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This chapter is from the book

P: Program Auto Mode


There’s a reason that Program Auto (P) mode is only one click away from Intelligent Auto mode. In terms of aperture and shutter speed, the camera is doing most of the thinking for you. So, if that is the case, why even bother with Program Auto mode? While I rarely use this mode, there are occasions it comes in handy, like when I am shooting in quickly changing lighting conditions and don’t have the time to think through all of my options, or when I’m not very concerned with having ultimate control of the scene—I want great-looking pictures, but I’m not looking for anything to hang in a museum. For example, I might choose Program Auto if I’m quickly following someone from indoors into bright sun, because it gives me choices and control that none of the full auto modes can deliver.

When to use Program Auto (P) mode instead of full auto 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 white balance

Let’s go back to our 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 change it, didn’t you?). Well, in Program Auto 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; 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 Auto mode. By rotating the Control dial, we have the ability to shift the program settings. Remember, your camera is using the internal light 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. 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 Control dial counterclockwise. Do you want a smaller aperture so that you get a narrow depth of field? Then turn the dial clockwise 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.

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

Setting up and shooting in Program Auto mode

  1. Turn your camera on, and then turn the Mode dial to align the P with the indicator line.
  2. To select your ISO, press the right side of the Control wheel (next to where it reads ISO), rotate the Control wheel to the desired setting, and press the middle of the wheel to select (the ISO selection will appear in the electronic viewfinder and the rear 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 electronic viewfinder or on the display panel on the back of the camera.
  5. While the meter is activated, use your thumb to roll the Control dial left and right to see the changed exposure values.
  6. Select the exposure that is right for you and start shooting. (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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