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The Nikon D3400 Mode Dial – What It Is for and How to Use It
If you look around all of the options on the Nikon D3400 mode dial then apart from M (for manual), all the other mode options on the camera will set the exposure. In other words the camera will decide what the best exposure is for the picture you are trying to take. So you can see that it is quite important that you select the right mode but also that you understand what the mode is trying to do, so that when you find yourself in a circumstance where you want to take a picture a certain style or in a certain way, you can select the correct mode. We are going to go through all of them and I am going to give you a brief outline of what they do and what parameters are, and the things that you can change within those parameters and modes, and ultimately how you can take the best pictures possible with this camera.
So lets have a look at the first one on the Nikon D3400 mode dial – NIGHT PORTRAITURE. Now night portraiture is a mode which allows you to take a portrait at night. This is not as straightforward as it seems. First of all, it engages the flash to shoot what is called slow sync, and that opens the aperture and slows down the shutter speed, which allows the camera to get in as much of the light in the background of the picture as possible. Then, just before the shutter closes on the camera, the flash will go off to illuminate the subject in the foreground. That gives you a quite balanced picture where you have the subject well illuminated in the foreground but with the contextual background visible too. If you just shot with the flash then you would have the subject slightly overexposed in the foreground and just a black background. So by shooting it with night portrait it means that you get the background and some context in which the subject is standing and so it gives some meaning to the picture.
As with all of the semi-automatic modes – which are the ones that go up to M, A, S and P – essentially the ones that go up to the green auto mode, most of the presets are set and there is very little wiggle room. But when you are looking at each of them – particularly if you are looking on the back of the camera – there are certain things that you can change. It is worth knowing what you can change in each of the settings because you may want to change them just to slightly change the style of the picture that you are taking. So on the back of the camera you press the i button. It gives you the options that you can change when you are in each setting. So, for example, in NIGHT PORTRAIT we can change the quality and compression rate of the picture, the focus (autofocus or manual), flash compensation and exposure compensation. The final option open to you here is the ISO. That is set on auto and there is a very good reason for that when you are in night portraiture. The camera will set the aperture to be as wide as possible to get as much light into the sensor as possible, and it will also set the shutter speed to be at least 1/30th of a second, because any slower than that means there is likely to be movement blur when you take the picture. So that means that out of the 3 variables, ISO, shutter speed and aperture, you have basically fixed or minimized the options for two of them. So the ISO is the only variable that can move around with any great flexibility. In most cases the ISO probably will not go above 1000 or 1600. You will get an element of grain and noise in that shot, but it is a night portrait and to some extent that could and should be expected. So it is best to leave the ISO on auto in most cases. You can set it, but it does reduce the options for the Nikon D3400 and in this instance I think you should leave the camera to do what it does best which is to get the best exposure for your picture.
The mode just above the night portraiture on the Nikon D3400 mode dial is represented by a flower and is called CLOSE-UP MODE. It is a kind of macro mode which you can shoot even with the kit lens and it opens the aperture very wide which means that the subject in focus is very sharp but the background is blurred and that means that the subject stands out even more. The ISO is on auto for this and that is because you have set the aperture very wide, the shutter speed is set accordingly too for handheld photography and so the ISO is the only variable.
The one above close-up mode is the Running Man – the SPORTS MODE – and that prioritizes the shutter speed. It is very important when you are shooting sport or action that you have a fast shutter speed so that you freeze the subject in the frame and that means that you need at least 1/250th and probably 1/500th of a second shutter speed. So the ISO will go up accordingly, depending on the light, whether it is daylight or darker than that, it might go up to a 1000 or 1600 even 3200 and the aperture will be as wide as possible so that it can get as much light in and onto the sensor in that very brief period the shutter is open. The flash will not work and it will be on continuous which means that you will be shooting 5 frames a second, which is a good thing because it means that you are more likely to get a good frame out of any action that happens in front of you.
The one above sport on the Nikon D3400 mode dial is called CHILD MODE and it is ideal for candid photography. It is not a portrait mode but it is a mode which is designed for taking candid shots of people which also have plenty of the background in as well, to give that subject some context. It has quite a narrow aperture so that ensures that there is plenty of background in there. It means also that it slows down the shutter speed to give more depth of field. If it is deemed to be too dark, the flash will pop up. It also makes some of the colors a little more vivid but also focuses on getting the skin tones just right. Skin tones are really important in candid shots. When you look at a picture of person you look at their face or their features and the skin tones need to be just right. If it is not, it is really very noticeable. The colors of the clothes or the background can be slightly different from reality and the eye does not really register that provided the face and the skin look right and that is what this child mode is for – to shoot candid shots and get those skin tones right.
The one above child mode is LANDSCAPE MODE and this is designed for shooting landscapes. That means that you are trying to get a very deep depth of field – maximum depth of field in fact – and the very best quality. That means that the ISO is going to be as close down to 100 as possible and the aperture is going to be very small. Now that obviously has an effect on the shutter speed, which will be quite slow and that means that this mode is best for shooting with a tripod. Remember if you are shooting on a tripod you need to switch off the VIBRATION REDUCTION and you do that in the menus. This can produce very good landscapes. This mode also boosts greens and blues so that the landscape that you are shooting is quite vivid.
The option above landscape on the D3400 mode dial is PORTRAIT MODE and that really tries to do the opposite. It increases the shutter speed, it widens the aperture and it gives you a faster ISO. The reason it does that is because it is trying to get a very shallow depth of field. When you take a portrait you are focusing on the person’s face nearly every time and on the face you are focusing on the eyes and if the face is to one angle to you, you are focusing on the front eye. That is very important because when you shoot a portrait you want to blur out the background and so you need to have something something in that portrait – something in that face – which is pin-sharp, and as we all know when you look at somebody’s face you focus on the eyes first. So by having a very shallow depth of field the viewer is left in no doubt as to what is important in this picture. Portrait mode will also work well on skin tones and ensure that they are correct and if it is slightly dark then the flash will pop up.
The two modes above portrait mode are your AUTO MODES. These are essentially your point-and-shoot modes, if you come up from compact photography or even mobile phone photography, you will know that these are the modes where you can switch the camera on and press the button and it will take a half-decent picture. In both modes the Nikon D3400 is designed to get the best possible exposure. The difference between the two is that the green mode will use the flash if it thinks it is required – and it does not need to be that dark for it to decide that the flash is required – or the one below that is auto without flash and that takes perfectly good pictures but in situations where you may not want the flash to fire, perhaps you are in a museum or in the theater or you just do not want the distraction of the flash firing. On the back of the camera, if we press the ibutton, it is clear that we really are quite restricted in what we can change. We can change the quality and compression of the image, but we are then really limited to either changing the autofocus mode or the AF area mode. Nothing else can be changed in these modes, the camera does everything.
The semi-automatic modes on the Nikon D3400 mode dial are M, A, S and P. Strictly speaking M is manual and strictly manual but it is regarded as a semi-automatic mode because they are all grouped together. So the first one we come to is P – program mode – and it is the most appropriate, because it is the closest to the two Auto settings that are next to it. When you are in P mode the camera still tries to get the best exposure and still selects most of the presets, but it does allow you to choose a few more things. You can choose the shutter speed or the aperture. Now when you are in this mode you can change the shutter speed and aperture by rotating the dial on the top of the camera. That means that if you feel the shutter speed is not fast enough – or indeed is too fast – then you can change it. If you feel that the aperture is too wide or too narrow then you can change it and the camera will make other changes, to the shutter speed or to the ISO accordingly. When you are in this mode you will see the P at the top left hand corner on the Liveview screen and if you start to change the aperture or the shutter speed, then there will be an asterisk placed next to that to show that this is not the most appropriate mode that the camera thinks will get the best exposure, but that it will get the best exposure in the shutter speed or aperture that you have chosen.
The one above P mode is SHUTTER SPEED PRIORITY and that is really very useful, particularly if you want to control the shutter speed. Why would you want to? Well of course in sports mode I have explained that a fast shutter speed will catch the action, but if you want a faster shutter speed because the action is faster than sports mode expects, then you can set it up to from 1/500th, 1/1000th or 1/2000th up to 1/4000th of a second. Again it is a semi-automatic mode which means that the camera will change the aperture and the ISO accordingly. On the other hand if you are taking a picture of a stream or a waterfall you might want to slow the shutter speed down to say 1/15th or 1/10th of a second to smooth the water and give it a more smooth and relaxed feel to that picture. It does not actually freeze the water in midair but it gives you that element of motion blur, and if you are shooting night photography and you are shooting the night sky and you want to capture the stars, then you may want to slow that shutter speed down to five seconds, ten seconds – up to thirty seconds, which is easy to do with the Nikon D3400. So controlling the shutter speed can change the way the picture looks. That is why shutter speed priority is really useful.
The one above that is APERTURE PRIORITY. This allows you to prioritize the aperture. Why would you want to do that? Well we have spoken about aperture with regards to depth of field – if you want to have as much of that picture that you are taking in focus or sharp, then you would have a very narrow aperture and that means that the light takes longer to get in and hit the sensor and it means that the shutter speed needs to be a lot slower, etc. But it means that the picture is sharp, as much as possible, from front, mid and back. On the other hand, if you are trying to take a portrait, then you would want it to have quite a shallow aperture and so you can control it with aperture priority here. Now it is not always as simple as saying “oh why don’t I just put it on landscape” or “why don’t I just put it on portrait”. When you start to master your photography you will want to control what people see in your picture – what is sharp in your picture helps to tell the story and so it is important for you to be able to control all that depth-of-field, not just have everything sharp or hardly anything sharp. You might want to have the subject in the foreground and two people standing behind him sharp but two people standing behind them blurred because those front three people tell the story, not the five. Now that is quite difficult to achieve but, of course, you have the benefit of seeing the effect on the back screen. So it is important to be able to control your aperture because it does mean that you can use that in the storytelling of your pictures and how you use your pictures to tell the story that you are trying to tell.
Finally we come to Manual Mode on the Nikon D3400 mode dial. Now the beauty of manual mode is that you control everything. The camera no longer tries to get the best exposure – you are responsible for the exposure – and as a result of that you can change pretty much everything to get the sort of picture that you want. So manual is the thing that you progress to gradually. I would suggest that you start off with some of the basic settings so that you get a feel for the camera and then go on to P mode and then, as you become more confident, work through shutter speed and aperture priority. But manual then gives you the freedom to be as creative with your photography as you want to be. The difference, when you look at the back of the screen is that when you are in program or you are in shutter or aperture priority, when you try to change the shutter speed or the aperture then the rest of the settings change accordingly because the camera is still trying to set for the best exposure. When you are in manual, you can change the shutter speed or you can change the aperture and the other option does not change. So, in other words, the camera is not trying to manipulate the exposure because you have a completely free rein so that if you are in the back of the screen, by using the dial you can change the shutter speed, or by using the exposure button you can change the aperture by turning the dial. When you do that you will notice that when you are changing the shutter speed the aperture stays the same and when you are changing the aperture then the shutter speed does not move. This is real photography. It is why you bought a DSLR. Do not jump into it, but do not be intimidated by it either. This is a great way of exploring photography and doing great pictures – the ones you have always wanted to do.
Now is as a stepping stone into manual, I would suggest you take a look at the picture you want to take first in P mode because that will tell you what the camera thinks will be a decent exposure for what you’re trying to photograph, and then take a note of those settings and go into manual and then you can use those settings as a guide, as a benchmark, so that you know that if you just change those settings slightly you are not going to be too far out in terms of exposure. It is a great way of just having that safety net and knowing that you will be there or there abouts with your exposure. Of course, the advantage is that you will see that picture on the back screen straight away, so there is nothing really to be afraid of. This is what you bought a DSLR for and I encourage you to get into manual as quickly as possible. The back screen is fantastic for that because it means that you can see after every picture where you went wrong what were the good points and it allows you to progress your photography at a really rapid rate.
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