Sunday, March 2, 2008

Program Mode: Why it's your best friend and other settings you'll meet in its company

While most of what I think I might be blogging about in this series of entries will be about how to utilize your DSLR, a lot of what I plan to go on about can also be found in some more prosumer-level point and shoot cameras (like those I actually own).

Take Program mode for example (accessible on SLRs and Prosumers by turning your mode dial to the "P" mode, or by going into menu and changing shooting modes - for some point and shoot compact cameras).

While most point and shoot users undoubtedly have used the full auto mode at one point or another, they might not realize that they have options for a greater range of control over their photography experience.

When one uses full auto in shooting, the photographer gives up all control to the camera's on-board computer, and will just use their camera to basically chronicle what's happening around them without giving a second thought to exposure settings, whether or not to use flash, etc... using the Program mode however allows the user to tweak the camera's settings to their liking (whether or not to use flash, what film speed / ISO to shoot at, white balance etc) at the same time not be burdened to think for the camera themselves. I mean you won't always want to use the flash when taking some candid photos of friends / individuals who prefer not to be noticed (ala paparazzi), or when you're taking photos of light sensitive subjects.

DSLR / SLR users on the other hand don't have the option to go full Auto. By default, the closest thing they'll get to utilizing their camera as a point and shoot is by using the Program mode, which isn't exactly all that bad an option really. I personally don't want to think too much about what shutter speed and opening I should use and how I should change them depending on changing light conditions when taking photos of a baby taking his first steps, or covering any other event where every occurrence won't ever have a repeat performance.

Basically, as I've experienced it and as I've stated before, Program mode allows the user to tweak camera settings to fit the situation without having to bear the burden of thinking for the camera when shooting.
  • Shooting in a light deprived environment with light sensitive subjects? Turn off your flash. Try increasing your ISO sensitivity. Current cameras are able to go all the way up to ISO 1600 or even 3200 without sacrificing too much in terms of picture quality and grain, whereas older models and even film cameras could only go as far as ISO 400 without having to resort to more expensive specialty films.
  • Are you shooting in a brightly artificially lit area but find that your subjects skin tone is an unhealthy shade of green? Try fiddling with your white balance settings. Auto White Balance (AWB) can only get you so far. Sometimes it's better to set your white balance to the appropriate lighting conditions to get best results. In the example I just mentioned, you might consider setting it to any of the fluorescent settings available in your camera. When adjusting your white balance, keep the lighting conditions and light sources in mind. Not all fluorescent bulbs are created equal, so check if your camera has the appropriate predetermined settings for the situation. If your pictures turn out to be a bit too orange, you might want to try switching your white balance to halogen / incandescent.
Like all things, it will be best to play around with your own camera and see how things work. Master what you have and you'll be surprised just what you'll be able to do with it.

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