Photography for beginners

Part 5 - Program mode

So far we have been using Auto Mode, with some extra input from us to help by choosing a scene mode.  Before we can get on to the creative stuff, which comes when we can use Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Manual we have to get to grips with exposure, which will be the next topic.  If you have kept up to date and read some of the glossary, then you will notice some of what we need has slipped in already; f-stops, shutter speeds, ISO settings.  So when we get there you should be ready for it.  Before that though I will introduce program mode which will be a good place to get familiar with exposure without having to master it first.

Program mode is very similar to auto mode with a few important differences.  The camera still calculates the exposure for you, but now tells you what it is in the view finder.  If you don't want this combination; say f/8 at 1/30th because you are hand holding it and might get camera shake, you can change this to f/5.6 at 1/60th or f/4 at 1/125th by moving a thumb wheel.  Now 1/125th should be fine for hand held (I'll cover this in a minute).  When you turn the thumb wheel, the camera will change the combination, but still give you one which will yield the correct exposure according to its meter reading.  If you need a faster speed and you get a slower one, just turn the wheel the other way.

Now you could just use your camera as though it were in Auto, and ignore the exposure information; but we are here to learn, so have look at it, think about it, and change it if you think it is necessary.  There is more to program mode than this however.  You should find that you now have more options on your menu.  You can now set things that you couldn't before, such as ISO.  If you find that there is so little light that the camera wants to use a really slow shutter speed, then you can increase the ISO setting which is like using a faster film.  However if this is over done you can get a lot of noise, particularly in the shadows.

So what was this about hand held?  How do I know what is safe.  For a start if you have a lens/camera that has image stabilisation then you can normally go at least 1 f-stop better than this, modern camera/lenses even more.  Expensive modern lenses can even provide at least three f-stops of improvement.  However, lets assume we do not have image stabilisation and I'll give the baseline rule of thumb.  The cut-off point for hand holding without noticeable camera shake is the reciprocal of the focal length, so if you are using a focal length of 50mm then 1/50th of a second is your cut off, anything faster will be ok.  Anything slower, then use a tripod or steady the camera on a wall or other support.  If you zoom out to 200mm then you need to use 1/200th or faster.  This is only a rule of thumb, some people are better than others at avoiding camera shake.  Take a note of what you are using and look out for blurring of the image to assess whether you can use the rule or should use a safety margin.

Now exactly what you get in program mode varies from camera to camera so you will need to dig out your manual, find the section on program mode and read it up.  As well as being able to set ISO you should also be able to set white balance.  Another option may be control of the flash which will may be completely automatic in Auto.  From now on you should only use Auto Mode when you are on holiday, and just want snaps to jog your memory, and you don't want to bother to check that the settings are OK.  You should use your camera in Program mode unless you are using one of the scene modes.  An added benefit of program mode, on most cameras at least, is that you can usually set your camera to save RAW files as well as JPEGs.  If you haven't done this yet, do it now.

A good discipline to try and make a habit of is, when you use an unusual setting, e.g. turn the ISO way up, put the setting back to normal as soon as you have finished using it.  This will pay dividends when you pick up the camera in a hurry and fire off a batch of shots, with the wrong settings!  It is also a good habit to check the settings when you start a new session.

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