Get More Acquainted With Your DSLR Camera Preset Options

So you took the plunge and bought a DSLR.  Excellent!  A whole new world of creative photography has just opened up for you.  The picture quality, low noise levels, and creative settings on that new fancy dial on top are yours to command with your new photographer DSLR powers!

Hmm…  Speaking of that new fancy dial on top, what do all those settings mean anyway?  Sure, the guy at the store told you to just keep it on the “auto” or “green” box setting, but you own the DSLR now. So let’s dig into the details so you can start to get some good photos from it!  To start things out, let’s go through them one at a time.



  • “Green Mode” – This mode (sometimes called Auto or just a green square) is just like what is sounds.  It turns your camera into a point-and-shoot camera.  Use this when you just want to take a basic picture. Just remember that it will be whatever the camera determines is the best settings. 
  • Scene Modes – (Night Portrait, Sports, Close-up, Landscape, Portrait) all those little icons.  Use these if you want a quick fix to a tricky lighting problem.
  • P – Program Auto (Point-and-shoot mode but with access to some options.)  This setting is the same as the green mode, but you can override some setting if the camera doesn’t get it right.
  • S or TV – Shutter Priority (You choose the shutter speed, and the camera selects the aperture.)  If you need to freeze time and stop action, this is the setting for you.  If your child is running around, or you want to snap a frame of a fast moving car, choose a 1/250 or faster.  If you want to create that nice soft flowing water effect of a stream, then choose a setting of about 1/2 or slower.
  • nikon_d90_mode_dialA or Av – Aperture Priority (You choose the aperture, and the camera selects the shutter speed.)  If you want to control the depth of field  (the area in focus), then use this mode.  A small number will open the aperture wide and create a shallow depth of field and throw the foreground and background out of focus.  A very groovy effect.  If you want your entire landscape to be in crisp, sharp focus, then choose a larger number, and the aperture will be small, and everything will be sharp.
  • M – Manual (You choose both the shutter speed and aperture.)   This mode is the most advanced and also the most creative.  You get to decide what the camera records.  The best way to learn is simply to try and then see what happens.
  • There are a few additional settings that are unique to each camera manufacturer.  I have a Canon 50D, and it has a few extra setting called C1, C2, and A-DEP, but those settings are “extras” that Canon, Nikon, Sony, Olympus, Pentax all throw on their camera to differentiate them from each other.


If you want to see your photography expand beyond the point-and-shoot snapshots, learn the three manual modes (Av, Tv, and M.)  Now we are getting to where the fun starts AND here is what separates a DSLR camera from the common point-and-shoot.

In later articles, I’ll dig into each of the Auto settings to help explain some of the mystery behind each of them.


About the Author:
Although the usual hangout for sharing his photography is, you will also find brickmonkey as an occasional groovyContributor here @ for photography tips and tricks.



  1. SDH

    May 11, 2010 at 1:23 am

    It would also be worth mentioning the flash off icon which is standard on most DSLR’s, as the flash popping up can be inconvenient on shots (especially nighttime long exposures or very wide angle lenses), or prohibited (museums, babies, pets etc).

    Additionally there is the macro setting for really close up shots, again usually standard on the main dial.

    • MrGroove

      May 11, 2010 at 8:20 am

      @SDH – thanks for the good tips. I’m still working to figure out the whole world of flash photography. For some a work in progress!

    • Brickmonkey

      May 11, 2010 at 8:38 am

      Thanks for those tips. One thing to remember is that when you push past using the scene modes and green mode and use the more manual modes, you no longer need to worry about the flash going off as it usually only does that in an automatic scene mode. The macro setting is less useful on a DSLR than a fixed lens camera like a point and shoot. A DSLR is much more dependant on the lenses you use such as a true macro lens and when you use a macro lens you do not want to use the auto macro scene mode setting.


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