Episode 195: Program Mode: What It Is and How to Use It

Spread the love

You’re listening to the Liam Photography Podcast, I’m your host Liam Douglas and this is Episode 195. So for this week’s episode I wanted to talk about the third mode on your camera dial, Program Mode.

Program Mode is one of those “odd one out” camera settings and most people never try because they just don’t understand it or how it can help their photography. The good news is once you get the hang of it, Program Mode can be very useful. In this episode I am going to share everything that you need to know about this Mode and how to best use it.

What is Program Mode?

Your camera mode dial is a bit of a continuum with fully Manual Mode on one end of the dial, which gives you total control of your Exposure Triangle. In Manual Mode, you control the ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, you make all the decisions so you have total control in every bit of the image. And on the other end you have Auto Mode in which the camera makes all the decisions for your Exposure and you have almost no control over the image other than the composition and subject.

The other modes exist in the middle of the dial and of course the other modes are Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority and Program Mode. These modes all give you some degree of control over the exposure, but of course since they are semi-automatic modes, the camera still does most of the heavy lifting. So what does Program Mode do?

Well, Program Mode sits between Aperture and Shutter Priority modes and works like this. You set the ISO while your camera chooses the Aperture and Shutter speed. Now keep in mind that the ISO is the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor, similar to film speeds from the old days. Aperture is of course the size of the opening in your lens and the shutter speed is how long the shutter stays open. Now Program Mode also gives you control over other features such as Exposure Compensation, but we can talk about that later. So for now, just think of Program Mode as “ISO Priority Mode” since you choose the ISO and the camera chooses the Aperture and Shutter speed.


I captured my American flag using Program mode. I set the ISO to 50 and the camera set the Aperture to F/5.6 and the Shutter to 1/100 sec.

When is Program Mode Useful?

Program Mode may not be as popular as the other modes, Aperture and Shutter Priority, but it can also make a huge difference in your photography all you need to do is know how to use it. Basically Program Modem works best when you care about your ISO more than any other part of your exposure. In this case you don’t care about the Aperture or Shutter speed, this might be because you know the camera will set these values correctly to balance your exposure out and give you a great image and these values won’t affect your overall image.

As an example, let’s say you are shooting outdoors and you want the least amount of noise in your image, so Program Mode will allow you to dial in a very low ISO to keep the noise to a minimum. For me personally, I love to use the Expanded ISO range on my Canon cameras as Canon allows you to go as low as ISO 50. If you are shooting under strong artificial lights then you will want to tell your camera to keep the ISO low.

The bottom line is if all you want to do is set the ISO, then you are golden. Set that dial to Program Mode, set the ISO where you want it and focus on composing and framing your shots and don’t think about the rest. Now I am NOT saying this is Program Mode’s only use because it is a great transition mode to get you closer to using Manual Mode. If you want to improve your photography and getting out of Auto Mode, then try powering up your game by using Program Mode. Program Mode can be your stepping stone to Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority modes and then onto full Manual Mode.

I used Program Mode for this shot of my Kawasaki. Again the ISO was set to 50 and the camera set the Aperture to F/2.2 and the Shutter speed to 1/100 sec

Beyond the Basics:

And now you should be comfortable with Program Mode basics, you set the ISO and the camera sets your Aperture and Shutter speed. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find more handy features to unlock. Most of these can help you get the shot you want rather than the shot the camera “thinks” you want. You can think of Program Mode as a late night TV infomercial version of Auto Mode, where it handles all the complicated stuff but it ends with a, “Wait there is more!” Like Mr. Popeil.

Program Mode allows you to use Exposure Compensation to fix any exposure mistakes, because when you move your Exposure Compensation dial in one direction you can force your camera to make a brighter exposure and when you adjust it the other way you force the camera to make a darker exposure. Now, let’s say you are photographing snow if you live is say the Northeast U.S. where I grew up. You exposure is too dark and it makes the snow look dull you can bring it back with the Exposure Compensation dial and make that snow bright and white again, you CANNOT do this in Auto Mode.

In Program Mode you can also adjust other settings such as White Balance. Metering Mode, Focus Point and whether or not your camera uses flash. Compare this ability with Auto Mode and you should now realize the usefulness of that little “P” mode on your camera dial.

Just like Aperture and Shutter Modes Program Mode isn’t always the way to go, there will be times when you need to adjust your shutter speed or aperture for the exposure and that’s when those modes will be more useful and of course if you need full control then Manual Mode is your best bet. But, when ISO is the part of your shot that matters mode give that Program Mode a try and I think you’ll find it very handy.

The Final Verdict:

After this discussion you now know that Program Mode is an excellent option to have in your skills bag, even if it is out shined by Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes. Next time you are shooting and don’t want to give up ALL the control consider using Program Mode because this will most likely be your best option.

Also be sure to join the Liam Photography Podcast Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/liamphotographypodcast/ You can reach the show by call or text @ 470-294-8191 to leave a comment or request a topic or guest for the show. Additionally you can email the show @ liam@liamphotographypodcast.com and find the show notes at http://www.liamphotographypodcast.com.
You can find my work @ https://www.liamphotography.net on and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @liamphotoatl. If you like abandoned buildings and history, you can find my project @ http://www.forgottenpiecesofgeorgia.com. and http://www.forgottenpiecesofpennsylvania.com.
Please also stop by my Youtube channels Liam Photography
Forgotten Pieces of Georgia Project
Forgotten Pieces of Pennsylvania Project

Follow by Email
Visit Us
Follow Me
Fb messenger