How to Use Scene Modes to Learn More Photography

If you are starting in the world of photography, surely you still have many doubts about which parameters are better than others when it comes to approaching a specific type of photography.

It is always recommended that you spend time and learn by trial / error with the manual mode , but there are also some automatic and semi-automatic modes that can serve as a learning method . For this reason, in this article we are going to 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 or manually, adjust the camera within specific parameters adapted to the type of photography we want to take . They are those little icons that are 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. In fact, professional photographers do not usually use them, since there is nothing better than manual mode to choose the parameters you need for your capture or create your own 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 are starting in the world of photography, trying scene modes can help you to know a little more what type of parameters are most recommended for each type of photography and thus 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.

Scene Modes Analyzed in Detail

In this article we are going to 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 applied 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. In fact, 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 widest possible view is sharp.

For this reason, landscape mode will emphasize those small apertures (high f-numbers) for a wider depth of field. It is like using the semi-automatic mode 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 so that they remain soft and natural. The icon that usually represents it is that of a child with a cap and raised arms, simulating movement.

The goal in this mode, therefore, is for the child’s clothing and background details to be captured vividly, while providing a balance between shutter speed and aperture . As it does? Using a shutter speed fast enough to capture a moving child and a wide enough aperture for the child to appear sharp.

Sports mode

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

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

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 trying to provide a depth of field wide enough to focus on the subject or object in question. To avoid the appearance of jitters, 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. In this case, 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 normally find in most cameras, but there are other types of interesting scene modes that you should know . We are also going to analyze them one by one so that you know 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 longer exposures and a high ISO sensitivity , so it usually automatically activates the noise reduction option , so that 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 the effects of indoor background lighting 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 mode tries to avoid photographing overly lit subjects and very dark backgrounds by allowing the latter to also come out bright. It usually uses slow shutter speeds so it is not recommended that subjects move too fast, otherwise the capture will be blurred.

Beach / Snow Mode

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

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

Sunset Mode

Sunsets typically provide very deep 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 and 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 very pleasant 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.

To achieve this effect, the camera performs a cooler 4550K white balance , preserving colors and natural soft light in sunsets and sunrises . Since the lighting is even more poor than in the previous case, it is essential that you 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 the special characteristics of each animal 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 icon is usually represented by the flame of a candle.

The camera will use a medium-cool white balance of about 4350K to balance the warm color that the candlelight emits . Keep in mind that if you want to use this mode you should not forget to use a tripod because shutter speeds will tend to 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 for other landscapes that include flowers . The icon that represents it is usually a tree with a flower 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 color of the flowers the camera will use a more vivid capture mode that helps you to saturate the colors more.

Fall Colors Mode

Fall Colors Mode, as its name suggests, captures the bright reds, yellows and oranges characteristic of fallen leaves from trees in autumn with greater saturation . The icon that represents him in 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 correctly focus most of the landscape. If the lighting conditions are poor, 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.

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 being able to have full control over the parameters.

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