DSLR – Photography with program mode (P Mode)

SLR cameras have at least 5 basic modes, which can usually be controlled using a wheel on the top of the camera. With this shutter speed dial you can switch between different shooting modes. The five most important options for photography are AUTO, P, A (or Av), S (or Tv), and M. Automatic mode is marked with “AUTO” or a green box with an “A”. P stands for Program Mode, A (Av) for Aperture Priority, S (Tv) for Shutter Priority, M for Manual Mode. In addition, most cameras still have various scenery modes and possibly also a video mode.

Automatic program mode is not the same as automatic mode (fully automatic), since important shooting parameters can be varied depending on the camera model. Only the aperture and shutter speed are controlled by the camera and automatically adjusted by the camera’s metering mode. Typically, when ambient light becomes poorer, the aperture is opened further and the exposure time is increased at the same time.

In contrast to auto mode, P mode allows for manual control of the flash and other settings such as the ISO value or exposure corrections. In comparison to the aperture or shutter priority, the image is also properly exposed when the ambient conditions change quickly, making manual adjustment difficult.

Why take photos using program mode and not just auto mode?

For many DSLR users, P-Mode is the standard program for snapshots and works well for a variety of shooting situations. Even though it is very convenient to use, since both aperture and exposure time are automatically adjusted, the photographer does not lose complete control over the settings, as is the case in automatic mode. It is therefore a kind of “basic auto mode”.

Object photographed in Auto mode (auto flash) and P mode (without flash)

Object photographed in auto mode (automatic flash) and P mode (without flash)

Most importantly, in program mode, you can manually decide whether or not to use the flash. Especially indoors, flash photography often creates an artificial atmosphere – the decision when to use it should be made by the photographer depending on the situation. To use the flash, it must first be opened manually.

The ISO setting can be adjusted by the photographer depending on the lighting situation. You can try out at which ISO values the optimum exposure is achieved. Depending on the camera model, high ISO values in particular can lead to considerable image noise, which should be taken into account when adjusting the settings.

Comparison - photographed in P mode with different ISO settings (ISO 500 / 1000)

Comparison – photographed using P-Mode with different ISO settings (ISO 500 / 1000)

The white balance can also be adjusted as desired.

Furthermore, P mode offers the option of exposure correction. This can become necessary, as the exposure measurement is based on average subjects in which bright and dark areas are relatively evenly distributed. If the subject is generally very bright or very dark, it deviates too much from these average values and incorrect exposures occur. These can be corrected by means of an exposure correction.

In addition, automatic exposure series can be captured in program mode, as required for HDR images. Only the shutter speeds are changed and not the aperture, so that the photos can be merged and superimposed later.

Program P recognises the focal length used by interchangeable lenses and tries to keep the shutter speed so short using the aperture and (with ISO automatic) the ISO settings that handheld shots are possible without blurring up to minimum lighting.

The image quality should be checked directly when using P mode and the corresponding parameters should be adjusted if necessary.

Drawbacks of program mode

Program mode responds to two basic requirements: The image should be correctly exposed and it should be sharp. In combination, the aperture and shutter speed must always match.

However, there is more than one combination that leads to the correct exposure. If, for example, you open the aperture a little (assuming a correct combination) and reduce the exposure time accordingly, you get another correct combination regarding the exposure with a different depth of field. The depth of field of a photo is often used as a creative tool, for example. By default, program mode cannot be set accordingly.

Program shift functionality

P mode prefers short shutter speeds to high f-stops. The combination of aperture and shutter speed defines depth of field and motion blur. If the aperture is too small, for example, but the subject requires more blur in the background, program shift (or flexible program) can be used with many camera models. While preserving the exposure value, the time/aperture combination determined by the program mode is overwritten manually. Depending on the camera, the program can be shifted using a dial on the shutter release button or using the arrow keys on the back of the camera.

The aperture and shutter speed are not shifted individually, but simultaneously. This guarantees that the exposure itself remains unchanged in accordance with the current lighting situation. Program mode takes changed lighting conditions into account in its parallel shift, but the direction of the shift is retained. Depending on the camera and settings, this program shift is only valid for the current shot or for a defined time.

Fotos des selben Motivs mit unterschiedlicher Belichtungszeit

Photos of the same subject with different exposure time

Other modes / scene modes

The selection of the time/aperture combination always considers the interplay between the correct exposure time and the optimal aperture setting for depth of field. This is why most modern cameras offer more than one program to cover different situations. The settings follow a kind of “patent recipe” for the corresponding subject.

The portrait program selects an aperture that is as open as possible for a shallow depth of field. Landscape and panorama programs as well as close-up programs select an aperture that is as closed as possible for a large depth of field. The sports program uses the shortest exposure time to reduce motion blur. The night program uses a long shutter speed for long time exposures.


Depending on how much the photographer uses the manual settings of their DSLR in program mode, essential parameters of the photo can be influenced. It is always ensured that the combination of aperture and exposure time allows for a correct exposure. With program shift, almost the same settings can be made for individual images or exposure series as the semi-automatic modes Av (A) and Tv (S) would allow. If other scene modes are used or no custom settings are made in P mode, the mode comes close to AUTO mode.





Close-up of the moon

Lunar Photography – Camera settings and tips

As the brightest and largest celestial body of the night, the moon is often chosen as the gateway to astrophotography. We will show you how to take a clear picture of the wandering moon from the very beginning, which is about 380,000 km away.

The right equipment to photograph the moon

Taking a good picture of the moon is possible even with simple photo equipment. A half-frame camera even has one advantage over a full-frame camera: the crop factor. This feature narrows the field of view and thus, the moon occupies more of the image area. Even with the smaller digital cameras and system cameras you can take good photographs, if the zoom is powerful enough.

A tripod is particularly important for taking detailed pictures over such a huge distance. The equipment is most stable just above the ground. Therefore, work as closely to the ground as possible, even if it is not very comfortable. To further reduce camera shaking, we recommend using a remote shutter release or setting the self-timer with a delay of 2 seconds.

While a wide-angle lens is used for star photography to capture as many stars as possible, a telephoto lens is more suitable for moon photography. For the moon to appear as large as possible on the image, you must be able to zoom in at the widest possible angle. The focal length should be at least 200 mm.

The right settings for lunar images

The moon is a small bright spot in the big black night sky, so automatic functions will only work poorly. Apart from the focus, everything is adjusted manually.

First, check that the image stabiliser is turned off. Its work is done by the tripod. Also make sure the flash is off. If you are working with an SLR, you should also turn on the mirror lock-up. This will cause the camera to release with a slight delay and prevent camera shaking.

Now find the moon with the viewfinder or Live View and place it in the middle of your section. Exposure metering can be done manually or using spot metering. You can transfer the spot metering values to manual mode to easily vary the image section later. For focal lengths greater than 200 mm, the shutter speeds must be kept very low, because even the slightest shocks can blur the image.

As the moon moves, long exposure and shutter speeds are not an option. The exposure time should remain within a range of 1/20-1/60. The ISO-values should be kept as low as possible. Start with a value of 100 and find your sweet spot. The balance between exposure and ISO is critical. Since the moon moves quite fast, motion blurring can occur. Then shorten the exposure time and increase the ISO value.

If possible, fade out two levels. If your lens has the open aperture f/2.8, close the aperture to f/4 or f/5.6. With these settings, the lenses usually achieve their best image quality and the moon’s surface is reproduced in detail.

Capturing the phases of the moon

When it comes to lunar photography, many people first think of the full moon. But similar to portrait photography, the most exciting images are not created frontally in full exposure, but when the light comes from the side. Just the same, you can see the relief and its craters on the moon much better when it is illuminated from the side. Use a lunar calendar when planning your photos. The night should also be very clear. The higher the moon is, the less the layers of air affect the image quality.

Tip: The most beautiful structures can be seen when the moon is about 6 days old, i.e. 6 days after the full moon.

Moon shot at crescent

Source: ©René Gropp –

The right place for lunar photography

Decisive for lunar photography is a strong contrast between the bright moon and the black night sky. Therefore, try to take your pictures in a place with as little ambient light as possible. Drive out of the city and look for a free, elevated surface. On the Internet you can find light pollution maps for all of Europe that can help you find a suitable place nearby.

The post-processing of the lunar images

Even if the files are large and take a long time to process, it is worth taking such detailed pictures in RAW format. With software such as Photoshop or Lightroom you can work out the moon craters and shadows with the settings sharpness, white balance, tonal value, and shadows well. If you have caught a low moon, it can even be coloured yellow or red. You can emphasise these colours on your computer afterwards, in order to get particularly interesting pictures of the moon.

You can also take several pictures one after the other and then “stack” them with the help of software, i.e. layer several pictures. The similar photos are superimposed, and details and contrasts are sharply worked out.

Mondaufgang über einer Bergkette

If you want to stage the moon close to the horizon with trees, roofs or towers, it is advisable to take at least two pictures: once with the scenery in focus and then another with the moon surface in focus. If you put these pictures together on the computer, you will create exciting picture compositions.

As is so often the case in photography, trial and error is key. The different phases of the moon, the locations, and variations of the equipment create very different images of the celestial body.