to the camera will be seen clearly and the others will go out of focus. Conversely; the more closed the diaphragm-higher F numbers-you will have greater field depth, therefore, the whole image will be sharper, with all its elements in focus, those that are close to the camera and also those which are farther.

At The Flickr Gallery you will be able to find more visual examples about the use of this dial mode and the opening of the diaphragm.

  • S or Tv Mode · Creative Zone ·

By selecting the S or Tv mode in our mode dial, we will give priority to the shutter speed. It will be you who selects the desired shutter speed – that is, exposure time-and the camera will automatically adjust the diaphragm aperture.

Remember that the shutter speed is expressed in simple fractions; 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/75, 1/30, etc. The higher the number, the better the image will freeze. The lower the number, the more evident the movement will be.

Thanks to this mode, you can make the movement evident in your new photographs or on the contrary you can completely freeze something that is in motion. This mode is ideal for the sports photography; or when we want to photograph objects in movement, such as the route followed by cars’ lights at night, resulting in a very creative effect. Or also capture waterfalls evidencing the water movement. With lower speeds of 1/125 it will be imperative you use a tripod.

At The Flickr gallery you can find more visual examples about the use of this dial mode and the shutter speed.

  • Program Mode

The program mode is very similar to the first of the modes we saw in this post, the automatic mode. The camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed and aperture depending on the light available in the scene to be photographed. But with this mode, unlike the automatic mode, you can manipulate the different values assigned by the camera.

Working with this mode is convenient when we do not want the camera automatically sets up the flash. Or when we do not want it automatically increases the value of the ISO sensitivity by generating digital noise in the image. Here, you will be able to choose yourself if you shoot with flash or not, what ISO values to use and everything else. Therefore you will have more control over the photograph to capture.

Conclusion on the Dial Modes

Finally, we have ended with the existing shooting modes on the dial of our cameras. We know that all this information can be complex and difficult to understand, if it is your first approach. However, we believe that leaving the comfort zone and experiencing all shooting modes is completely necessary to start creating and experimenting as professional photographers. With practice and with the passing of time, you will have a much more agile handling and in a matter of seconds you will know which way to use the dial, to achieve certain photography that you have in your imagination.

We hope that all these examples will always help you to take better photos. In our category “Effects” you will discover how to achieve more amazing photographic effects and in “Digital” the most classic and renowned themes of the world photography. As we always say, there is a world out there, waiting to be photographed!


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