P Mode – Don’t Know What My Next Shot Will Be

black-tailed jackrabbit  Lepus californicus

I have my DSLR camera (Nikon D7000) set to P (program) mode most of the time. This is an automatic mode where the camera selects both the aperture and shutter speed for me but is slightly different from AUTO mode. I’ll get to the differences later. I use P mode when I don’t know what my next shot will be and may have to be ready to shoot in a hurry. I spend a lot of time hiking on nature trails with my camera. If  I happen upon an animal, I have to be ready to shoot. For instance, I was walking along a trail where the light was varying every few yards due to trees along the path. This jackrabbit ran across a meadow, stopped, put its head up for no more than 3 seconds and then ran off. I aimed my camera and got 1 shot off before the rabbit was gone. If I had been using A (aperture), S (shutter) or M (manual) modes I would have had a poorly lit shot or no shot at all. All of these modes require adjusting the camera for the lighting before each shot and I just can’t adjust the settings on my camera that fast. P mode let the camera make a good choice for the aperture and shutter speed quickly.

The difference between AUTO and P is that AUTO makes every choice for you, P let’s me have a little control. In P I can choose the focus point, metering and ISO (as well as a few other things). The one I care the most about is focus point. I set my camera to single point focus. I want my photo to focus on the rabbit’s head (the eye specifically) which is not in the center of my photo. When my camera is set to single point focus, a little box shows up in my viewfinder that I can move around to tell the camera where to focus. The other thing I really like about P is that if the animal stays around long enough for more shots I can then quickly and easily play with the aperture and shutter speed settings. By rolling the front and/or back wheels which are just below the shutter release button, I change the aperture and/or shutter speed (the other will change automatically to maintain good lighting) and I can do it without removing my eye from the camera or changing my grip. This means I can change the depth of field (how much of the image is in focus from front to back) or how much motion blur might be in an image without loosing site of my subject.

P mode is also a good mode for the beginning DSLR camera user. It is a step up from AUTO mode (which basically makes your DSLR camera a point and shoot camera) and lets you take your first steps in controlling basic camera settings. As you realize you want your camera to do more sophisticated things for you, you can then add them one at a time. But even with several years of DSLR experience, I still shoot in P mode 80% of the time.

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