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What your Camera Dial is Telling You…

TV, AV, What The?

Have you taken a look at your camera dial lately?

There are so many options and you’d be forgiven for switching it to auto or even reaching for your camera phone at times because it just feels a little too overwhelming!

Our blog post today will helps tackle the dial codes that are most useful, what they stand for, and how best to use them!


Let’s start with the Exposure Triangle…

The what?

If you haven’t heard this term before, you’re in for a treat!  This is the best way forward to understand how to use your settings to get the shots that you like… and it all comes down to this:

You can control how light enters the camera’s sensor in three ways – aperture, shutter speed, and ISO; and this is commonly referred to as the Exposure Triangle.

Read More: The Exposure Triangle Explained

Each element affects the image in different ways, and all three work together to find a balance that achieves perfect exposure.

The dials on our camera let us select all, or some of these, to achieve ‘correct exposure’.  If one setting is changed… there’ll be more or less light, and so another setting needs to compensate to get it back to a balance.

what settings to use on my camera

In a nutshell

AUTO:  Auto is the point and shoot setting.  The camera’s meter reads the light, chooses the aperture, shutter speed and ISO for you, and assuming conditions are just right attempts to achieve a good exposure.

Manual (M): You control and select all the camera settings to create your own perfect exposure based on the light and conditions as you see them!

Semi-AUTO (Av, Tv):  You set one of the elements you want to control, and the camera decides on the rest, based on its reading of the light…


What are AV and TV when they’re at home…?

AV and TV sit somewhere in the middle between manual and auto.

They’re generally known as partial manual modes.  AV stands for Aperture Value, and TV stands for Timer Value.  AV controls your aperture, and TV controls your shutter speed.

When we choose AV: we decide what aperture value to shoot with, then the camera will choose a shutter speed and ISO to go with your chosen aperture value to achieve correct exposure. The camera will continuously adjust those two settings to compensate as the light changes or as you or your subject moves around.  AV allows us to select the aperture that best suits our desired shot.

When we choose TV: we must decide what shutter speed we wish to shoot with, then the camera will choose an aperture and ISO to go with your chosen shutter speed to achieve correct exposure. Exactly as with AV, the camera adjusts the other two settings as required.  TV is a great mode if you’re shooting sports or action, and want to ensure a high shutter speed… or you’re capturing blur or motion and want to keep your shutter speed nice and low.


When would we use AV or TV modes?

Sometimes art is not the aim of the day (gasp! I know right?). Sometimes we just want to capture the moments for memory sake, such as our son’s 7th birthday party, or our daughter’s debut at little athletics. We don’t have the time or perhaps the confidence to move through the settings in Manual mode with speed, but we also don’t want to leave it up to full Auto which we know is too hit and miss

By choosing AV or TV mode, we can dictate the most important setting for the situation.

For example, when shooting a first race, shutter speed is important to freeze that motion, so we would want to control that element ourselves and therefore choose TV mode. Then we can rely on the camera to monitor and adjust the aperture and ISO and we can just point and shoot, but with a little more control than full Auto.

Likewise, there may be a situation where you want the effect of a specific aperture setting, and the shutter speed and ISO isn’t as important. So you would choose AV mode, and rely on the camera to adjust shutter speed and ISO.


But wait, there’s more…

So right about now you’re probably thinking “why would I bother with manual mode if I can get better exposure in AV or TV?”.

Well, I’m glad you asked!

Whenever your camera’s sensor detects even the most subtle change of light, it assumes it needs to adjust its settings to compensate. What’s more, the sensor will be tricked by things like large expanses of highlights (think bright white sky) or shadows (such as a dense area of foliage, or a person wearing all black) and the camera will adjust its settings for those too.

The result is a series of images with inconsistent exposures, and literally hours in post processing trying to match them all up.

So whilst AV and TV modes are handy for times when you want good exposure but don’t need perfect consistent exposure, when you’re creating art or simply want full control of your images, manual is the only way to go!

Here’s one of my favourite examples of why controlling your own settings will open up a whole new world of photography vs what your camera’s Auto wants to create… (& it’s pop up flash!)

learn photography online


Ready to start taking the magazine worthy photos you always imagined? You know what I mean, it’s the reason you bought an expensive DSLR!! Our Enthusiast Photography Course is exactly what you’re looking for. Head over and grab a spot on the next round, it starts in January!


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One Response to What your Camera Dial is Telling You…

  1. Donna April 18, 2014 at 11:27 pm #

    This explanation has been so straightforward and in easy to understand language, not too technical. I’m finally getting the picture (pardon the pun)

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