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This chapter is from the book

P: Programmed Auto Mode

I call Programmed Auto mode, or P mode, “professional light” because it’s a great mode to become familiar with as you transition from the automatic or scene modes (Figure 4.1) to Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Manual mode. There is a reason that Programmed Auto mode is only one click away from the automatic 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 P mode?


Figure 4.1. Use Programmed Auto mode for flexible control and as a great place to start learning professional modes.

First, let me say that I rarely use Programmed Auto mode, because it just doesn’t give as much control over the image-making process as the other professional modes. However, we all start somewhere, and much like many of you, I started fully automatic, moved to Programmed Auto mode, and now hang out in Aperture Priority most of the time. There are still occasions when Programmed Auto mode 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 and 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 P mode over one of the scene modes? Because it gives me choices and control that none of the scene modes can deliver.

When to use Programmed Auto (P) Mode Instead of the Automatic Scene and Effects Modes

It’s graduation time, and you’re ready to move on to a more advanced mode but not quite ready to jump in with both feet. When does Programmed Auto mode come in handy?

  • When shooting in a casual environment where quick adjustments are needed.
  • When you want more control over the ISO.
  • If you want to make corrections to the white balance.
  • When you want to take advantage of the Flexible Program mode and change shutter speeds via aperture. Move the main Command dial to the left for small apertures to increase depth of field, or rotate the dial to the right for large apertures to create a shallow depth of field.

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 generally not what we want except when shooting in Auto mode, so we have already turned that feature off (you did turn it off, didn’t you?). Well, in P 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 the 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; too high an ISO, and we will have an unacceptable amount of digital noise (Figures 4.2 and 4.3). For now, 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.


Figure 4.2. Look closely and you’ll notice the image is grainy, or has small pixels. That’s digital noise. Now, look at the same image taken at a lower 100 ISO.


Figure 4.3. Notice the detail in the black plastic and how little noise is in the image.

With the ISO selected, we can now make use of the other controls built into Programmed Auto mode. By rotating the main Command dial, we now have the ability to shift the program settings. Remember, your camera is using the internal meter to pick what it deems suitable exposure values, but sometimes it doesn’t know what it’s looking at and how you want those values applied (Figures 4.4 and 4.5). 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 Command dial to the right. Do you want a smaller aperture so that you get a narrow depth of field? Turn the dial to the left until you get the desired aperture. The camera shifts the shutter speed and aperture accordingly to get a proper exposure.


Figure 4.4. This image was shot using the Programmed Auto mode. In this image the shutter was faster because the image is lighter than Figure 4.5. Because the image is lighter, the camera needs less time to expose, so the shutter opens and closes very quickly—in this case, 1/160 of a second quicker.


Figure 4.5. When we zoom in on the bronze statue, our image becomes darker than in Figure 4.4 because there is less of the bright blue sky. The camera needs more light to properly expose the image, so the shutter is left open longer.

You will also notice that a small star will appear above the letter P in the viewfinder and the rear display if you rotate the main Command dial. This star is an indication that you modified the exposure from the one the camera chose. To go back to the default Programmed Auto exposure, simply turn the dial until the star goes away or switch to a different mode and then back to P mode again.

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

Setting Up and Shooting in Programmed Auto 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 and holding the ISO button on the back left of the camera while rotating the main Command dial with your thumb.
  3. The ISO will appear on the top display. Choose your desired ISO, and release the ISO button on the left to lock in the change.
  4. Point the camera at your subject and then activate the camera meter by depressing the shutter button halfway.
  5. View the exposure information in the bottom area of the viewfinder or by looking at the top display panel.
  6. While the meter is activated, use your thumb to roll the main Command dial left and right to see the changed exposure values.
  7. Select the exposure that is right for you and start clicking. (Don’t worry if you aren’t sure what the right exposure is yet. We will work on making the right choices for those great shots beginning with the next chapter.)
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