If you want to get the most out of your camera, then you really need to leave behind auto mode, leave behind the scene modes, and start taking control of your settings yourself. Except that diving straight in to manual mode can be a daunting prospect. Step forward ‘P’ mode, or Program: a useful half-way house.
In some regards, Program is very similar to Auto, which is why some cameras refer to it as ‘Programmed auto.’ As with Auto mode, Program asks the camera to set the aperture and shutter speed automatically, but it doesn’t lock you out entirely: you get to choose the ISO setting, the white balance, and tweak all the other picture parameters your camera has to offer.
More importantly, you can shift the exposure that the camera suggests by using something called ‘Program shift’ (or ‘Flexible shift’ or similar, depending on the make of your camera). What this neat trick does is let you adjust the aperture and shutter speed combination set by the camera, without affecting the overall exposure.
So, if the camera says ƒ/8 at 1/125 second, but you want more depth of field, you could shift the aperture setting to ƒ/16 and the shutter speed would automatically change to 1/30 second to maintain the same overall exposure. Similarly, if you want a faster shutter speed, you could shift it to 1/500 second and the aperture would change to ƒ/4—again, the same overall exposure.
However, you won’t have access to the full range of your exposure controls—if the scene requires, say, 1/250 second at ƒ/2.8 (and say that’s the maximum aperture of your lens), Program shift will prevent you from setting shutter speeds higher than 1/250 second.
This makes Program a great ‘go to’ mode when you decide you want to get more from your camera, because you can use it in multiple ways, depending on how much (or how little) control you want. You can set the ISO and white balance to Auto so you can concentrate fully on your exposure settings, for example, or you can tweak your exposures, ISO, white balance, and any other picture control you might happen across.
Beyond Auto is Chris Gatcum’s easily accessible guide which will set you free. Unlike other beginners book it does not attempt to explain each and very button, dial and feature on your camera, or explore precisely where each pixel comes from. Instead it concentrates on the key creative controls, including exposure, focus and colour; essential skills that’ll enable you to take the sensational pictures that Auto mode simply can’t.
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RRP for print edition: £9.99