Editors' note: This story was originally published in Feburary 2010. Surprisingly little has changed since then, but enough that it merited an update to include video, 3D, and screenshots of cameras from manufacturers still in the business.
Everyone out there who leaves their camera set on full automatic, raise your hands.
Automatic is great while you're learning your camera, and I frequently recommend it to people who want to step up to a dSLR but are too intimidated by all the settings on the camera. But like any crutch, ultimately you're better off without it. Here's some guidance about all those other modes you could be shooting in.
If you're frequently unhappy with your photos shot in Auto, it's time to substitute some of the camera's decisions with your own. Auto can only guess that you're shooting sports, but you know. Why leave it to chance? Choosing from these modes is the way you provide important information to the camera to help it make better decisions. Yes, it'd be nice if the camera could just take perfect pictures without any thought on your part, but most technology simply isn't that smart yet.
I'll start with some basic terms, then move to the core shooting modes -- ones that have been around forever and that you really should try (if your camera has them) when you're ready to take control of your photography. If you're not ready for these, then jump below to Typical scene program modes and Less-common scene modes. … Read more