Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Stepping Out of the Little Green Box: "P" for Program Mode

Program mode on my brother's point and shoot.
I'm kicking this series off with the next best thing to AUTO mode.  It's called P, or Program Mode.  I have a DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera, but most people have a point and shoot, so I'll try to showing you what to do on the most common of cameras.  You'll find P mode in your camera's menu, or if you have a camera with a wheel on top, you might find it there.

So what is so great about Program, you ask?  Well let me tell you what this feature does.  Like the AUTO mode, it controls things like F-stops, shutter speeds (In other words, how your camera takes in light).  But in Program mode, you can control ISO, and White Balance.

Wait, wait, wait, White Balance and what?  Okay, come sit yourself down and I'll tell you a story about a man named Jed, er, White Balance.

WB selection screen
White Balance (WB) - These days, cameras have computers built-in to tell them what to do.  But that doesn't mean it always uses its brain.  Out of the box, White Balance will be set to AUTO.  White balance tells the camera how to see, well, WHITE.  In different lighting white changes its tone, our eyes adjust to it amazingly.  Cameras on the other hand . . . they need a little help.  For the most part, having your WB set on Auto works out fine.  But for best results, your best bet is to change this manually.  The most common options are: Sunlight, Cloudy, Shady, Tungsten (Incandescent) Lighting, Florescent Lighting, and Flash.  The names of the options make it pretty easy to tell which one is for which type of light.  Sunlight is for picture taken out in the day, etc.  But I've found cases where I didn't know how to categories my light source.  For example, candles on a birthday cake.  I had to experiment, and I think I found that sunlight worked well, but you might find its better in Florescent or Flash.  Don't be afraid to play around.  If you don't like the picture, you can always delete it.  Cameras have a handy picture with each name (see picture above), and most brands more or less have the same sort of icon (sun = sunlight, etc.)  To know what your settings are, just look on your camera or go through the user manual.

ISO selection screen
ISO Speed - In the days of film cameras, some of you may have noticed numbers such as 100, 300, or 1200 on the boxes and film rolls.  This number shows how sensitive film is to light, and in digital cameras this is simulated digitally.  The higher the ISO number the more light the "film" is going to take in to make the picture.  This helps you take pictures in low lighting without the aid of flash.  However, the higher you go, the more chance you have of grain/noise in your pictures. The ISO range on my cameras goes from 100 to 1600.  Yours settings might be the same or it may go a little higher.  Again, to know what your range is, check your camera, or look in the manual.  In program mode, it you keep the ISO at a low number, it should help keep your pictures from becoming grain.  This usually happens at ISO 800 or 1600. 

So next your out with your camera, try out P mode.  If anything, you might feel skillful for using this setting, you might even find that your image quality is better for it.  But if you find that P mode isn't for you, go ahead and go back to AUTO, no biggy.

Any questions, clarifications, additional tricks and tips?  Have a suggestion for my next post?  Go ahead and place it in the comments below and I'll answer you.  Happy Shooting!

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