Digital Camera Scene Modes: What Do All Those Scene Modes Mean?

Digital SLR Camera Dial

Sure, some scene modes on your digital camera are pretty self-explanatory, but others may leave you scratching your head. Here’s a list of some of the most popular scene modes and an easy-to-understand description of what they do and how they do it.

Beach/Snow: icon is often a snowman, snowflake, palm tree, or beach

Photographing beaches or snow can be difficult and result in photos appearing washed out (ever try to capture snow scenes where the snow looks to be more grey than white?). This scene mode will adjust the exposure and white balance so that photos aren’t overexposed.

Silly Snowmen

Close Up/Macro: icon is most commonly a flower

The Close Up scene mode on a digital camera is used to capture photos of small subjects, such as flowers and insects. This scene mode will typically use a wide aperture and fast shutter speed and will result in images showing great detail and clarity and a shallow depth of field (blurred background). For best results, use a tripod when using this scene mode.

Caterpillar and Flowers Macro Photo

Dusk/Dawn: often illustrated with a half-sun

This camera scene mode will help compensate for the low light conditions found just before the sun rises and right after the sun sets. A longer exposure is used, so using a tripod or other means of camera stabilization is recommended.

Woman Doing Yoga on the Beach at Sunrise

Fireworks: icon is of fireworks

Slow shutter speeds are used with this scene mode to help capture optimal photos of fireworks. This mode requires the use of a tripod or other camera stabilization technique in order to avoid blurry images.

Fireworks and People on the Beach

Landscape: icon is most often a mountain

Using a small aperture, the camera will focus on objects in the distance. As this mode creates images with the maximum depth of field possible, using the Landscape mode is also a good choice when trying to photograph views from planes or buildings because the camera won’t attempt to focus on the glass.

Landscape Photo of Water Trees Mountains and Little Island

Night Landscape: often illustrated as a mountain and star

Similar to Landscape, the Night Landscape scene mode will create images with the largest depth of field possible to focus on subjects in the distance. Slow shutter speeds, or longer exposures, are used to allow more light to enter the camera’s sensor, so use a tripod for best results.

Winter Cabin with Snowy Landscape

Museum: icon is usually of a building

This scene mode will turn the digital camera’s flash off—which helps eliminate glare when photographing glass—and, sometimes, the sound effects the camera makes too. The Museum scene mode will adjust the camera’s exposure to compensate for the lack of flash. Some cameras will increase the shutter speed to help eliminate camera shake, but a tripod is still recommended for best results.

Young Boy and Girl Looking at Museum Display

Portrait: icon is a picture of a person

The Portrait scene mode found on a digital camera will use a wide aperture, resulting in the photo having a shallow depth of field. This means that the subject will be in focus, whilst the background is blurred, eliminating distractions.

Portrait of Little Girl Smiling

Night Portrait: icon typically of a person and star

The camera’s built-in flash is used with this scene mode. Oftentimes, red-eye reduction features are also enabled. The Night Portrait scene mode will use slow shutter speeds in attempts to capture darker portraits with a correct exposure, so use a tripod.

Night Portrait of a Woman in the City

Party/Indoor: icon often looks like confetti or candle

This camera scene mode uses exposure settings similar to Night Portrait mode: the flash and red-eye reduction is turned on, and slow shutter speeds are used. This camera scene mode will adjust exposure settings to help capture photos in low light conditions, without causing subjects to look washed out or backgrounds to be unclear.

Women Clinking Glasses at Party

Sports: icon of person running

The Sports scene mode on a digital camera uses a fast shutter speed in attempts to “freeze” moving subjects, resulting in action shots that are crisp, clear and blur-free. For best results, use this camera scene mode in ideal lighting conditions, using camera stabilization techniques and, if possible, pre-focus the camera before shooting.

Action Photo of Children and Dog Racing

Your camera’s scene modes are there to make your job easier, so don’t be afraid to use them! If, on the other hand, you want to start shooting in full manual mode, check out our review of CameraSim, a free online camera simulator that helps you understand and master your camera’s exposure controls. And don’t forget to give your photos the attention they deserve! Let Posterjack turn your amazing photos into art!


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