A couple of months ago, Damien Franco of YourPhotoTips.com wrote about why he uses Aperture Priority Mode for most of his photography. It is an excellent article which shows how a photographer thinks through the exposure triangle of Shutter Speed-Aperture-ISO. Damien goes on to rebuke a couple of popular myths which often hold back photographers using digital cameras. I do not agree with his choice of exposure modes, however.
What if I was to tell you about a mode which automatically selects a good exposure (aperture (f-stop) and shutter speed) to start with and allows you to change them for more or less depth of field OR slow or faster shutter speeds just by moving a control dial. Interested? I thought you might. That is the mode I use called Professional Exposure Mode as described by photographer Ken Rockwell (search for it on the linked page). Referred to as Program or simply P-mode in most digital camera manuals. Hold on you say, isn’t that AUTO mode? No, this Professional mode differs from AUTO mode in that it does not change the camera’s ISO number, Metering and White Balance settings giving you more control of your photography.
This is how I use Professional or Program mode. I set up my camera dial to P, ISO starting at 200, White Balance at Auto and Matrix metering. This gives me great flexibility for most shooting conditions I might encounter. (Note: I also use my Nikon D700’s Auto ISO feature which starts at ISO 200 but when light falls off in a building or as day turns into night, the camera will raise the ISO for me. You may have to remember to change your ISO setting when shutter speeds go below 1/30th of a second.) Now, when I see something I want to photograph, I set my focus and see what exposure the camera calculates. If I don’t agree, I can turn the command dial to vary the aperture and shutter speeds. It still gives me the same exposure but by turning the dial I can increase or decrease the f-stop controlling the depth of field. Like in Aperture Priority mode, the shutter speed will be changed for you. The reverse is true for moving the command dial to alter the shutter speed. The f-stop will be changed for you. When moving the exposure away from the camera’s chosen one, an asterisk is seen next to the P on the upper LCD (for Nikon) to tell you you have selected a different exposure. It looks like this: P*. After pressing the shutter, the camera does not return to the starting exposure unless you move the command dial back to that position. This may be different for your camera so, again, check your manual to see how Professional/Program mode is implemented.
Do I use the other modes? You bet-cha! Shutter Priority is what I use for sports and motion work. Aperture Priority is reserved for long exposure work with a tripod. Manual is for very tricky lighting situations like fireworks. In most of my photography, Professional Mode is perfect and gets me to the exposure I want to use faster and easier. As Damien points out in his article, I got my digital camera to help me make better photos. With the camera assisting and my experience and knowledge controlling it, I believe I do make better photos then I did with my old 35mm manual film camera of 30 years ago.
What exposure mode do you like to use?
In the photo below of Sunset Blvd. in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Professional mode initially gave me an exposure of 1/500s at f/5.6. I wanted more depth of field and moved the command dial until it showed 1/250s at f/8 which, for a focal length of 50mm or less, gave me the depth of field I was looking for. The slower shutter speed lightens up some of those deep Florida sun shadows, too.