In learning how to become proficient with your digital camera’s capabilities, you need to be able to decipher the cryptic icons that are on the camera and in the menu. Those tiny icons are the keys to a wealth of information about the functions and features of your camera.

In order to make it as easy as possible to be creative, the makers of cameras had to streamline complex information into instantly recognizable symbols, like the lighting bolt which stands for flash.

But there are other symbols that may not be as easy to figure out, like the head of the lady.

Simple symbol sense

A-DEP: Automatic depth of field — This mode will choose a shutter speed and aperture combination to let you achieve a certain depth of field effect.

M or an icon of a camera with an M beside it: Manual Mode — You get to make all the decisions. Buttons on the camera set shutter speed (how fast the shutter opens) and aperture size (how much light is let in the camera. This mode is a bit harder to master as digital is pretty unforgiving of exposure mistakes. But it is well worth learning.

Selective focus and shallow depth of field enables this columbine to stand out in stark relief to a busy background. This was photographed using the Av setting.

Selective focus and shallow depth of field enables this columbine to stand out in stark relief to a busy background. This was photographed using the AV setting.

AV: Aperture Priority Mode — You set the size of the aperture, your camera automatically provides the right shutter speed to deliver a correct exposure. Rely on this mode to blur the background or to keep the entire image in sharp focus.

TV: Shutter Priority Mode — This setting is your best option for taking action photography. Shutter priority allows you to freeze the scene or artistically blur the picture. All the while, the camera keeps the exposure matched to the aperture. You set the shutter and the camera does the rest.

P: Program Mode — Like Auto mode on mega-vitamins, this mode automatically sets aperture size and shutter speed for a perfect exposure — but it also lets you tweak settings, giving you more creative control. You can change white balance and exposure compensation, for instance, and even nudge shutter speed up or down a bit.

A or an icon of a camera or in the case of the dial pictured here, a little square: Auto Mode — The camera does it all and usually locks you out of making any changes.

Head of a lady: Portrait Mode — Different camera manufactures draw her differently, but basically it is the head of a person. This mode makes your subject sharp while blurring the background. The closer your subject is to the camera and the farther she is from the background, the more pronounced the difference will be between the sharp subject and the soft background.

Symbol of mountains: Landscape Mode — In this mode, the camera chooses the best aperture and shutter speed in order to give you as much of the scene in focus as possible. (Like the bushes in the foreground of an image and the mountains in the background.)

Icon of a flower: Macro Mode — Use this mode when you are trying to capture life-size images of small subjects and you want to be within just a few inches of the subject.

An icon of a figure in motion: Action Mode — In the action or sports mode, the camera sets the highest possible shutter speed in the light possible, increasing your odds of getting a clear shot of your child running down the soccer field.

An icon of a scene with a moon or star in it: Night Mode — This allows you to capture nighttime scenes by combining a flash, which freezes people in the foreground, with a slow shutter speed, which allows lights from buildings, cars, and other elements to show in the background. This is a fun mode for getting creative, so, have fun!

Icon of lightning bolt: Flash Mode — You can turn this off or leave it on when indoors or turn it on outdoors for a little fill light on a shaded subject.

Icon of eye and lightning bolt: Red eye reduction — Use this setting to eliminate the dreaded “red-eye” syndrome when taking photos of people with a flash.

Trash can: Throw an image away or throw them all away. Be careful on this one!

Movie Mode: Icon of a little movie camera — Many cameras have this mode enabling you to capture short video segments. They usually aren’t good enough for DVD but they are good enough to send to Gramma. The newer cameras are getting better and better at doing both stills and video.

“One should really use the camera as though tomorrow you’d be stricken blind.”
— Dorothea Lange

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