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P: Program Mode

There is a reason that Program mode is only one click away from the Basic modes: with respect to apertures and shutter speeds, the camera is doing most of the thinking for you. So, if that is the case, why even bother with Program mode? First, let me say that it is very rare that I will use Program mode because it just doesn’t give as much control over the image-making process as the other Creative modes. There are occasions, however, when it comes in handy, like when I am shooting in widely changing lighting conditions and I don’t have the time to think through all of my options, or I’m not very concerned with having ultimate control of the scene. Think of a picnic outdoors in a partial shade/sun environment. I want great-looking pictures, but I’m not looking for anything to hang in a museum. If that’s the scenario, why choose Program over one of the Basic modes? Because it gives me choices and control that none of the Basic modes, including Creative Auto, can deliver.

When to Use Program (P) Mode Instead of the Basic Zone Modes

  • When shooting in a casual environment where quick adjustments are needed
  • When you want control over the ISO
  • If you want or need to shoot in the Adobe RGB color space
  • If you want to make corrections to the color balance
  • If you want shoot using Live View

Let’s go back to our picnic scenario. As I said, the light is moving from deep shadow to bright sunlight, which means that the camera is trying to balance our three photo factors (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) to make a good exposure. From Chapter 1, we know that Auto ISO is just not a consideration, so we have already turned that feature off (you did turn it off, didn’t you?). Well, in Program mode, you can choose which ISO you would like the camera to base its exposure on. The lower the ISO number, the better the quality of our photographs, but the less light sensitive the camera becomes. It’s a balancing act with the main goal always being to keep the ISO as low as possible—too low an ISO, and we will get camera shake in our images from a long shutter speed; and too high an ISO means we will have an unacceptable amount of digital noise. For our purposes, let’s go ahead and select ISO 400 so that we provide enough sensitivity for those shadows while allowing the camera to use shutter speeds that are fast enough to stop motion.

With the ISO selected, we can now make use of the other controls built into Program mode. By rotating the Main dial, we now have the ability to shift the program settings. Remember, your camera is using the internal meter to pick what it believes are suitable exposure values, but sometimes it doesn’t know what it’s looking at and how you want those values applied (Figures 4.1 and 4.2). With the program shift, you can influence what the shot will look like. Do you need faster shutter speeds in order to stop the action? Just turn the Main dial clockwise. Do you want a smaller aperture so that you get a narrow depth of field? Then turn the dial counterclockwise until you get the desired aperture. The camera shifts the shutter speed and aperture accordingly in order to get a proper exposure, and you will get the benefit of your choice as a result.

Figure 4.1

Figure 4.1 This is my first shot using Program mode. The camera settings are affected by the bright sky as well as the light color of the paint on the front of the building.

Figure 4.2

Figure 4.2 By zooming in, there was less of the front of the building to influence the light meter, resulting in a change of exposure.

Let’s set up the camera for Program mode and see how we can make all of this come together.

Setting Up and Shooting in Program Mode

  1. Turn your camera on and then turn the Mode dial to align the P with the indicator line.
  2. Select your ISO by pressing the ISO button on the top of the camera, and then turning the Main dial (the ISO selection will appear in the top LCD panel).
  3. Point the camera at your subject and then activate the camera meter by depressing the shutter button halfway.
  4. View the exposure information in the bottom of the viewfinder or by looking at the display panel on the top of the camera.
  5. While the meter is activated, use your index finger to roll the Main dial left and right to see the changed exposure values.
  6. Select the exposure that is right for you and start clicking. (Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what the right exposure is. We will start working on making the right choices for those great shots beginning with the next chapter.)
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