Tips: Auto or Program

Auto or Program

When photographing weddings, I am often asked to set up special “arranged candids” with friends hugging, laughing, and embracing one another.  These shots are a sign of the times and our desire for more natural, non-posed looks. Often, I am handed someone else’s point-and-shoot camera to record the special image while using my own. I am happy to do so because it builds good will and makes me just a nice guy.

Almost every time I pick up a point-and-shoot camera, I notice it is set to the Auto setting. Let’s talk for a moment about how Auto (“A”) and Program (“P”) settings operate with a flash on your standard point-and-shoot camera.

If you keep your camera on Auto, you are very limited in the functions you can select.  Most importantly, you cannot select the flash feature to come on when you want it. In Auto mode, the camera is supposed to know when the flash is needed, but it sometimes makes mistakes that can ruin a great shot.

Say you are standing in front of a big window and are about to capture that once-in-a-lifetime moment of your child. In Auto setting, the flash will not come on because the camera will think you don’t need it, but when you see the image, it will be much too dark!  Why might this happen? Well, the camera noticed all the light filling the frame inside the viewfinder, and since the camera is not as smart as we are, it assumed in Auto setting that you had all the light you needed to get a great shot. Since the camera can’t actually “see” when your child’s face is backlit by a window, this special moment is lost.

Shooting with a flash

Flash Example

Or imagine that it is high noon, and you are setting up a shot on the beach. They say the eyes are the windows to the soul, but they are set back just a little far in our heads; therefore, sunlight coming straight down creates dark shadows on our faces. If the flash in Auto mode does not come on, all you will capture is an image of Mr. and Mrs. Raccoon. The Auto mode cannot detect the dark eye shadows, so your image is not as great as it could be.

I guess that is why it is called Auto mode. It’s a non-thinking setting for your camera that is supposed to take care of everything. Almost everything.

The first step to good photography is noticing and understanding the light you are photographing in. It’s simple. Notice what you are taking a picture of and ask yourself a couple questions. How does the light look on their faces? Do I need to add light to counter shadows?

Flash camer tips

Flash on or off

I always keep my point-and-shoot camera on Program mode (yes, I am a professional, but that is not the reason for keeping it on “P”). When your camera is in Program mode, you have more choices in camera settings. In Program, I can use the flash outside to reduce dark shadows on faces while still keeping the natural daylight settings. When inside, cameras are able to use such high film speed settings of such good quality that the flash is not needed as much. Setting your camera to Program mode will allow you to make the choice of adding more light when you need it.

Try it on your own. Set your camera to Program and say goodbye to Auto. Try turning your flash on outside and see the results. If you are using a SLR, you can pop up the flash on the camera when you want it instead of wondering if the camera knows enough to capture your child’s perfect sand castle in just the right light on its own.  If you want to achieve an artistic look, using the flash may not be needed at all.  Using the Program mode will give you more control over lighting situations to create the optimal look you want.

Next time I will go over the details of setting your camera to Program mode and capturing a beautiful sunset you just can’t get in Auto.If you have a chance to stop by my website personal area you can see I still get around and have some fun in photography.