Monday, June 6, 2011

The infamous "P" mode on a Canon camera.

A former student of mine wrote me last week about a conversation she had with the photographer at a wedding:

"She said she had no idea how to use settings and they all only use the Program mode, same thing I was told at the rehearsal the day before. So I thought...hum....thought Booray said not to use P mode and I think I even remember a comment about why do they put it on the camera...."

This is clearly an invitation for me to use my vast knowledge and razor sharp wit to wax philosophically about the infamous "P" mode.

( Lately I've been trying to work on my self-control.  I'm using self-control to eat fewer sweets.  I'm using self-control to not honk at people in the pick-up line at my daughter's school.  And, right now, I'm using tremendous self-control to refrain from commenting on the fact that my student met a wedding photographer who doesn't know how to use the settings on her camera...)

First, let's start with the "Auto" mode on a Canon camera.  The "Auto" mode is the one with the little green rectangle on the dial.  When you set your camera in "Auto" mode, you give all control to the camera.  It determines the exposure, pops up your flash if you need it, sets the ISO for you and re-balances the funds in your 401K.

Never use the "Auto" mode.

I know, it sounds cool but it's not.  Basically, you have bought an expensive camera that is capable of doing amazing things and you are letting it take your pictures like a point-and-shoot.  You need to be able to change the settings on your camera, otherwise you're wasting a lot of strength carrying that big thing around.

The "P" mode is different.  Once again, the camera will determine the exposure for you.  The difference between "P" and "Auto" is that you can make some changes to things like ISO and file type.  You can even adjust the exposure up to two stops in either direction using the wheel on the back of the camera (If you have a Rebel you don't have a wheel but you can still do it with button clicks).  You can change the aperture and shutter speed by using the front controller wheel.  Turn that wheel and the numbers will change, always maintaining the correct exposure.

Sounds pretty great, right? 

Here's where it screws you up:

It doesn't remember your settings from the front wheel.  So, lets say you are shooting and you decide that you want a shallow depth of field.  So, you turn the front wheel until you get an f-stop of 2.8.  The camera selects the proper shutter speed and you take the shot.  Then, you go to take a second shot and suddenly the camera is giving you an f-stop of 8.0.  That's because the camera starts from scratch every time you depress the trigger half-way.  So, if you are wanting to shoot a series of pictures at f2.8, you will have to make that adjustment every time. 

Let's say you are shooting sports.  The camera selects a shutter speed of 1/250 but you want something faster so you turn the front dial until you get to 1/1000.  A few minutes later you whip your camera up to take a picture and the shutter speed is at 1/250 again.

Compare that with Av mode where you can set the camera to f2.8 and it won't move from the setting.  Or Tv mode where you can set the camera to 1/1000 and it won't move from that setting.  Even if you turn the camera off.

When you turn on the flash it does the same thing, automatically changing to it's preferred "flash" settings.  The truly awesome thing about E-TTL flash is that it will adapt to whatever settings you use in the camera.  Letting the camera set default settings like f8 and 1/60 strips you of all the incredible images you could be taking by manually setting your camera to bring in more light or less depth of field or whatever and using the incredibly intelligent flash to compensate for the lack of light in the scene.

It's true that I did tell my class that I can't figure out why the 'P" setting even exists.  I've looked around online and seen a few people who say that it's great when you must get the shot because you don't have to worry about the settings but Av and Tv mode do the same thing with the added benefit that you can set one of your settings and the camera won't change it.  With manual you can set them both! 

As a bounce flash photographer, I am always looking to push my camera to it's limits so that I can get something unique.  Manual mode, Tv and Av give me all the tools I need.

Booray Pery is a wedding photographer in Tampa Bay Florida