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Exposure Modes

Lesson 9 from: The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

9. Exposure Modes

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The lesson discusses exposure modes in photography, including the green auto mode, program mode, shutter priority mode, aperture priority mode, and manual mode. The instructor explains how each mode works and when it is appropriate to use them. He also explains the concept of exposure compensation and how to use it to adjust the brightness of a photo. The lesson concludes with a discussion on the benefits of using manual mode and when it is most useful.


  1. What is the purpose of exposure modes in photography?

    Exposure modes determine how the camera selects shutter speeds, apertures, and ISOs for a given exposure.

  2. What is the green auto mode?

    The green auto mode is a fully automated mode where the camera controls all settings, including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and other factors.

  3. What does program mode do?

    Program mode is similar to the green auto mode, but it allows the user to adjust shutter speeds and apertures while the camera controls other settings.

  4. How does shutter priority mode work?

    In shutter priority mode, the user selects the desired shutter speed and the camera adjusts the aperture to achieve the proper exposure.

  5. What is aperture priority mode?

    Aperture priority mode allows the user to select the aperture, and the camera adjusts the shutter speed to achieve the proper exposure.

  6. When should exposure compensation be used?

    Exposure compensation is used when the camera's automatic exposure settings are not providing the desired brightness. It allows the user to manually adjust the exposure to make the image brighter or darker.

  7. What is the benefit of using manual mode?

    Manual mode gives the photographer full control over the exposure settings, allowing for precise adjustments and consistency in different lighting situations. It is useful in situations where the lighting is consistent and the photographer wants full control over the exposure.

Next Lesson: Exposure Values

Lesson Info

Exposure Modes

Okay. Now it is time to get into, this is the crux of the class. This is the most difficult part. This is where we start needing to combine a lot of things together, and so we've talked individually about shutter speeds, apertures, and ISOs, and hopefully all of those individually make sense at this point. Where you may be confused is, how do I balance all of these things at the same time? And that's what this section is all about. Word of warning, you don't always get what you want. So it's a matter of balancing to get the most important things. We've all heard, in relationships, about picking your battles, right? And so pick which battles are important to you, and you can probably win those, when it comes to the exposure in photography. First start with the exposure modes. A lot of cameras use a mode dial on the top of the camera. Sometimes there'll be a mode button, where you can get in, and electronically change the same things here. And this is all about how shutter speeds and ape...

rtures are chosen, for any particular case. Now as I mentioned, there's that green auto mode, where everything is done for you, but it also goes in and does other things beyond shutter speeds and apertures as well, and so there are these letters, which we'll go through in detail, for manual controlling of some aspect of the exposure. And then there is oftentimes a full auto mode, or a scene mode, where it will adjust it a little bit, in one direction or another. So, these auto modes will control the exposure, which means shutter speeds, apertures, ISOs, and sometimes they go in and they start controlling other things. And so when you put your camera in this green auto mode, it's quite possible that you will not be able to change the focusing point on your camera. It locks you out. These are what I call child safety locks. And so, I've always thought of this green auto mode as a perfect mode for giving to your cousin, when you want your cousin to take photos with your camera, and you don't want him to mess up your settings, and just take some simple, basic photos. Once you own a camera, once you understand what's going on, you don't want to use these auto modes, because, and this is the important thing, there is nothing the camera does on its own that you can't do on your own, and you can probably do it better, once you have just a little bit of information. So we're not even gonna get into all the different scene modes, because you can do everything better with these other modes. And the standard modes are Program, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Manual, so that's what we're gonna concentrate on. So the Program mode is actually a bit like that green automated camera mode, only in this case, it's only controlling shutter speeds and apertures. It doesn't go in and change your focusing, or your drive, or anything else on the camera. It's just controlling shutter speeds and apertures. Now, the program in all of this, is that it, your camera, is really concerned about you having the proper shutter speed. That's really ... It doesn't really care about aperture. Your camera doesn't care about more or less depth of field. It's not really concerned about that. It's just concerned that you have a shutter speed that is appropriate for handholding your camera. So a lot of times, it'll just give you a 60th of a second. And that may or may not be what you're interested in doing. Now virtually all cameras have a feature called program shift, or something of that nature. And the idea here is that by turning one dial, you will change both scales up and down, letting in equal amount of light, but a different combination of numbers, in order to achieve different types of results. And so if you had this setting on your camera when you were in the Program mode, you could say, "You know what? "I would like a faster shutter speed." Okay. Well then you can dial up to 500th, and it will give you an aperture of 2.0, provided your lens has that. You could say, "You know what? "I want more depth of field. "I'm gonna go down to f16, "and the camera's gonna figure it out at f8." Now the downside to this is that it doesn't always hold it there, if the light changes. And so, things kind of are moving around here, because the camera's in control of the lighting, and you're giving it some, let's consider it light direction. Would you go over there, and shoot- no not exactly there, over there. So you can give it some light direction, but you can't be too specific with it in these cases. But in general, it's trying to pay attention to your shutter speed. So this would be a terrible mode, if you have something particular you're trying to do with your shutter speed. Whether it's stopping action, or you're working from a tripod, and a stationary subject, this is kind of that real quick, just give me some general photographs type mode. And some cameras will reset back to kind of the default system, after five or 10 seconds. Some cameras won't, and you could have set your camera up for portrait photography, forgot about it, and then you're off doing something else, doing landscape photography, and you don't have the right settings on it. And so the Program mode is something that I have found most intermediate, advanced photographers, will use lightly once in a while, depending on certain situations. It's kind of good for chaotic situations, where you're not trying to do something too specific, other than just capturing an image. So that's the Program mode. Next up is the Shutter Priority, sometimes known as the time value mode, and this is where you get to have specific input on the shutter speed, and the camera will deal with the aperture, in order to give you the proper exposure. So let's look at this one. So let's say you choose a 60th of a second. The camera, depending on where your ISO is set, depending on the light level, might say, "Okay, well we need 5.6." And you can say, "Fine, let's take a photo." You might say, "Well we need a faster shutter speed, "so let's go to a faster shutter speed." Okay, well that's fine, but be aware that it's very easy to make a mistake here, and that mistake is choosing too fast a shutter speed for the lens you have. You might want to shoot at 2000th of a second, but our camera doesn't have an aperture that works. And what our camera does, it allows us to make mistakes. It's like parents with teenagers. They let them make mistakes, right? And hopefully you will learn from your mistakes. And so, usually when you do this on your camera, if you set it in Shutter Priority, set it to a really high shutter speed, there's gonna be this little tiny warning blinking. It's like mom saying don't do this. And what it's gonna say is it might say 1.4, and it blinks at you, or it might say 5.6, depending on what lens you have, and it's kind of warning you that you shouldn't be doing this, because there is no saving this image. And you have to pay attention to that little tiny warning, and you're gonna get a black picture if you don't do it. So you gotta ... You can set your shutter speeds as you wish, but you gotta keep an eye on the apertures to make sure that it's within the range that you have available. Now it is possible to have the same problem with really long shutter speeds as well. And it's more likely to happen with faster shutter speeds, but it can happen on either end of the spectrum. Now it is possible that you can go in and change the ISO, to help give you more range in one particular area that you might be looking at. But I have found that this is just something that people need to be very careful about using. It's a good system, and I use Shutter Priority from time to time, when I'm very specific about the shutter speed that I want. I don't care too much about the aperture, because it's kind of a non-depth of field type of shot, and I don't mind that it changes around. I would not do this for most sporting events. If I'm gonna go photograph football out in a field, generally the lights are not changing rapidly from one moment to the other. I'm gonna figure out what shutter speed I need. I'll figure out what aperture and ISO I need, and then I would leave it. This would be good for situations where subjects are moving quickly, and the light is changing. Alright, next up, Aperture Priority. Now let's just review. We have the auto modes and the scene modes, which I definitely do not like. We have the Program mode, which I am not fond of. The Shutter Priority mode, which I'm not all that hip on. Is there anything left that I like? Do I like anything? I love the Aperture Priority mode. This is a great mode. I think it's a very practical mode, it's a very safe mode for a lot of photographers to use. So, with Aperture Priority, you get to choose the aperture, and the camera gets to choose a matching shutter speed. Now the beauty with this is that, there's a relatively small range of apertures. With shutter speeds, there's almost an endless supply of shutter speeds. There's always an amount of time that is either half or double, in many cases. And so, as you change the aperture, you will almost always, in every lighting situation, have an available shutter speed. It may not be the shutter speed you want, but it will be available. So you do have to keep an eye on the shutter speed as well. It's very rare that you will go out of range, and capture an image that is pure black, or pure white, or anything like that. It's highly, highly unlikely. Now, with the apertures, because you're given a relatively small range, it really simplifies photography. If you open it up, down there in the bottom left corner, to 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, what are you doing? You are giving yourself a lot of light coming in the aperture, which means you get faster shutter speeds, so you can freeze motion. You can also get shallower depth of field. When you close the aperture down to 11, 16, 22, and so forth, you're getting the maximum depth of field. You're also probably gonna get a slower shutter speed, so if you wanna blur your subject, you can do that. And then kind of in the middle of the range, that's good just kind of for general photography, and maximum sharpness from your lenses, because as I mentioned before, the sharpest apertures, not the most depth of field, which is slightly different, the sharpest settings on your lenses is gonna be those middle apertures. Four, five, six, eight, 11 in some cases, depending on the lens that you have, and so, as you have your camera hanging around your neck, and you have that aperture control, you can just go a few clicks to one side, and a few clicks to the other side, and you basically have the whole world of photography right there in front of you, depending on how you turn that one little dial, with very little problems doing it, and so, this I think is a great travel photography mode. And when I say travel photography, I think of, I don't know what my next shot's gonna be. It could be a portrait, it could be a landscape, it could be a closeup. I don't know, but just with a few clicks of the camera, I'm there. And so this is a pretty quick and easy system to use, if you like a little bit of automated help along the way. Now the modes that we've been talking about, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Program, all have something in common. These are known as auto exposure modes, which means the camera is ultimately in charge of how bright or dark your subject is. And so, you have allowed the camera to take control using it's evaluative metering system, to figure out what the correct brightness is. In general, the cameras are pretty good, but every once in a while, as I said before, you need to step in and say, "No no no no no. "Let's do a little of this, or a little of that." And so this is where we talk about exposure compensation. And so, virtually all good cameras are going to have this plus-minus, or a lot of times these retro cameras, I love the retro cameras, they have an actual dial like they used to have, so you can dial in a brighter or darker exposure. Alright, let's look at an example. So, these doors are white, but they do not look white in this photograph, because the camera thinks everything is neutral gray. And so what I wanna do is, I wanna tell the camera, brighten this up by about one stop of light, because these doors are brighter than average by about one stop of light. And so I will move my control to plus one. And so I don't wanna be at zero, I wanna be at plus one, because this subject is brighter than average. And so I am overexposing the scene. I know that sounds bad, inasmuch as ... I'm an organized guy. I like to have things lined up in the middle, symmetrical, and I want that right down the middle of the zero, but that's not where it needs to be all the time. In this case, it needs to be over at plus one. The opposite scenario here. Our subjects are blown out. They're too bright. This is a darker scene. We need to make this darker. So we're gonna go into our exposure compensation controls, and we're gonna dial it down. However far it needs to, in order for it to look good. In this case I'm gonna dial it down two stops, and our picture gets darker, but our subjects are now properly lit. This is supposed to be a dark photograph. And so, dark subjects need to go to the minus side, and brighter subjects need to go to the plus side. And this is a very important control when you are in the Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Program mode. Quick side note. One of the most important things in photography, is to reset this back to zero when you are done using it, because it will just stay on, as long as you have your camera. Even if you turn your camera off and reset it, this is probably gonna be kept dialed in on your camera. So those were the automated modes. So let's get to the final one. The ultimate peak here, the Manual exposure modes. So obviously you get full control over the shutter speed, aperture. Now the ISO is something that we haven't really talked about in here, but that is still controlled separately. Once again, you can do it manually or automatically. Recommend manually if you're trying to learn photography. So in this case, now you need to choose whether you want to set shutter speeds, or apertures first. Which one should you do? Like many things in photography, it depends. It depends on what's most important. We talked about picking your battles. What is the most important thing about the photograph that you're gonna take? Is it depth of field? Or is it something about movement and shutter speed. In any case, you just gotta choose one, and set it first. And so in this case, I'm gonna set it to 5.6. Now, my light meter, as you can see over on the left hand side of the screen, is at minus three, which means I am three stops underexposed, and if you don't know anything about photography, that's really dark, and it's not gonna look good. So I need to get that exposure indicator under the zero. And the way that I'm gonna do that, is by adjusting the shutter speeds. And so, I'm just gonna adjust the shutter speeds, until that gets under the zero. And at a 60th of a second in this hypothetical example, we have an even exposure here. Now, I would probably shoot a photo here, and then I would look at the back of the camera. I'd look at the histogram. And then I would decide, is this too light, or too dark? Do I wanna make some adjustments? Is this really the aperture and shutter speed I want, and maybe I can do some trading. I'll trade one here, for another one there, and I'll adjust it. We're gonna go through this a little bit more in a second. But, that's generally the way I take my first shot. And that's the beauty of digital, is that you can shoot a photo and it doesn't matter if it's bad. There's the garbage can button. You get rid of these things. Get rid of your mistakes, it's all practice. And so that's generally the way that I will do manual exposure. And once again, I will start with whatever's most important. If I'm photographing a sporting event, and I really want you to see the faces of my subjects that are moving quickly, you remember the shutter speeds? 500th of a second, or faster. So I might choose 500 or 1000, and then I'll start playing around with ISO, and aperture to see what works in that scenario. Now one of the reasons that I like manual, is because I get to choose exactly where things are, and things do not change behind my back, which is something I hate more than anything. When you ... You know when you set your keys someplace, and then somebody comes along and moves them? It's like no, I left them there for a reason. And the same is true with photography. When you set things in one place, you oftentimes want them there. Here's a visual example of this. In Havana, Cuba, they've got these beautiful old cars driving around town, and as I photograph this car driving down the street, if you could look over my shoulder, at what's his camera doing, let me show you what my camera was doing. And you'll notice that the indicator is moving a little bit on the right hand photo. And if you look at those photos, maybe you can figure out why the light meter is changing. And that's because the photo on the right has more areas of brightness, and less areas of darkness. Like I said, your camera and my camera is dumb. It doesn't understand foreground versus background. It doesn't understand a car versus a sky and a building. It's just looking at the total amount of light coming in. If I was to choose one of the automated settings, which is everything from Aperture, Shutter Priority, Program, to all the other program modes, this is what would happen. And you'll notice that the photographs now have a different brightness to them. The camera's gonna try to correct for the total amount of light, but it doesn't understand my primary subject, versus the background scene. And so, the light on the car is not changing, as it's driving down the street, in any significant way. And so I wanna maintain an even exposure. And so if I know something is gonna be under consistent lighting, and I wanna a series of photographs that all have a consistent look to them, I would want to shoot with manual exposure. And so for any situation that is not changing too much, let's just say I'm traveling, and I go into a barbershop, because they got a neat barbershop, I would figure out my shutter speed and aperture in there, and then I would just leave it, and concentrate on my subjects and interacting with them, and leave that behind, once I got it figured out. And so, that's when Manual works really well, is when you can kind of do a little test, establish yourself, and then you can just leave the exposure equation behind, and go on to more important composition, and working with your subject, in whatever manner that is.

Class Materials

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Photography Starter Kit Outline

Ratings and Reviews

Kanoelani Patenaude

I am a pro photographer in my dreams, where I know the in's and out's of my camera; however, reality proved differently, as real life would tell you, I was a deer caught in headlights just looking at my new 7D Mark II. I am a photographer enthusiast without the skills, but a lot of love for the moments one, or the profession/hobby of it can capture. I mostly shoot my husband, friends, and community surfers in the lineup, and of course, my children, who rarely sit still. Thus, I switched from Nikon to Canon, venturing on the 7D Mark II for the grand reviews of how stellar of camera it is for action shots (surfing, and kids, this was a no brainer). That said, and overwhelmed with the way beyond my skill set, but noted desire and aspiration to grow, I made the purchase, and sought help rather quickly as I wanted to feel confident with what I was utilizing to capture the best memories possible. I came into this John's courses knowing the "on/off" button, and "auto" shoot mode. I came out of the course feeling like the pro in my dreams, and ready to shoot manual. John's teaching style is on point, and his detailed visuals are a huge plus. My first shots post this photography kit course, I thought were great for my first educated shoot, and shockingly, I even received and email from one of the sponsors of the surfers I captured, asking if they could use my image for their sites and publications. Not bad for a newbie. Though, my intent was never a business purpose, I did not know if I should charge a small fee, or give it for free. I don't mind free as it's not my business, yet I don't want to ruin it for any professional photographers in town doing the same thing that are charging. Perhaps another course to help me with that. I highly recommend courses by John Greengo! Thank you so much, John!


I'm not sure my first review posted. But I LOVE this class! John Greengo is a great, engaging teacher who is really adept at representing the concepts visually and excellent at explaining them verbally. I love how he goes through examples with photographs he has taken. Even though I only have a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, it does have Manual, Shutter priority, and Aperture priority modes. Through his class I've gotten a really good sense of how to balance ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. It's a great overview for me especially since I am new to photography, I can play around with some of these settings, and I have a greater understanding of what I might need in a higher level camera in the future. Money well spend! (For $29, this is an absolute steal). John Greengo is an awesome teacher and I hope to take more of his classes in the future!

Megan Wagner

John is extremely articulate and is a great teacher with lots of visual aids and metaphors to help understand photography. I have been doing photography for a few years now and this class was a tremendous help in boosting my knowledge and refreshing my memory in multiple aspects of photography. The graphics that John uses are helpful and he even goes through images and asks which settings would be best to use and will go through the why. He makes things easy to understand and is very clear about the information he provides. I am so glad I took this course and I would highly recommend it even to an experienced photographer. Thank you John Greengo!

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