There is Nothing Wrong with Using Program Mode (sometimes)


A young man wanted to show his father how successful he had become. He picked up his father in his new convertible sports car and drove him around town. When they got back home, he asked his father what he thought. His dad put his hand on his son’s shoulder and said,”Don’t worry, son. Someday, you will be able to afford a car with a roof and automatic transmission, that drives smoother and that doesn’t sit so close to the ground.”

Some of today’s photography advice reminds me of this joke. When these photographers try to advise new photographers by saying,

  • “I never shoot in Program.”
  • “A good photographer never shoots in auto white balance.”
  • “I never use anything except spot focus.”

I think, Why not? Does every moment of your drive to the grocery store engage every safety feature of your car all at once? I hope not! And do you also turn off power steering and power brakes whenever you drive a car? That would take all the joy out of driving, and for many photographers, this would take all the joy out of photography.

Yes, a stick shift and feeling the road is nice, but now that I am older and have no ego that requires me to “always be in control,” I’m more open to smarter systems* that serve me (and not the other way around).

*(Which is one reason why I switched to Fuji which allows you to adjust maximum ISO and minimum shutter settings.)

I would rather be concentrating on composition, getting to the right place for the best shot and being ready when the shot appears, than running a camera.

Yes, there are many situations that require me to help my camera not be confused by the lighting situation or to command it shoot with a smaller aperture or faster/slower shutter to get the shot that I want. I still chase after wider aperture lenses and less ISO noise, but not everything need be controlled for every situation.

Many times, I’m there to document quickly (but still with good quality) and move on. The camera/car’s purpose is to move me from point A to point B, and there is no need to peel out going to the corner grocery store, wear out my tires, using extra effort to avoid hitting the slower cars, etc.

There’s nothing wrong with using Program mode for slow, everyday, well lit photography, so don’t let anyone make you feel bad for driving a stick-shift at the speed limit in good weather to the grocery store.



This said, also don’t rely on the “helpful” modes like sports, night portrait, etc. If you are tempted, then you are starting to move from the slow, everyday, well lit photo to something more challenging to shoot, and many photographers will tell you:

  • Those modes are gimmicks:
    • to sell you cameras
    • to deal with difficult situations by applying slightly adjusted but still generalized settings.
  • It still is up to the photographer:
    • to understand the situation
    • to understand the options
    • and to adjust accordingly.

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