Great Photos Are Brought To You By The Letter "P"...

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We want to thank the 17 folks who braved the cold & joined us last night for our 2nd "Digital SLR Basics" class of the year last night. A good time was had by all & we look forward to great photos from each of the attendees. We spent a few minutes talking about the merits of shooting in the "Program" mode and I referred to this blog article from August 2011 as reference. Our blog configuration makes it difficult to find older articles so we decided to reprise it for our students and all others that are interested. Here it is...

(Text & Photo by Fred Bonilla)

The summer of 2011 has brought to me a number of teaching opportunities, what with the weekly classes on Thursday evenings and the privilege of teaching 60+ foreign exchange students in Westport last month. And the one question I get more often than any other in my classes is "What is the best mode to use when shooting with a DSLR?" And the answer may surprise you.

Based on years of shooting and showing others how to shoot when selling a camera, the best overall mode to use is the "Program" mode, signified by the letter "P" on the mode dial on your DSLR. While it's great to use the customized scene modes that are provided for different shooting situations, the program mode is probably your most versatile mode for many shooting situations. Here's why...

Your camera's "auto" mode is precicely that: a fully automatic mode that will set all of the necessary functions to produce an properly exposed picture. Your camera will adjust the proper ISO, shutter speed, lens openings & white balance while determining whether it's built-in flash will activate as well. Which is all well & good, but what if you run into a stituation where you would like to control any or all of the forementioned functions to enhance a particular photo?  That's what program allows you to do. For example, you can set the ISO higher than the camera might choose to freeze action in low-light situations. Or you might keep the ISO low to enhance the photo's sharpness & reduce noise, the digital version of grain. If you intentionally want to get motion blur in an action scene,the auto mode will not allow you because the camera tries to crank up the ISO automatically. In Program mode, the adjustment of the ISO is just one of the modifications you can make.

The control of your camera's built in flash is another reason to use the program mode. As I tell students in my DSLR classes, chances are that if you take a normal outdoor photo of someone wearing a baseball cap, it'll result in a perfectly exposed photo of the lower half of your subject's face. You can use your camera's flash to expose the upper part of the face that's covered by the cap's brim. You can activate the flash for fill in purposes such as a back-lit subject or a shot being taken under an umbrella or canopy. You can also choose which flash mode (red eye reduction, rear curtain, etc.) to use in a particular situation, which makes it handy in situations where flash photography is not allowed. Leave your camera ( like I did) on Auto at the Met Museum in NYC  and get chastised when the flash goes off,  or bring a smile to the guards on duty when you take a no-flash photo in Program (Or "Museum" mode, but that's another article...).

Using your camera in the Program mode also means that you can adjust the shutter speed/aperture combination that your camera selects. In either the Auto or Program modes, the camera will choose a shutter speed/aperture combination that will give you a proper exposure.  This might be the fastest available shutter speed based on your available light, or a slightly slower shutter speed. But if you're in Program, you can choose from any number of valid shutter speed/aperture combinations, which is really cool because by the turn of a dial or a switch, you can adjust your combination to take a picture with good depth of field (using an wide aperture) or freeze action by using a combination with a high shutter speed.  And you can even adjust the white balance to adjust to any lighting situation you may encounter (tungsten, flourescence, sunlight, etc.) when the auto white balance in the camera gets fooled.

So, next time you use your DSLR, try using the letter "P"; you'll be pleasantly surprised with the results!


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