Best exposure modes for holiday photos

Aperture Priority mode and depth of field

When taking holiday photos, I prefer setting the camera to Aperture Priority (AV) and keeping the lens open fairly wide. This usually results in the camera selecting a shutter speed that will sufficiently freeze the action and provide a shallow depth of field to help isolate the subject in a picture. Your mileage may vary depending on your camera.

Sometimes I’ll check exposure info while shooting in Aperture Priority and find that the best exposures happen consistently within a certain range of aperture and shutter speed. I’ll then switch to Manual Mode and lock in that exposure.

This is especially helpful if you have lots of decorative lighting in the room, especially near the Christmas tree, that can throw off a camera’s light meter.

Photo by James Jordan

Program mode

Program mode allows the camera to choose the aperture/shutter speed combo. If you’re unsure about using Aperture Priority mode, this is your next best bet. Unlike full Auto modes, P mode lets you change settings such as white balance, ISO and Exposure Compensation and gives the photographer more control than using a fully automatic mode.

Auto Exposure modes

Most Auto Exposure modes make taking every picture a gamble. If possible, don’t use Auto mode since it leaves all settings up to the camera.

The only possible exception is if you have a newer digital camera with an Intelligent Auto mode and shy away from tweaking camera settings. Intelligent Auto modes on some cameras are actually quite effective. Just make sure to take test shots to determine if the overall results are satisfactory. But, as mentioned above, using Aperture Priority mode or Program mode is the way to go.

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