Program mode is recommended for beginning DLSR photographers

How Do I Use Program Mode on a DSLR?

Using a DSLR camera.
Ida Jarosova/Getty Images

If you are new to using a DSLR camera, plan to switch from a fully automatic mode to Program mode and learn how to control more of your camera's functions. Program mode continues to give you good exposures while allowing you a little more freedom in some of the advanced abilities of the camera.

When the novelty of the camera has worn off and you are ready to move from Auto, switch the dial over to Program (or P mode) and find out what your camera can do.

What Can You Do in Program Mode?

Program mode (the "P" on the mode dial of most DSLRs) means that the camera still sets the exposure for you. It chooses the correct aperture and shutter speed for the light available, so your shot is correctly exposed. Program mode also unlocks other functions that give you more creative control over your images.

The advantage of Program mode is that it allows you to learn about other aspects of your DSLR without having to worry about getting your exposure perfect. It is a significant first step in learning how to get your camera off the Auto setting.

Program mode gives you control over several key elements: flash, exposure compensation, ISO, and white balance.

Flash

Unlike Auto mode, where the camera decides if flash is needed, Program mode allows you to override the camera and choose whether to add pop-up flash. This can help you avoid overly lit foregrounds and harsh shadows.

Exposure Compensation

Turning off the flash could cause your image to be underexposed. You can dial in positive exposure compensation to help correct for this. Being able to use exposure compensation also means that you can help the camera out with tricky lighting conditions that can sometimes confuse its settings.

ISO

A high ISO, particularly on cheaper DSLRs, can lead to a lot of unattractive noise or digital grain on images. In Auto mode, the camera tends to raise the ISO instead of adjusting the aperture or shutter speed. By having manual control over this function, you can use a low ISO to prevent noise and then use exposure compensation to compensate for any loss of light to the image.

White Balance

Different types of light sources cast different colors over your images. The Auto White Balance setting in modern DSLRs is usually accurate, but strong artificial lighting can throw off the camera's settings. In Program mode, you can set the white balance manually, allowing you to feed the camera the most accurate information about the lighting you are using.