Program Mode: Photography Friday, Week 6

This week I had two separate friends ask me what they could have done to improve photos they had taken.  One of them showed me a very overexposed photo and the other showed me an underexposed photo.  Both of them said at some point in the conversation, "But I had the camera set on automatic."

Their thought, of course, was that if the camera was set to automatic, the camera would instinctively take a perfect photo.

This is a common assumption, but it's also wrong, wrong, wrong!

Sure, you can get a great shot once in awhile with the camera doing the majority of the thinking for you.  You can also get a lot of so-so shots.  In fact, I will go so far as to say, if you shoot with your camera on automatic all the time, most of the photos you're taking are probably only average shots.

Wouldn't we all like to get better photos on a more frequent basis?

Also, if you have a DSLR, there's a reason why it cost more than a point and shoot.  Why waste the features you paid for by not using them?

To get the most of your camera, you need to get braver and learn more about photography and your camera itself.  I'll be taking on the explanations of some of those other buttons on your camera during various Photography Friday sessions.  Even if you use a point and shoot camera, you'll find a lot of the information applicable.

One of the friends I mentioned earlier asked me if I ever use the auto function on my camera.

The answer is …

Yes, but very, very, rarely.

Sometimes, if I'm in a situation with complicated lighting, I will shoot one frame in automatic.  Then I'll take a look at it.  I'll see what I like and don't like about the shot and what settings the camera used.  Then I set the camera the way I want it and shoot again.  To be honest, I don't remember the last time I did this, but I know I have.

For today, let's take the first leap and move your camera setting from automatic, to Program Mode.  

C'mon … you can do it!  

Even most point and shoots have a program mode these days.  All you need to do is move your dial to "P" and you will be ready to go!


Program Mode is actually better than automatic.


Well, assuming you have a DSLR camera, your camera will still do most of the thinking for you if you want.  You can use the camera in Program Mode almost exactly the same way you did when it was set in automatic.  The most immediate, noticeable, difference is your flash won't work in Program Mode unless you tell it to.

Now, you have control over the flash, which is a good thing, plus you have the option of adjusting some of your camera's other settings.  (Which settings you can change may vary depending on what camera you have – check your camera's manual!)  For my camera, I now have the option of adjusting exposure, aperture, shutter speed, white balance, metering, and more.

Don't worry, you don't have to change any settings initially, but remember - you can.

Right off the bat, you've gotten rid of your camera's pop-up flash.  Have you ever noticed it comes up at the most annoying times?  Or it washes out the very subject you were trying to take a great photo of?  Or oftentimes, your photo would have looked better without it?

On the other hand, if you're in a situation where you NEED the pop-up flash, you can still use it.  You'll tell the camera you want the flash when/if you do by using your flash button.  

This is what the flash button looks like on my camera:

It's simple! 

I realize this is a very beginning level "lesson" this week, but from the feedback I've received, I've got a lot of readers who are new to photography and want to start at the beginning.  I hope those of you with more advanced photography skills will be patient as I try to get a few of the basics covered.

This week, take at least some of your photos in Program Mode.  It would be great if you stayed away from automatic for the entire week.  Learn how to turn your flash on if you need it.  If you're more advanced, experiment with adjusting some of your other camera settings while you're in Program Mode and see what results you get.

After you've experimented a little, make sure to upload a few photos for me (and other readers) to take a look at.  Your photos don't have to be perfect or near-masterpieces … it's just fun to share!  

Remember, it's easy to upload your photos – just click here to find the Twenty Four At Heart Flickr group.

© Twenty Four At Heart

12 Responses to “Program Mode: Photography Friday, Week 6”

  1. Jan

    The only time my camera ever gets set on automatic is when Beloved or The Young One wants to take a shot with it. I’ve never really used Program Mode (I shoot mostly in Aperture Mode or Manual Mode), so this was really quite helpful.

  2. di

    Ummm, I DO use Program mode sometimes. Sorry to have misled you into thinking that I always use automatic. In fact almost the entirety of my indoor shots I take on P mode because of the nasty flash, and most of my outdoor shots are in P mode as well. It’s the settings beyond that that I find confusing, setting fstop, etc etc. The more intricate settings. Signed up for a class but must have been cancelled as no one ever got back to me. I live in hicksville, don’tcha know? LOL

  3. Maureen@IslandRoar

    I just took a bunch of shots last night at a concert with my daughter and couldn’t use the flash. I went between sports setting (lots of movement!) and automatic with no flash. I need to be reminded what to do with the f stop and aperture etc, I always forget do I want to go up or down and in what light.
    Looking forward to more!

  4. Michelle Pixie

    I am so glad you are doing this! I get the comments all the time from people who don’t shoot in anything but auto and I just don’t get it. Hopefully this will help people to not fear the camera. Afterall you spent all of that money you should be creating the most beautiful captures that YOU can create!

  5. Jane

    Thanks for all the posts on Photography Friday. I’m a newbie, so today’s post is great! I just uploaded to the group on Flickr under Alto Girl.

  6. Ginger

    I look forward to your Friday posts more than you know! I also just bought a wide angle lens, thanks to your recommendation and i am loving it so far!

  7. mel

    I’m loving these photography posts because I feel like I have no clue when it comes to taking pics. I have a Canon S3, the zoom is decent and I feel like I shouldn’t move to a DSLR until I can get comfortable with camera. It has so many functions and I can’t figure out when to use what. Like Macro. I have no idea what that even is! gah!


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