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How to Use Program Mode on Your Camera and Get Stunning Shots

DSLR cameras have a variety of shooting modes. These give users control of different camera functions and settings. If you want to improve your photography skills, it is important to understand these different modes. Utilizing the camera modes gives you flexibility. It also allows you to use your DSLR camera to its full potential and get the best shots possible using the right settings for your camera. The mode we are going to be focusing on in this article is Program mode, though there are three other common camera modes found on cameras too.

These are the commonly used camera modes found on most DSLR cameras:

  • Aperture Priority Mode (AV)
  • Shutter Priority Mode (TV)
  • Manual Mode (M)
  • Program Mode (P)  

Aperture Priority Mode

Aperture Priority mode gives users control over the aperture whilst the camerfa adjusts the shutter speed, and ISO accordingly. This camera mode is ideal if you wish to experiment with depth of field and create artistic shots with bokeh backgrounds.

Shutter Priority Mode

Shutter Priority mode allows users to change the shutter speed. The camera automatically adjusts the ISO and aperture to suit. Control of the shutter speed is preferable for action shots involving movement, or long exposure shots.

Manual Mode

Manual mode is for expert photographers – this is the ultimate camera mode for control and flexibility. This camera mode essentially gives users full control over aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Program Mode

The final mode present on DSLR cameras is Program Mode. This camera setting is often overlooked in favor of the above. However, program mode is a superb feature to use – you just need to have a good understanding of what it provides and when it should be used. In this guide, we look at how to use program mode on your camera, and how it enhances your photography.

What is Program Mode?

Program Mode is often referred to as ISO Priority Mode

Using program mode, photographers control the ISO setting – this usually ranges between values of 100 to 25,000. Whilst you set the ISO value, the camera sets the shutter speed and aperture to compensate and create a balanced photo. As with the other shooting modes, program mode utilizes the exposure triangle of aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.

Program mode is one of the simplest to use. Making it a great shooting mode for beginners to use. If you have purchased your first DSLR camera and are still learning the settings, program mode is a fantastic choice. Using this mode will allow you to understand basic DSLR settings, but still create fantastic photos.

Why is ISO Important?

In cameras, ISO relates to the light sensitivity of the image sensor. When you change the ISO value, the sensitivity of the sensor changes – it becomes either more sensitive, or less sensitive to light. Changing the ISO effects both image exposure, and quality. A low ISO features much bolder colors whereas a high ISO is better for low-light situations, but also has increased grain and background noise.

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How to Use Program Mode on Your Camera?

As stated previously, program mode is simple to use. It is one of the most basic camera modes available, hence why it is perfect for beginners. The following are the common steps required to use program mode on a DSLR camera:

DSLR Cameras with a Mode Dial

Most DSLR cameras have a specific dial that allows users to quickly change the shooting mode. This dial is very useful and enables photographers to make quick changes and react to different shooting conditions. To use program mode with a dial, follow the steps below:

1. Turn the DSLR camera on
2. Turn the dial to “P”
3. Use the camera controls to change the ISO setting
4. Take a photo  

Related Post: Metering Modes: An Ultimate Guide to Your Camera’s Meter

DSLR Cameras Without a Mode Dial

Some DSLR cameras (usually mirrorless cameras) do not have a dial. Old models of the Canon EOS-M, for example, have a touch screen display and no dial. Using program mode on such devices is a little trickier, however, once the mode is selected, taking photos is a breeze. To use program mode without a dial, follow the below steps:

1. Turn the DSLR camera on
2.a. Use the touch screen to select program mode
2.b. Open the camera settings menu and select program mode
3. Use the camera controls to change the ISO setting
4. Take a photo

Considerations when using Program Mode

Whilst using program mode on your camera is simple, photographers must give consideration to when and where to use it. Furthermore, you must understand the process, and how this mode works. When using program mode, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What natural light is present?
  • How dark is the scene?
  • What is the main photo subject?
  • What type of photo do you want to take?

Light and the photo subject are the main aspects to consider when using program mode. ISO has a direct correlation to light and photo quality. You must look at what type of photo you wish to take – do you want a shallow depth of field, or do you require a quicker shutter speed? This will help when choosing the ISO settings.

Generally, a low ISO level such as between 100 to 400 provides a clearer photo and practically no background noise. A low ISO is preferable for shots with an abundance of natural light. Alternatively, in low light situations, a higher ISO is ideal – using a high ISO allows for greater detail in low-light shots; there will be more background noise, however.

What are the Benefits of Using Program Mode?

So why should you use program mode? What benefits does this camera function offer? In the below sections we look at specific reasons, and provide more info on how to use program mode:

It Allows Beginners to Take Fantastic Photos

As mentioned earlier, program mode is fantastic for beginners. If you are starting out in the world of photography, you may not fully understand the exposure triangle. This is something that takes time to learn. Even once you have learned the basics, it may still prove difficult and take time to put this knowledge into practice.

Using program mode offers fantastic flexibility, whilst being easy to use. If you’re learning about the basics of photography, you could use program mode until you have a solid understanding to take high-quality shots.

This photo mode does still allow you to learn about the exposure triangle. As you change the ISO settings, you can look at how the aperture and shutter speed are changed accordingly. Although you cannot change these settings, you can see what the camera has chosen.

This, in itself, is a great way to understand how the exposure triangle works. As you test the different ISO settings, you can look at how the photo changes.

You Can Easily Make Quick Photo Adjustments

If you are not confident making changes to the camera settings, program mode negates this. You can essentially set an ISO value, and the camera does the rest of the work. This is perfect if you need to make quick changes. It is also beneficial if you just want to enjoy a no-fuss approach to photography. Sometimes we don’t want to spend hours fiddling with camera settings – we just want to enjoy our photography and concentrate on the photo itself.

It Allows You to React Quickly to Changing Compositions

As a photographer, you may often find yourself in a tight situation or rushed for time. Let’s say, for example, you are exploring a city-center and have a list of must-take photos. In a situation like this, you may not have time to continually alter the photo settings. By switching your camera into program mode, you could set the desired ISO, and concentrate fully on taking the photos.

Let’s say that you are presented with a scene that has changing conditions. A gorgeous landscape, for example, with changing weather conditions – at first, the scene is brightly lit with sunshine and no cloud cover. However, a storm blows over and the scene becomes dark and clouded. Using program mode in this situation would allow you to simply change the ISO from low to high, and still be able to quickly take quality photos.

Create Quality Low-Light and Bright-Light Photos

One of the main reasons to use Program mode is to create photos with different light levels. Different ISO levels are suitable for different light situations.

  • Low ISO – lighter photos with greater natural light
  • High ISO – darker phots with minimal natural light

Using program mode allows you to take high-quality photos, regardless of the light situation

It Allows a Photographer to Concentrate on Composition

Have you ever found that you spend an inordinate amount of time changing camera settings? This is a common problem – using manual mode, or aperture priority mode, you have to continually change the settings. Therefore, you spend less time thinking about the photo composition. In some instances, you may even rush a composition because you are concentrating on getting the perfect camera settings.

Regardless of your skill level, sometimes, concentration is vital. Moreover, the composition should never suffer because you are wrapped up in changing the camera settings. Using program mode allows a photographer to fully concentrate on their composition. This in itself can drastically improve the quality of their photos.

Program Mode: Closing Thoughts

You should now have a clear understanding of program mode and what it has to offer. Why not experiment with this seldom used camera mode today and see how it can improve your photography?

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