Creative Modes

This is a blog post that is designed for photography beginners… whether you shoot with an entry-level DSLR or a point-and-shoot camera.

If you are new to photography there is a temptation to leave your camera on automatic all the time.  As you progress you will want to learn how you can take control.  A first step to this can sometimes be just using and understanding what the different ‘creative modes’ do on your camera.  It is worth taking the time to understand what these modes actually do… then later when you progress to taking more control of your photography you the same effects that the modes do by setting the aperture, shutter speed and ISO yourself.

Creative modes are usually indicated by icons such as a person, a flower, mountain etc. The modes are very similar to the fully automatic mode except that they are each optimised for a certain type of photography. As with the fully automatic mode, you will find that the camera takes control of functions such as ISO settings, metering modes and focusing modes. These modes will vary from camera to camera. You will need to check your manual for specific details for your camera.  But below are the five most common modes and an explanation as to what they do.


Portrait mode will favour wide aperture (low f-number), to give a blurred background, this will result in a high shutter speed to reduce camera shake. Low ISO is favoured to reduce noise and give softer skin. Flash may be automatically activated if required


This mode favours small aperture (large f-number), to give a maximum depth of field. This will result in a slow shutter speed, so you may need to use a tripod or support the camera. Low ISO is favoured to reduce noise. Flash disabled – it’ll never reach the mountains! Some camera may enhance greens when processing


Favours fast shutter speed to freeze the action, which will result in a wide aperture and thus shallow DOF. May use high ISO (to ensure a fast shutter speed) this may give some noise. The flash is disabled – it’ll never reach the action. Some cameras may go into multi-shot mode

Pets & Children

Favours a higher ISO than portrait mode to get a slightly faster shutter speed (children & pets move!). Because the aperture is smaller there is a wider DOF than portrait mode. Flash is enabled but make sure subject is within range of your flash (typically no more than 5m).


Flash is disabled, (you will be too close to the subject). This mode may enhance greens when processing the image. Shutter & aperture settings are based on an algorithm to give max DOF but to keep the shutter speed reasonably high. The algorithm is probably camera specific