Digital SLRs - Scene Modes and Picture Styles

What is a scene mode?

A scene mode is a setting you can use that tells your Digital SLR the type of picture you are about to take. The advantage of this is that the camera can use this information to decide on the optimum settings for the photo.

When you select a scene mode your camera will use similar settings to those you would have selected if you were an experienced photographer. In a nutshell it selects the shutter speed, aperture size and any other setting required to achieve a specific look.

If you are an experienced photographer who is comfortable with the various manual controls on a Digital SLR you are less likely to dip into the scene modes on offer. Therefore this is a feature targeted at people who are new to this type of camera.

If you own a compact digital camera it is almost certain to have a set of scene modes. There is little difference between those found on a Digital SLR and those found on a compact digital camera. So if you are already used to using them you should find it a seamless transition when moving up to a Digital SLR.

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Different DSLRs - Different Scene Modes?

The scene modes available vary from camera to camera. You are far more likely to find an extensive set of scene modes on a consumer level Digital SLR than on a more advanced model. The number of scene modes available tends to vary between brands as well.

Scene Modes Vs Automatic Mode?

You may be wondering how and why using a scene mode is different to using program auto or fully automatic mode. Although there are similarities between the modes - the camera still makes all the key exposure decisions - the settings the camera uses may be very different if you opt to use a scene mode. For example if you use sports or action the camera will know that you are trying to freeze motion. To do this it will use a fast shutter speed and a larger aperture. As well as freezing movement in the scene to make your main subject sharp, it will also throw the background out of focus. This helps to further accentuate your subject and separate it from the background.

If you were using automatic mode instead of sports mode the camera would have no idea you were trying to freeze motion. It would opt to use a mid range shutter speed. The likely result would be a picture with a blurred subject.

How Do You Select a Scene Mode?

Scene modes are found in the camera's menu system. Some cameras may also include a selection of the most popular scene modes on the main control dial.

Digital SLR Guide Pages

Digital SLR Basics
Digital SLRs and Digital Cameras Key Differences
Digital SLR or Compact System Cameras
Digital SLR Handling
Help for Beginners

Lenses and Accessories
Buying a Camera Lens
Memory Cards
Digital SLR Accessories

Learn More About Features
Resolution and Sensor Size
Sensor Cleaning
Manual Exposure Modes
ISO Range
White Balance
Auto Focus
Drive Modes
Scene Modes
Help With Tricky Lighting
Metering Modes
RAW Mode
Live View and Articulated Screens
Flash Options
Movie Modes
Depth of Field Preview Button
Image Stabilisation
Mirror Lockup

Current and Recommended Models
Summary of Current Models
Recommended Digital SLRs

Digital SLR Guide Author
This guide was written by Ian Younger

What Scene Modes Are There?

Typical scene modes include:

  1. Portrait Mode
  2. Landscape Mode
  3. Sports Mode
  4. Night Mode
  5. Indoor Mode
  6. Beach Mode
  7. Underwater Mode
  8. Snow Mode
  9. Foliage Mode
  10. Night Portrait Mode

You may find a selection of other modes on your Digital SLR.

What Do the Main Scene Modes Do?

Portrait Mode : Here the camera will use a large aperture to throw the background out of focus and ensure your main subject is in sharp focus.

Landscape Mode : In Landscape Mode the opposite to portrait mode occurs. The camera will choose a small aperture to ensure the whole of your scene is in sharp focus. To compensate for this

it will use a slower shutter speed. Be aware that one of the downsides of a slow shutter speed is that you have to hold the camera steady for longer while the photo is being taken. This can lead to blur creeping into the shot. This can be negated to some extent if you use a lens with Image Stabilisation, but ideally you would take all landscape shots using a tripod.

Sports Mode : Sports mode uses a fast shutter speed to freeze motion. It can be used when photographing any subject where there is fast motion or your subject might move quickly. Subjects include wildlife, motor sports, pets and young children at play.

Night Mode : This mode works a little differently to other scene modes. This is because it uses more than just the shutter speed and aperture to create the desired effect. To start with it uses a slow shutter speed. This makes sure enough light is captured to properly expose the back of the scene. Then it fires off a burst of flash. This ensures the foreground of the shot is well lit too.

Indoor Mode : Indoor photography can pose two problems for a camera. The first is a lack of light. The second is working with artificial light rather than natural light from the sun. To get around the first problem the camera will use a slower shutter speed to draw extra light into the picture. The second action it takes is to adjust white balance. This reduces any colour caste caused by the artificial light.

Picture Styles

In addition to scene modes your Digital SLR may well come with Picture Styles. This feature allows you to select from a number of different pre-set 'recipes' that will mix ingredients such as colour tone, sharpness, contrast and saturation in different ways to suit different subjects. Canon call these Picture Styles, while Nikon uses the term Picture Control, Olympus calls it Picture Mode and Sony uses the name Creative Styles. Typical settings include Vivid, Natural (or Faithful), Landscape and Black & White.