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Nikon DSLR Point & Shoot Modes

Nikon's Digital Vari-programs decoded
by Gisle Hannemyr
Published: 2010-08-31.

In addition to the «standard» exposure modes Manual (M), Aperture priority (A), Shutter priority (S) and Programmed Auto (P) that we describe in a separate note Nikon's entry level and mid-range DSLRs offer several point & shoot modes (also called «Scene Modes» and «Digital Vari-programs».)

D80 modes.
Nikon D80 modes.

These modes are signified by small pictograms. On the D80 mode wheel shown to the right, they are (clockwise from the one o'clock position): Green Auto, Portrait, Landscape, Close up, Sports, Night landscape, and Night portrait. The number and type of point & shoot modes available varies between camera models, but the modes avaialble on the D80 is fairly typical.

Selecting one of these modes activates a set of preset settings that Nikon's engineers thinks is most suitable for a particular type of photography. You can not override the presets in the point & shoot modes.

Not everyone uses point & shoot modes. But they offer a shortcut to common settings that some people find convenient. If you are one of these people, the point & shoot modes are for you.

Some models even have a large selection of additional point & shoot modes you can pick from a menu by setting the mode wheel to «SCENE» or «GUIDE». I am not going to discuss every point & shoot mode you'll find on a Nikon DSLR, but below you will find brief descriptions of the most common modes.

Green Auto

Auto icon. The green Auto mode is a fully automatic mode where the camera controls everything. That's the whole point of it. It is an mode designed to prevent the photographer from making any mistakes.

In green Auto mode, the camera will try to pick a resonable aperture and shutter speed. If the light is so low that the shutter speed for the ambient is 1/60 second or lower, it will set the shutter speed to 1/60 of a second and activate the camera's flash. In this mode, most of the camera's settings and controls are suspended (you are still able to set the ISO and turn on or off the Red-eye Reduction Mode on the flash). Many of the settings in the Custom Setup menu are also overridden.

While green Auto will get you a resonable snapshot in most situations, it is not foolproof. Using it may result in an underexposed photo if whatever you are taking a photo­graph of is too far away for the flash to have an inpact. Also, if you are shooting with a lens with a long focal length (e.g. 30mm or longer), the 1/60 second shutter time the camera will pick in this mode may be too slow to eliminate motion blur if you have unsteady hands.

You may want to use green Auto mode when you are in a hurry, or just want to snap away without bothering with camera controls.

For example, if you just bought your first DSLR camera and you want to start taking pictures without reading the manual or learning how to use the standard exposure modes, you can select green Auto and let the camera do all the work for you.

Later on, when you've leaned to use the control of the camera, the green Auto may still come handy if you, for instance, are going to hand the camera to a waiter for him to snap a picture of you and your family in a restaurant. Switching the camera to green Auto means that someone unfamiliar with he camera will still be able to take a picture without caring about settings.


Portrait icon. In Portrait mode, the camera select a large aperture for a shallow depth of field in order to isolate the subject from the background. It will use the camera's flash to fill in the shadows.

The camera will select the focus area containing the closest subject automatically. The rendering will be optimized for soft, natural-looking skin tones.


landscape icon. The Landscape mode uses a small aperture for increased depth of field. It is useful for general scenic travel photography, for taking a large group of people, and even general purpose picture taking because the large depth of field will often have everything from the foreground ro the backround in focus.

In this mode the camera selects the focus area containing the closest subject. The built-in flash and AF-assist illuminator is turned off automatically. The rendering will be optimized for vivid and more saturated colours.

Close up

Close up icon. Unlike compact digicams, the close-up mode on your DSLR will not allow you focus closer. You still need to be fit a special macro lens to be able to move very close to your subject.

This mode will make the camera focus on the subject in the center focus area and stop down for maximum depth of field. Use of a tripod is recommended to prevent blur.


Child icon. Use the Child mode for taking snapshots of children. It operates as a blend between the Portrait and Sports modes. The camera will use a fast shutter speed in an attempt to freeze movement.

The camera selects the focus area containing the closest subject. Clothing and background details are vividly rendered while skin tones are given a soft, natural finish.


Sports icon. In the Sports mode, the camera will (if necessary) increase the ISO and set a large aperture in order have the fastest shutter speed as the ambient light allows in order to freeze motion.

The camera will also focus continuously while the shutter-release button is pressed halfway, tracking the subject in the center focus area. If the subject leaves the center focus area, the camera will continue to focus based on information from the other focus areas. The starting focus area can be selected with the multi selector.

The built-in flash and AF-assist illuminator is automatically turned off.

Night portrait

Night portrait icon. Use Night Portrait when taking portraits in low light. The camera will use flash to light up the main subject, and also use a long shutter time to create a natural balance between the main subject and the background lit by ambient light.

The camera selects the focus area containing the closest subject.

You need to be careful when using night portrait mode, you will get some blur from the background if you don't hold the camera absolutely still. Using a tripod is recommended.

Night landscape

Night landscape icon. In the Night Landscape mode, the camera will select a shutter speed slow enough to produce correctly exposed cityscapes and landscapes after sundown. The built-in flash and AF-assist illuminator is automatically turned off. Using a tripod to prevent blur is recommended.

Flash off

Flash off icon. Select this mode to turn the built-in flash turns off. This setting is intended for use in museums and galleries where flash photography is prohibited. You may also use this mode when using flash is pointless (e.g. when photographing a stage show from a further distance than 6 meters), or if you want to capture natural lighting under low light.

Auto ISO is switched off. The camera will select the focus area containing the closest subject, and the AF-assist illuminator will light to assist the autofocus when lighting is poor.


Flash off icon. Setting the mode dial to this position gives access to the even more scene modes that have been pre-programmed. Once this dial position is selected, the main command dial lets the photographer cycle through and pick even more scene modes on the LCD screen on the camera's back.

Please see your camera's manual for descriptions of these additional scene modes.


Flash off icon. On Nikon's newest entry level cameras the «SCENE» setting has been replaced with a «GUIDE» settings that provides an interactive alternative to the conventional preset scene modes.

The guide operates in two modes: Easy and advanced. The easy mode work just like the old «SCENE» setting, giving access to more preset scene modes. The advanced mode is actually a guide where inexperienced photographer is given a set of simple to understand choices (e.g. «soften background», or «freeze motion»). The choices are then translated into appropriate camera settings. If the photographer picks «soften background», the camera then shows how this can be accomplished by using a large aperture. Likewise, «freeze motion» will take the photographer to a screen for setting a fast shutter speed.

The advanced mode in the GUIDE setting is giving the photographer back some of the creative control because it actually a wizard driven skin on top of conventional camera controls such as sperture, shutter speeed, ISO and flash.

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