Some types of scenery cause specific problems for camcorder exposure - particularly if there is a wide area of bright colour. The usual suspects include snowscapes and beach scenery. To deal with these, camcorders offer AE modes which are often grouped together under the titles Surf and Snow or Beach and Snow, but some models have separate settings for Beach and for Snow. Left to its own devices, a camcorder will assume that on average the tones in a frame should sit approximately in the middle between light and dark. But if you're shooting snow, the picture will be predominately white, so the middle level will be pretty bright. The camcorder will assume this should be grey, and as a result, exposure will be set too low and the images will come out too dark. Surf and Snow pushes the middle tonal level to a brighter setting, so your whites are whiter. Where a separate Beach mode is available, this will use a slightly different middle tone setting, because sand is supposed to be yellow!
A low light situation presents the opposite constraints to shooting snow. Using automatic settings, your camcorder will endeavour to keep the image as light as possible. However, this may not actually be what you want. You might be after a â€˜film noir' look, maintaining moody shadows, or you may wish to capture a beautiful sunset in all its glory. This is where Sunset and Moon comes in, also known as Twilight or Sunrise and Sunset. Some camcorders will have different versions of this, maybe even throwing in a Candle or Fireworks mode. But they all do essentially the same thing. By reducing the average tonal setting, they keep the dark areas dark. The different flavours simply vary the average tonal setting for different low lighting conditions.
Other modes you might come across include landscape, which ensures that the camera focuses on distant objects. This is useful when shooting through glass, as it prevents you getting a nice clear image of the window between you and that lovely scenery outside, as shown in the image below.