How I use my Nikon D90 – Part 1 (Camera Modes)

I use a Nikon D90 to take pictures. I can’t compare it with any other DSLR, since this is the only DSLR I own. I used a film SLR (Nikon N80) in the past, but I guess I never tried to learn the camera as much I should have. Most of the time, camera did all the work for me in ‘Auto’ mode.

I have been taking pictures for quite some time (with point and shoot cameras mainly) and I was quite proud of myself taking those ‘wonderful shots’ until I started looking at pictures posted on Flickr and Picasa etc. I have to admit, it was a humbling experience to me. So when I got my first DSLR (Nikon D90), I decided to invest some time in learning the equipment and experiment with it. I am still learning and experimenting, but I thought, I would share what I learned so far about my D90.

I know there are hundreds of articles and many books out there explaining D90 and its features. I am not trying to explain how this camera works or the different settings. All I am trying here is to explain the settings that I use on my camera. My settings may not work for you, but hopefully this will give you an idea, if you are not completely comfortable with your camera settings and you want to experiment and learn.

Camera Modes:

I never use the fully automatic (Auto) or pre programmed modes such as portrait, sports etc. on my D90. I shoot in P/A/S or Manual mode.

P – Programmable Auto mode:

The P mode is used when I have no time to adjust the settings. The camera does a descent job at the ‘P’ mode in correctly exposing the subject. I like ‘P’ mode over ‘Auto’ mode for at least two reasons.

  1. In ‘P’ mode, the camera does not automatically pop the built-in flash up.
  2. I still have some freedom to adjust the aperture or shutter, by rotating the dials.

So, ‘P’ mode is my default mode, when I want to use my D90 much like a point and shoot camera – when I have no time to adjust the settings.

A – Aperture Priority Mode:

For a while, Aperture priority (A) was my favorite mode. I used to shoot in ‘A’ mode most of the time. I guess it was so because I had some good results with A mode and it continued to be my favorite mode. I guess, I now have much better understanding of this mode and when to use it. In ‘general’, I use this mode, when my main concern is the depth of field (DOF) and when the subject is stationary.

S – Shutter Priority Mode:

I use shutter priority (S) mode, mainly for three scenarios

  1. Capture motion: I use a slower shutter speed (example, 1/30 sec) to capture the motion, and at the same time getting a good clear main subject. Slow shutter speed with panning can produce dramatic pictures with main subject in focus while the background is blurred to suggest motion.
  2. Freeze motion : I use faster shutter speed (usually longer than the lens focal length – for example 1/125 for a 105mm lens) to freeze the motion and make the subject appear stationary
  3. Long exposures: When I want to expose the subject for longer time, whether to capture more details or to allow more light, I use shutter priority mode with longer shutter time.

M- Manual Mode:

Like many new DSLR users, I too was wary of using manual mode initially. For me, it was too ‘complicated’. So I was comfortable with P,A or S modes until I came across cases where the pictures where either over/under-exposed or lack the ‘punch’ that I saw through the view finder . I then realized why manual mode is so important in photography.

In general, I use manual mode,

  1. When I want to set the aperture and shutter speed independent of one another.
  2. When the subject has varying light intensity and the camera’s metering system has difficulty in correctly exposing the whole subject. Or when I want to expose for a particular part of the subject.

I will talk about the other settings such as ISO, WB etc in future articles.

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5 Responses to How I use my Nikon D90 – Part 1 (Camera Modes)

  1. tiara says:

    what should i put in shooting menu.there are so many things in there.i want to use manually n looking for help.Auto is ok for me still how to understand the menu before doing it manual shots.

  2. Maurice says:

    Your postings about the D90-experiences read like a diary. Good and useful.
    I own a Olympus e-510 since 3 years, but I always used a Nikon F3 in my analogue days.
    I am exploring the internet for reviews and stories like yours about Nikon cameras. I might wait for the D90-successor D7000, but the D300s is also one of my options.

    Funny to read about your ‘mistakes’. Recognizable and often not to avoid. Especially not with all these incredible lots of functions now a days on every camera, even the small point-and-shoot things.
    Keep on blogging!

    • Maurice,

      Thanks for your encouraging comments. When I was learning to use my camera, these were some of the things that I struggled with. The whole idea behind this blog is to share what I learned (and continue to learn) and help others shorten their learning time.

      Liju Augustine

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