was successfully added to your cart.

What scene modes do. And why you don’t really need them.

By May 10, 2018 Photography No Comments

If shooting with Auto is like going into the restaurant and asking for ‘some food,’ then using a Scene mode is like walking in and asking for ‘meat’—it will narrow the menu down a little, but it still doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get exactly what you’re after.

As the catchall name suggests, these modes are designed for photographing specific scenes: Landscape mode for landscapes, Portrait mode for portraits, Sports mode for… well, you get the idea. This sounds great in theory, but Scene modes are only a small step up from Auto—the camera still sets exposure, focus, and everything else for you, locking you out of the process. The main difference is that while Auto approaches every subject in the same way, Scene modes shift the shooting parameters slightly.

However, despite the differences between the modes, each of them is still fully automated, which can lead to disappointing results if your subject doesn’t fit neatly into the Scene mode’s preprogrammed parameters—not all portraits are the same, for example, but Portrait mode will use a ‘one size fits all’ approach. As you’re locked out of the process, there’s nothing you can do to remedy things when they go awry, so while setting a Scene mode at least tells the camera that you know what you’re photographing, your creativity definitely deserves better.

What you get with scene modes


  • Small aperture for large depth of field (front-to-back focus)
  • Saturation and sharpness boosted


  • Wide aperture for shallow depth of field (blurred background)
  • Neutral colour and contrast to preserve skin tones


  • Small aperture for increased depth of field
  • Shutter speed set fast enough to minimise risk of camera shake


  • ISO increased to allow fast, motion-freezing shutter speed


  • White balance doesn’t overcompensate for warm colour of sky
  • Saturation increased for intense colours

Night portrait

  • Flash red to illuminate subject
  • Long shutter speed to record (dark) background that isn’t lit by flash

Beyond Auto is Chris Gatcum’s easily accessible guide which will set you free. Unlike other beginners book it does not attempt to explain each and very button, dial and feature on your camera, or explore precisely where each pixel comes from. Instead it concentrates on the key creative controls, including exposure, focus and colour; essential skills that’ll enable you to take the sensational pictures that Auto mode simply can’t.

Beyond Auto, Chris GatcumBeyond Auto
Chris Gatcum

Buy it now!
RRP for print edition: £9.99

Our Amazon Store

Leave a Reply