How to Use Scene Modes to Learn More Photography

If you are starting in the world of photography, you still doubt which parameters are better than others when approaching a specific type of photography.

It is always recommended that you spend time and learn by trial/error with the manual mode, but some automatic and semi-automatic modes can serve as a learning method. For this reason, in this article, we will know in depth the scene modes of your SLR camera.

What are the Scene Modes of your SLR Camera?

Scene modes are preset image configurations that automatically adjust the camera within specific parameters adapted to the type of photography we want to take. They are those little icons drawn on the upper dial of your camera: the woman with the hat, the mountains, the flower.

In other cameras, instead of the icons, there is usually the word SCENE or SCN, and it usually includes all the available modes within a menu where you can select them.

Most semi-professional cameras incorporate scene modes, although the most professional ones tend to do without them. Professional photographers do not usually use them since there is nothing better than manual mode to choose the parameters you need to capture or create your modes, which is the option offered by the most professional cameras.

You must bear in mind that with the scene modes, the control that can be made of the camera parameters is minimal. The camera itself is the one that does all the work, controlling both the aperture of the diaphragm and the shutter speed and sometimes even the ISO sensitivity.

However, if you start in the world of photography, trying scene modes can help you know a little more about what type of parameters are most recommended for every kind of photography and become familiar with aspects and terms such as shutter speed aperture or white balance. If you try, you will realize that the parameters will vary according to the capture you want to make.

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Scene Modes Analyzed in Detail

In this article, we will analyze, one by one, all the scene modes that are usually found in today’s cameras.

Keep in mind that if you take your photographs in JPEG format, the scene mode will be applied directly to the capture, while if you shoot in RAW format, the scene mode you choose will not be used to them (actually, the post-processing part of the settings). In this case, you will have to select it again and apply it from the program where you are going to edit your captures later, such as Lightroom or Photoshop.

Portrait mode

The Portrait Mode is the most used to take pictures of static people or objects, and the icon that usually represents it is a person with a hat. As you can see in the example, the camera tends to select a shallow depth of field ( low f-numbers ).

This makes the subject appear sharp and attracts attention, while the background is softened or out of focus. This mode is recommended for portraits of people with soft, natural skin tones.

Landscape mode

If you are going to spend the day in the countryside, don’t forget to try Landscape Mode. The icon that represents this mode is precisely a landscape with two peaks of a mountain. Landscapes are typically shot on a tripod and at narrow apertures ( high f-numbers ) to ensure that the broadest possible view is sharp.

For this reason, landscape mode will emphasize those small apertures (high f-numbers) for a more comprehensive depth of field. It is like using the semi-automatic method with aperture priority (A) but with much less control over the parameters since it will be the camera that decides those settings. Use this mode for vivid landscape shots under daylight.

Kid mode

The Child Scene Mode addresses the need to saturate colors in a child’s clothing and any colorful background, but without excessively saturating the skin colors to remain soft and natural. The icon that usually represents it is that of a child with a cap and raised arms, simulating movement.

Therefore, this mode’s goal is for the child’s clothing and background details to be captured vividly while balancing shutter speed and aperture. As it does? Using a shutter speed fast enough to catch a moving child and a wide enough gap for the child appears sharp.

Sports mode

Sports Scene Mode emphasizes faster shutter speeds to freeze motion since sports typically involve people or objects moving quickly. The icon that usually represents this mode is a person running.

Therefore, the camera tries to find the fastest shutter speed the camera allows and increase the aperture ( low f-numbers ) to obtain an acceptable exposure. Consequently, you will get relatively shallow depths of the field. This mode is very similar to the shutter-priority semi-automatic (S) mode but less control over this parameter. For a sequence of shots, be sure to select burst mode to increase the chance of getting a perfect image.

Macro mode

Macro Mode is often used for close-up shots of flowers, insects, and other small objects (although no matter how close you are, you will always need a macro lens for optimal results). The icon with which this mode is usually represented is a flower with pointed petals and two leaves.

This mode uses a fast shutter speed to minimize camera shake and blur the photo while providing a depth of field wide enough to focus on the subject or object in question. To avoid jitters’ appearance, it is recommended that if you use this mode, you also use a tripod.

Night Portrait Mode

The Night Portrait Mode is very similar to the macro mode as it also tends to find a balance between aperture and shutter speed. The icon that usually represents this mode is a person with a flash next to the head.

Aim to find a shutter speed fast enough to avoid camera shake while trying to open the aperture as wide as possible ( low f-number ) to let in as much light as possible.

It is often used to achieve a natural balance between the main subject and the background in portraits taken under low lighting. As in the macro case, it is also recommended that you use a tripod.

Other Interesting Scene Modes

The scene modes that we have seen: portrait, landscape, child, sports, macro, and night portrait, are the ones that you will generally find in most cameras, but there are other types of exciting scene modes that you should know. We will also analyze them one by one to understand how they work if you venture to experiment with them. Take note!

Night Landscape Mode

The Night Landscape Scene Mode is intended to be used when you have a tripod and take night photography . The icon, without going any further, is a building of a city illuminated by a crescent.

When the environment is dark, the camera uses long exposures and a high ISO sensitivity, which automatically activates the noise reduction option. The latter is not a big problem when we shoot with a high or very high ISO.

Since the camera most likely receives light from multiple different lighting sources (neon, spotlights, streetlights, moonlight, etc.), the camera will try to minimize unnatural colors so that the result is as homogeneous as possible.

Party / Indoor Mode

Indoor or Party Mode captures indoor background lighting effects by balancing the power of the fill flash and ambient background lighting, also activating red-eye reduction. The icon that usually represents it is a festive object throwing confetti.

This model tries to avoid photographing overly lit subjects and very dark backgrounds by allowing the latter also to come out bright. It usually uses slow shutter speeds, so it is not recommended that residents move too fast. Otherwise, the capture will be blurred.

Beach / Snow Mode

Beach & Snow Mode is a mode optimized to function correctly on brighter areas, such as water, sand, or snow. The image that represents him is a beach and a snowman.

This model tends to seek an exposure balance so that the photos are not burned, or the bright element’s actual color (snow, water, or sand) is misinterpreted. As it is also a landscape mode, it will intensify the shades if they are present within the photograph and define the image more.


Sunset Mode

Sunsets typically provide intense colors that Sunset Mode tries to emphasize. Its icon is a setting sun with dots that represent the last rays of daylight.

This mode preserves the depth of the characteristic tones in the sunsets. It uses small apertures and slow shutter speeds, so it is better to use a tripod to avoid capturing completely blurry images. Remember that you won’t have much time while the sun is on the horizon, so take advantage!

Dusk / Dawn mode

Dawn and twilight tend to have delightful colors, although the light is a bit poor, so the Sunrise and Sunset Mode will try to capture those ocher and orange colors by slightly saturating them. The icon is also a sun, but in this case, it has fewer rays of light.

The camera performs a more relaxed 4550K white balance to achieve this effect, preserving colors and natural soft light in sunsets and sunrises. Since the lighting is even more flawed than in the previous case, you must use a tripod.

Pet Portrait Mode

Pet Portrait Scene Mode gives you fast shutter speeds so you can capture the movement of a pet. The icon that represents it is a cat with its tail raised.

This mode will give you a shallow depth of field to focus your attention on the pet. While the saturation and contrast of the animal’s color will not be affected, it does tend to saturate the backgrounds or accessories that the photographed animal may carry.

Also, try to increase the sharpness to emphasize aspects such as the pet’s fur or eyes. The same effect applies to textures, as each animal’s unique characteristics, such as feathers, scales, or claws, are accentuated.

Candlelight Mode

The Candlelight Mode is used for photographs where fire, candles, birthday cakes, and other special effects are the protagonists. The flame of a candle usually represents the icon.

The camera will use a medium-cool white balance of about 4350K to balance the candlelight emits’ warm color. If you want to use this mode, you should not forget to use a tripod because shutter speeds will be slow.


Flowers Mode

If you are passionate about gardening, you will enjoy trying the Flower Mode since this mode is used for photographing fields, flower gardens, and other landscapes that include flowers. The icon that represents it is usually a tree with a height on the left side.

Since you need to bring out most of the flowers that are part of your composition sharp, the camera will select small apertures ( high f-numbers ). Similarly, to capture the flowers’ color, the camera will use a more vivid capture mode that helps you saturate the colors more.

Fall Colors Mode

As its name suggests, Fall Colors Mode captures the bright reds, yellows, and oranges characteristic of fallen leaves from trees in autumn with more excellent saturation. The icon that represents him is a tree with a flower, in this case, on the left side.

As you can see, it also uses small apertures ( high f-numbers ) to focus most of the landscape correctly. If the lighting conditions are low, it is recommended to use a tripod to avoid shake.

Food mode

Food images should be pleasing in color but not saturated. This is what the Food Mode takes care of, balancing saturation and contrast to provide a natural look. The icon that usually represents this mode is a fork and a knife.

To whet our appetite, this mode emphasizes wide openings (low f-numbers) to capture more light, but without being maximum openings to ensure that all-important foods are in focus and are the protagonists of the capture.

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Go Practice! (One way or another)

In short, after having analyzed the scene modes, we could consider them as automatic modes that adapt as much as possible to each type of photography. They have the advantage of doing the work for you and the disadvantage of not having full control over the parameters.

However, it never hurts to know them since they can be useful in emergencies or as a learning method if you are a beginner in photography. So now you know, if you don’t know them yet, dare to experiment!