Why You Need to Shoot in Program Mode

One thing that I found so difficult when I was learning photography is trying to figure out all the different modes on my camera dial and how they worked. Back then, YouTube wasn’t a thing, and there weren’t exactly a lot of photography websites to give me tips, either.

I shot in full auto mode for far too long because I didn’t understand what AV, TV, and P meant. Then my eyes were opened…

P, or program mode, is just what the doctor ordered for learning how to take better photos. Here’s why you should consider using P mode above the rest.

Just What the Heck is P Mode Anyway?


Think of P mode as “ISO priority mode.”

Where aperture priority (A or AV on your camera’s dial) gives you control over aperture, and shutter priority (S or TV on your camera’s dial) gives you control over shutter speed, program mode allows you to set the desired ISO and let the camera decide what aperture and shutter speed to use.

That’s a beneficial setup for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that you don’t have to worry about manipulating all your camera settings to get a good exposure.

After all, the barrier that most new photographers face is understanding the exposure triangle, and making all those changes to settings is, let’s be honest, a bit on the daunting side.


So you might be asking, “Don’t aperture priority and shutter priority allow you to focus on making just one exposure setting change too?”

The answer is yes, but there’s a catch…

In aperture priority and shutter priority, whatever the camera chooses for the shutter speed and aperture, respectively, is what you’re stuck with. However, in program mode, you can override those settings.

That makes P mode a bit more flexible and gives you more power to determine the settings if you so desire. Think of it as “manual mode light.”

It’s Not Just for Newbies


When I was a beginning photographer, I wanted nothing more than to start shooting in manual mode because I believed – erroneously – that professionals only shot in manual.

Don’t get me wrong – manual mode is great, and if you have the skills and know-how to use it, by all means, use it! But if you can get similar control in program mode when you want it, why not just go that route?

After all, our cameras are packed with technology to make the process of taking a photo more streamlined.

For me, if the choice comes down to shooting in manual mode and potentially missing a shot because I’m having to fiddle with my camera settings, and shooting in program mode and letting the camera do most of the work so I can actually get the photo, I’m going to opt for the latter option.

Program Mode Helps You Focus on Composition


In addition to being a faster option for getting a well-exposed photo, program mode also frees up some of your mental power to work on composing the shot.

By that, I mean that without having to worry so much about making changes to aperture and shutter speed, you can concentrate more on how you want the shot to look.

What’s more, you can focus more on why you’re taking the shot in the first place…

A technically perfect photo is great, but sometimes all the energy you spend on that technical perfection results in a photo that just doesn’t have a lot of feeling and emotion.

Program mode helps you concentrate a little more on connecting with viewers because you’re freed up to make a photo that’s potentially much more meaningful.

Program Mode Helps You Learn the Fundamentals, Too


The great thing about program mode is that not only does it allow you to focus on the creative aspects of emotionality and feeling in your photos, but when the time comes to make some manual changes to the settings, you can do so.

Here’s what I mean…

Let’s assume you’re photographing your kid playing in the park. You’re in program mode, you’ve set the ISO to 800, and allow the camera to decide on an aperture and shutter speed.

But let’s also assume that in the particular lighting conditions at that moment, the photo that you take is on the bright side.


To darken it, all you have to do is look at the camera settings and make an adjustment to one of the three exposure settings.

You can reduce your initial ISO from 800 to 400. If the camera chose an aperture of f/8, you can move it to f/11 to reduce the amount of light entering the lens. Likewise, if the camera chose a shutter speed of 1/400 seconds, you can boost it to 1/800 seconds to cut the time the shutter is open by half.

The point is that even though the camera might initially be in charge of two of the three exposure settings, you can still learn what changes to each one does to the exposure of the images you take.

Can you experiment with exposure settings in other modes? Absolutely!

But there’s something about program mode – allowing it to take control and then overriding it when you want – that, for me, makes it the best mode to use for normal, everyday photos.

Final Thoughts


Program mode isn’t the end-all, be-all for photography.

If you want to take photos with a huge aperture to blur the background, aperture priority mode is a better option.

Similarly, if you want to freeze or blur the movement of your subject, shutter priority mode will be a good choice

But for the purposes of taking photos day in and day out, and for the purposes of learning how to take more control over your camera’s settings, it’s tough to beat the virtues of program mode.

In fact, program mode doesn’t just give you more control over exposure – you can determine when or if the flash fires, control autofocus behavior, and set the white balance, too.

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