Using Program Mode on Your DSLR

Mastering Program Mode Can Help Those New to DSLR Photography

If you are new to using a DSLR camera, you will quickly want to switch from a fully automatic mode and learn how to control more of your camera’s functions. Program mode will continue 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 begin to really learn 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 will still set your exposure for you. It will choose the correct aperture and shutter speed for the light available, meaning that your shot will be correctly exposed. Program mode also unlocks other functions, meaning that you can have more creative control over your image.

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 great first step in learning how to get your camera off the Auto setting!

Here are some of the key elements that Program mode will allow you to control.


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

Of course, turning off the flash could cause your image to be under-exposed. 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 (which can sometimes confuse its settings).



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 has a tendency 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 the exposure compensation to compensate for any loss of light to the image.

White Balance

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