Photography Using Program Mode

Posted Nov. 29th, 2011 by Daniel J. Cox

I recently received a question about photography using program mode, via my LinkedIn Nikon Photographers Forum that I tried to answer via LinkedIn. However, due to the length of the answer I decided to bring it over here to my blog. The question is, “what shooting mode do most photographs use?” You can read my thoughts below.

Panasonic’s Lumix and Nikon Cameras Flexible Program Mode

I use what Nikon refers to as Flexible Program Mode or the P setting 98% of the time. As most of the comments above show, using anything but Manual or Aperture priority is not very popular. However, I believe if more photographers would investigate the benefits of the Flexible Program option, in the Nikon  and Lumix system, they would come to understand the tremendous benefits. I specifically state Nikon and Lumix since Canon’s version of the Flexible Program is a bit different and can be frustrating to rely on.

St. Mary's Lake and Lone Goose Island during autumn in Glacier National Park, Montana.

St. Mary’s Lake and Lone Goose Island during autumn in Glacier National Park, Montana.

Nikon’s Flexible Program is actually a combination of Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority all rolled into one. When you first turn the camera on in the P Mode, the camera will choose what it thinks is the appropriate shutter speed and aperture. This is where most serious shooters think the downside to P mode comes in. What many don’t know is you have the option to adjust

Underground caverns, holding Codorniu sparkling wines known as Cava near Catalonia, Spain

Underground caverns, holding Codorniu sparkling wines known as Cava near Catalonia, Spain

shutter speed and aperture while in the P mode. That’s where the word Flexible comes in. Let’s say the camera selects a shutter speed of 250th @ F/8. but you want a faster shutter speed to stop something with quick moving action. Presuming you have a lens that has a maximum aperture larger than f/8, let’s say f/4, you can adjust the cameras shutter speed and aperture combination to something more appropriate.

Here’s how it’s done. When in Flexible Program, you turn the camera on and the camera makes a selection of say 250th @ f/8, however, you decide you want 1000th @ f/4. To change the camera to 1000th @ f/4, all you do is turn Nikon’s main Command Dial, (the big horizontal wheel on the top right, back side of the camera next to your thumb) to the right until you get the 1000th

White-tailed eagle in flight, Hokkaido, Japan. Lumix GX8 with Leica 100-400mm zoom ISO 640

White-tailed eagle in flight, Hokkaido, Japan. Lumix GX8 with Leica 100-400mm zoom ISO 640

of a second. While adjusting the Command Dial and moving it to the higher shutter speed, the aperture follows right along with it, bringing the aperture up to the f/4 setting. Let’s say the action subsides and you now want better depth of field. All you do is turn the Command Dial to the left. In doing so the shutter speed is reduced and the Aperture once again follows it down to a smaller aperture setting, which in turn gives you better depth of field.

So in summary if you want to stop action, quickly dial to the right. If you want better depth of field, dial to the left. It’s that simple and very, very quick to use. As I mentioned above it is very similar to having the benefits of Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority all rolled into one easy Program Mode.

An unidentified young lady sledding on Pete's Hill. Bozeman, Montana. Lumix FZ300 in 4K photo Mode.

An unidentified young lady sledding on Pete’s Hill. Bozeman, Montana. Lumix FZ300 in 4K photo Mode.

Now for my soap box on photographers who refuse anything but manual metering. Why would anyone buy a multi-thousand dollar camera or even several hundred dollar camera and refuse to use the sophisticated technology that costs a substantial part of the cameras price? I’m always amazed at the pride many photographers exude when talking about using the same technique that came onto the market with the Super Kodak Six-20 in1938. Auto metering is meant to help all photographers concentrate on the composition, the peak action, capturing the elusive moment. Those are things that only the human eye, at this point, can

Sandhill cranes on flight over Bosque del Apache NWR. Lumix GX8 with Leica Vario-Elmar 100-400mm lens. ISO 320

Sandhill cranes on flight over Bosque del Apache NWR. Lumix GX8 with Leica Vario-Elmar 100-400mm lens. ISO 320

make a judgement on to convince the photographer to push the shutter button. I agree that there are still a few, very few, situations where moving your camera over to Manual Metering Mode is beneficial. That’s where my other 2% points come in. But I’m also confident that you are equally qualified, some may say “professional” even if you do choose to use some of the worlds leading technology to expose your pictures and help you concentrate on the other issues I mentioned above. With Auto Metering, the advent of the histogram and use of the +/- Exposure Compensation button, a photographer can easily eliminate most times it is necessary to switch back and forth from Auto to Manual metering. Knowing when to use the modern metering technology or relying on your skills to meter manually is the key.

Snow geese lift off from a small pond at Bosque del Apache NWR. New Mexico. Lumix GX8 with 100-400mm zoom. ISO 320

Snow geese lift off from a small pond at Bosque del Apache NWR. New Mexico. Lumix GX8 with 100-400mm zoom. ISO 320

One last note regarding the differences between Nikon and Canon on this issue of Program Mode. Canon also has a similar feature to Nikon’s Flexible Program with one big exception. When Canon cameras are in Canon’s Program Mode and the camera turns the meter off during a slow period in the action, if you reactivate the meter by touching the shutter button, the Canon camera resets the shutter speed and aperture back to what THE CAMERA wants, not what you originally chose. With Nikon, even though the camera meter will shut down, when you reactivate the system by touching the shutter button, the shutter and aperture settings are where you set them before the meter turned itself off. This difference between the Nikon and Canon systems is why I suggest Canon shooters use the Aperture or Shutter Priority setting when using an auto mode.

Isak catching some air on pete's Hill. Bozeman, Montana Lumix FZ300 in 4K Photo Mode

Isak catching some air on pete’s Hill. Bozeman, Montana Lumix FZ300 in 4K Photo Mode

I’m certain all of you will agree that the suggestions above are just one mans opinion and there will be many who will have their own ideas. However, keeping an open mind on how we create images is all just part of growing in this exciting world of creating images. If you are interested I other subjects on photography, conservation and quality story telling I would be grateful if you visited our blog at


Add Your Voice!
There are 89 comments on this post…
  1. DomOn May. 19th, 2022

    I’d been shooting Manual with my G9, getting frustrated with my bird shots. Switched to P mode, getting way more keepers! Thank you – even though this is an old article, hope you’ll be pleased that people are still finding it useful years later!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 19th, 2022

      Glad this helped Dom.

  2. cibOn Jun. 17th, 2020

    Thanks for the P mode explanations. With manual ISO, it really making wonders. And so simple. Good to hear that people use technology that they pay a lot for. Sorry for the guys that don’t fully use it. Why spending lots of money when you’re skipping it? Thanks a lot. Very informative!

  3. Michael EsareyOn Sep. 6th, 2019

    I must admit that the notion of Program Mode appeals to me. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on my D7000. Adjusting the Command Dial has absolutely no effect on the exposure setting. Perhaps I don’t totally understand how to set up Program Mode. Or perhaps the camera is at fault. This is perplexing. I could use some help. Thank you.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 6th, 2019

      Michael, do you have Auto ISO set? Something is affecting the Program Mode since I used Program effectively on a Nikon D7000 when I was shooting Nikons. I think I recall that when Auto ISO is set to ON that will affect how Variable Program works. Check that first and if it seems to be something different then I would Reset the camera.

  4. Dick PembrokeOn Aug. 1st, 2019

    I was wondering how to solve this problem (better Aperture choice in Program). Your article is the only place I found what I needed-explained clearly and concisely. It might have been buried in some manual, but not recognizable as to what it does. Love this capability now that I know how to use it.
    PS– always, always used Manual mode before.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 1st, 2019

      Glad to help Dick. Thanks for stopping by to add your voice.

  5. PatrickOn Jul. 11th, 2019

    What is the difference between flexible P mode and A mode???? Sounds the same to me???

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 16th, 2019

      They’re very close Patrick but Program does have some advantages. The main advantage is that in Aperture Priority if you’re shooting landscapes one evening at F/22, that F/22 stays put until you change it. So the next morning you get out of your tent and have something exciting happen such as an elk pass by your camp, you turn your camera on and it’s now set to F/22. An aperture of F/22 in early morning light is going to give you a very slow shutter speed and maybe not even enough shutter speed for the sensor to register an image. So now the camera’s Shutter Speed/Aperture info in the EVF starts blinking at you. You’re groggy from a nights sleep and you don’t see it blinking. The camera will still work but the images will be totally underexposed. In Program, you might not have enough light for a fast enough shutter speed but it will be exposed properly.

  6. Shiv NaimpallyOn May. 26th, 2019

    Hi Daniel, Thanks so much for your excellent blog. I think MFT is a very underappreciated camera format and it is great to read professionals like you discussing the benefits of the system. I also wanted to thank you for tips like this one, regarding Program mode. The discussion in your article is related more to Nikon. Would you mind elaborating in the article about your settings for the G9 and how you use them in situations when you are shooting photos?
    Thanks again.


    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 27th, 2019

      for the questions Shiv. I should go back and update or do a similar piece on the G9. However, thankfully the Nikon Program mode and the G9 Program Mode work exactly the same. As usual with all cameras program modes, when you turn the camera on, the camera will choose shutter speed and aperture. If you don’t like what it has picked you simply dial the back main wheel to the right for faster shutter speed and the aperture follows the new Shutter speed. Keep in mind that you can only go as high as the maximum aperture of the lens. In other words, if your lens is a F/2.8 you can’t get a fast shutter speed unless you change ISO. Selecting a slower speed works the same. Dial the back wheel to the left and the shutter speed comes down and the aperture follows. So in short, faster shutter speed dial it to the right. Better depth of field dial it to the left. I use Program for almost everything other than flash. I typically use Aperture or Manual with flash.

  7. Gill BrownOn Oct. 9th, 2018

    wow thanks for this blog, so informative. After reading it through I went out this morning with my Olympus EM1ii and a 45-150 zoom. Got to where the dolphins were playing. Turned camera to P nice exposure but too slow, so I upped the ISO from 200 to 400 and got the shutter up to 1600s used my AEL lock on the back composed my shot and bang. Great and so easy, light changed a little do used my exposure compensation. Never used this before or back button focus. Impressed. Now going to tell my photographic club about it and get laughed out of the room!! Ive also read that street photographers use this mode too. Also war zone photographers who call it Professional mode

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 9th, 2018

      Great to hear about your “seeing the light” on Program Mode Gil. Like I tell all my students, P stands for Professional?. And yes, due be prepared to be laughed at but by the confidence you express in your comment, you’ve got the shoulders to handle it. It does take confidence to buck the system and photographers are notorious followers. They stick with the things that worked for decades never wanting to try something different to see if there’s a better way. Glad you have an open mind and thanks for adding your voice. Please do me a favor and give your photo pals our Facebook Connection as well as this blog address. Would love to have more people like yourself going the community. Thanks again,.

  8. AlanOn Sep. 19th, 2018

    Hello Danie after two year’s of using all of the other modes and reading your article today I was out with camera and the mode dial set on P, I could not believe how good and easy it was to work with,glad I came across your blog thank you .

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 21st, 2018

      Happy to help Alan. As I like to say, P for professional.

  9. ChrisOn Sep. 12th, 2018

    7 years after this post and here I am just learning this. Great info.
    What are your thoughts on metering patterns using P, considering how sophisticated this feature this has gotten?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 12th, 2018

      I use the metering pattern that takes in to account the entire screen. I also pay close attention to my histogram and adjust it accordingly before I shoot.

  10. Robert WalkerOn Aug. 18th, 2018

    In Nikon D3300 “P” mode, must I set a definite ISO or may “Auto-ISO be used. Then let camera set a balanced Shutter Speed and Aperture settings.??

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 18th, 2018


      Auto ISO works great. Just be sure to set an upper limit if that’s possible on the D3300. You most likely don’t want to go past 2000-3200ISO on that camera. You will need to decide who high you can go before noise becomes too much of a problem. If you use DXO PhotoLab you can shoot much higher than whatever is typical since DXO has such a fantastic noise reduction tool.

  11. Dan PhillipsOn Aug. 17th, 2018

    I use the nikon D200. Will this option work with it?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 17th, 2018

      Absolutely Dan. I used it with the D200 for the two years I shot that camera.

  12. Reinhard MaagOn May. 22nd, 2018

    Thanks for illuminating the P/A/S or M issues. On P I feel back in analog times (Pen-F, later FM2). But ‘everybody’ sez Aperture setting! Reluctantly I did so on an E-M1. For quick play with exposure and deciding on my own wrt exposure nothing beats P mode (Oly offers Ps and works sort of). I suspect this ‘set to Aperture mode’ has also to do with brand of Camera. Canon (a.o.) where P is not Nikon’s flexible P mode may have much to do with the A preaching. Anyway, I’m back to mostly P and understand quite a bit more after plowing thru the entire post with replies. Was like ‘Lab ‘ after the ‘Lecture’ (RTfM) and my recently acquired G81 benefits from the first go.
    And btw, these days ‘professional’ and ‘expert’ make me see flashing blue/red lights of an incident scene. There are so many ‘experts’, e.g. on the roads. I like the word amateur (from ‘amare’, Lat. ‘to love’), but even more do I like the word ‘dilettant’ derived from the Latin word for ‘try’, ‘experiment’ even tho’ one does not have full training/schooling. Tho’ I used cameras for decades to document (archeology 1966f), I’ll never be a trained/schooled expert and I smile when someone mutters or snears ‘dilettant’.

  13. Wayne McCrackenOn May. 5th, 2018

    Finally !!!

    I have been arguing this for years. P selection and slide adjustment up or down as appropriate for speed or aperture.

    All those that I described this to thought that P was just “unprofessional” and a simple “auto mode”. They used A or S instead.

    They all get you to the same place but P drops you in the middle and allows A or S to be adjusted up or down as appropriate.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 5th, 2018

      You nailed it Wayne! You’ve been right all along. I cant tell you how many times I’ve explained Variable Program to my students, with other so called Pros around, and the amount of snickering and gafawing I hear from those supposedly in the know. In fact when I explain this prosecute to our NE Explorers, I warn them, that if they go onto shoot with other groups, they will be criticized for this technique and warned they don’t know what they’re doing and you should NEVER shoot on Program. I then proceed to suggest they keep the question ready, “have you read your manual since about the mid 90’s? ” That’s when Nikon fine-tuned Program Mode to make it as customizable as Shutter or Aperture Priority or even Manual for that matter. Using the +/- Exposure Compensation along with Program is every bit as professional and I would argue more professional than somebody who beats their chest they use nothing but manual. Let the technology help you obtain the perfect moment but understand when it’s limitations are met and you need to take over. That’s a true professional.

  14. ErikOn Aug. 7th, 2017

    Dear Daniel,

    Thank you for the great clearification. Though for my own understanding I do have a few questions left unanswered: Is it true that if one knows how to use P, he will never have to use A and or S anymore or can you come up with a (rare) occasion that A or S is better use? I have a hard time understanding the exact difference between A and S, and P as a combined A/S mode.

    With regards,
    Erik – The Netherlands

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Aug. 10th, 2017

      Good questions Erik. Although I shoot almost exclusively with Progam there are a few situations where I might switch to Shutter Priority and Manual. I can’t recall the last time I shot with Aperture other than testing it on my cameras just to make sure it worked.

      One situation when I move from Program to Manual is when using flash. I will typically select the shutter speed and the aperture allowing the flash’s TTL to take care of the flash exposure.

      Once in a great while, I will use Shutter priority when I’m shooting something that I absolutely want to make sure the shutter speed stays consistent. Where stopping the action or not (panning), with a particular shutter speed, is the main goal.

      But overall, I’m a huge fan of Program where I can quickly change the Shutter Speed or Aperture depending on which of the two I’m most interested in.

  15. Hurley GreenOn May. 3rd, 2017

    I LUV this conversation and these comments! Like so many other camera guys, I was into the mainstream
    belief that Manual mode was the ONLY way to go, but I have now jumped on the Program Mode bandwagon!
    Thanks for sharing, Daniel! 🙂

  16. Michael EsareyOn Oct. 14th, 2016

    I really like the idea of P Mode. But I must be doing somethig wrong. When in P Mode, the rear dial does nothing, while the front dial only changes the ISO. I might add that Auto ISO is turned on. Turning it off seems to change nothing. Any suggestions as to what is going on? Thanks…M.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 16th, 2016

      Michael, first I need to now what camera you are using?

  17. TomOn Apr. 24th, 2016

    I have a nikon D3200, its not the best camera I know, beginner entry lvl camera I would say. The problem with this model is just that the LCD screen on the back is showing the picture too bright as compared to how it looks when I get it up on my computer monitor, I got so frustrated with that when I saw my images darker than what they looked like when previewed on the camera. I ended up turning up brightness and contrast on my monitor to make the images come a little closer to how they looked on the LCD screen on the camera. I googled and found others who had the same issue, one man who owned a lot of the nikon D models said that it was def. a problem with the D3200 model cause none of the other models he had in the D series had this problem. And adjusting the brightness on the LCD screen does not help, it was already set to -1 by default I think and setting it down to -2 made it too dark. Sorry for going a little off topic here.

    As for program mode I noticed that if I adjust the shutter/aperture in program mode and then switch over to manual mode, the pictures turns out really underexposed, how come changing things in P mode affects the manual mode? This shouldnt happen. Also as others have mentioned if you have it set to auto ISO nothing happens when you turn the dial except for P* symbol showing up in the viewfinder.

    I found out if I press the +/- button and then the command dial at the same time (Just like you do in manual mode when you adjust aperture) then it will now adjust the shutter ect. – to go back to how it was before I started turning the dial, I must now scroll it back untill I the meeter bar indicator disappears in the view finder. But as I mentioned before, if I adjust anything here and forgets to set it back to default (where the meeter bar is not showing) it will screew up the exposure when I go over to manual mode again. I have no idea why it does that since changing stuff in Program mode should cause any changes to manual mode. I think I need a better camera, somethings not right with this nikon D3200, I also noticed if I turn the top dial over to guide mode and then press the play button to preview any photo I have taken, they will now look much brighter and better somehow, like more contrast ect. – then when I go back to any of the other modes, manual, program, aperture, auto, doesnt matter, and then go and preview any photo they now look a little bit darker and doesnt have the same “Wow” look to it. This has to be another error with this camera just as the error with the LCD screen that are showing my images brighter than what they should be compared to my monitor screen.

    I will try experiment a little with the flexible program, I do prefer manual though in most cases as the program mode often choses a faster shutter speed than what is needed, and then the pictures looks underexposed and not very good. I use auto ISO but with a max ISO of 400 so it wont go higher than that. I rarely go higher because the D3200 does not handle higher ISO numbers so weel, at 800 I start to see unwanted noise, im very picky with that, I hate noise in images lol.

    Thx for your guide I will play around a bit with this and see how it turns out for me.


    • JimOn Mar. 30th, 2017

      you need to learn to read a histogram and that will solve 80% of your problems. There are lots of good lessons on YouTube on the topic.

  18. Ann F.On Mar. 24th, 2016

    This is a great explanation of Program Mode. I shoot a lot in Program mode but have never really used it correctly before – I just noticed the shots were a lot better than fully auto. Spent two hours shooting yesterday and playing with how it should really be used, thanks so much!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 24th, 2016

      I’ve been using Program since the mid 90’s Ann. Thankfully, now that I’m shooting mostly Panasonic’s Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Canon, Sony or Olympus.

  19. hashimOn Nov. 21st, 2015

    I use an odd D70 mostly in P mode, and I love it, most of the time. But it has a weird side to it. When auto ISO it’s turned on and the light is low it doesn’t seem to work as expected. Rolling the wheel on the camera didn’t seem to do anything at all. Switching off auto ISO brings back sanity.

    My brother recently bought a shiny new D610 and mentioned this issue which made me realise this is not just a D70 quirk. In fact a stumbled on this page by googling for a solution.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Nov. 21st, 2015

      Hashim, you are right. I recall this anomaly with P mode when Auto ISO was on as well. I can’t quite remember but I think it was due to the Auto ISO maximum setting and a minimum shutter speed setting. Will need to get one of my nikons out to see for sure. I haven’t shot Auto ISO for years and haven’t shot my Nikons for over a year now since fully migrating to the LUMIX system.

  20. FrankOn Oct. 1st, 2015

    Never dove into P mode much! Would use it for quick shots, but A mode 98% of the time. So after reading your article I started using P mode and A mode on the same shots.
    And behold 98% or the time the shots on P where better! Which to me is faster! I read that Ken Rockwell uses P most of the time. But your explanation was so simple I it just clicked! I f you could maybe share your settings for P mode. Excellent explanation!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 1st, 2015

      Glad you were able to understand my explanation Frank. Not sure what you mean but suggesting “share your settings for P Mode”. If you could please elaborate I would be happy to do so.

  21. Alexandra RoseOn Sep. 12th, 2015

    Hi Dan,
    This is fantastic! I’ve gotten so much out of your blog, and this is the best tip yet. I have been shooting mainly in A or S but have gotten burned a few times when I am in a hurry to snap a photo of our toddler doing something cute and realize that I’ve got the settings dialed in for a photo I took a week ago. As a beginner, it was tempting to go to the Auto (no flash) mode when I am in a hurry, but the default for the focus in Auto mode is that it focuses on the object closest to you, which is rarely what I want. P saves my “single square” selection. SO, I’m going to leave it there for a while and play around! Now to master ISO… 🙂

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 12th, 2015

      Great to hear from you Alex. Glad the P setting is working for you. There are few people that really look in to the Program mode. If you understand how it can be used, it is super convenient and easily customizable. As far as mastering ISO, just remember that the higher the ISO you use the more noise/grain you will get. How much is dependent on the camera. The older the camera model the more you have to worry about noise in higher ISO images. The newer cameras do much better. Also, the DX format Nikon are worse than the FX or full frame bodies. It’s always bet to use the lowest ISO possible but sometimes dark lighting or fat actin requires you to move the ISO up. It’s always better to have a bit of noise than a fuzzy picture. Nose can be removed to a certain extent with a program like Adobe’s Lightroom or DXO Optics Pro. Stay in touch and reach out any time.

  22. DanielOn Jul. 29th, 2015

    From Daniel to Daniel. Damn…. I have had my Nikon D5100 camera for well over a year, and I’m still learning about all it’s features! Thanks for explaining this Flexible Program Mode feature. I had seen it mentioned in an older digital camera book and thought…. What the……. Also, a great comment about using the Auto Mode at times, and leaving you to spend more time composing those fast moving subjects and situations.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jul. 29th, 2015

      Don’t let any other photographer steer you away from Program Daniel. Those who will look at you like yo have there heads when you tell them you use P are the ones who have never read their manual and have no idea how Program works. It’s like having Aperture and Shutter Priority all rolled in to one setting. Long live Program.

  23. Thomas LewinOn Nov. 26th, 2014

    I loved your presentation of the flexible progam and its relation to Auto ISO.Keep up the good work! Thank you!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Nov. 28th, 2014

      Thanks Thomas. Flexible Program is a fabulous feature that many photographers don’t take advantage of. My current favorite camera, the Lumix GH4 has this exact identical option, that works just like Nikon’s. It’s made moving over to the Panasoinc system even easier.

  24. Graham freemanOn Oct. 10th, 2014

    P mode thank you, thank you I’ve been shooting for just over a year and have struggled through the settings, the reason, the maths, and all that reading, I’m dyslexic and even though the maths are everywhere in photography I managed to work my way through then you come up with p mode fantastic, now there’s a tool to use, which brings me to a serious point in useing the tools for the job, I’ve already told you I’m dyslexic imagine what this email would look like if I refused to use the built in spell check, I rest my case,

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Oct. 11th, 2014

      Glad to help Graham.

    • lanceOn Jul. 20th, 2015

      Good thing about dyslexia is you tend to view thing different than most. And photography is visual. This is why I find it easy.

  25. Amar DaveOn Sep. 15th, 2014

    Hi Daniel,
    I have read your blog and I am not able to use program mode in certain situation. I hope you can help me with this. I have a Nikon D5200 and in low light situation when i switch the flash on and put the camera in flexible program mode, nothing happens if i rotate the dial. Not sure whether its the limitation with my camera or in general the program mode doesnt work with the flash on. I have seen another user mention the issue earlier in the comments above.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Sep. 15th, 2014

      Amar, In Program mode the shutter speed will not go beyond 1/200th of a second for it’s highest shutter speed. Additionally, shooting at slower shutter speeds depends on whether you have set your camera to either Slow Sync or Rear Shutter Sync. Shutter speeds as slow as 30 seconds are available in slow sync, rear curtain + slow sync, and slow sync + red-eye reduction modes. One thing I failed to mention in the Blog article is that when I’m shooting flash, I typically shoot THE CAMERA in either manual or Aperture Priority. I still use the flash in iTTL which takes care of the exposure. If I want a slower shutter speed, I set the camera to 1./15th of a second or less and the Aperture to maybe F/8. I then let the flash take care of the exposure. Of course the F/stop all depends on how close you are to the subject and what ISO yo are shooting at. Hope this helps. Let me now if you need more info.

  26. James ChampionOn May. 9th, 2014

    Sure glad I found this subject. I am a 67 year old moderately knowledgeable amateur camera buff. I have been struggling with dark exposures in Auto on my D3200. The full Auto mode has never worked right, even with the latest software upgrades from Nikon. Every time I switched to any of the non-auto modes, I got some great pictures, but still not reliably consistent enough for each one because I am not as knowledgeable as I need to be on making the best use of A or S , even manual. I found this article about P mode last week. Finally! I now can consistently get great exposures. After studying your article and with the additional shared bit of info about the +\- exposure compensation button, I now am taking the photos that I knew this camera was capable of. So I can forget about buying another one, but I wish I had known this before my 6 weeks trip to the Southwest US and all the great photo opportunities I screwed up before this. In any case, thanks so much for your article. You’ve saved me dollars and frustration that I would have expended without it, lol

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 10th, 2014

      James, glad to help. Although I’m a big fan of Program Mode, you should have been able to get accurate exposure out of Aperture Priority (A) or Shutter Priority (S) as well. But I’m going to go out on a limb and take a stab at what may have been going wrong. Many new photographers use either A or S and expect the camera to capture a perfect exposure. However, even though A & S are a type of Auto setting, you still have to make sure S is not set to a Shutter speed that it too fast for the light you are shooting in. Additionally, when in A mode, you have to make sure the Aperture is not set to small (F/16) for the amount of light as well. Remember shutter speeds and Apertures are all Fractions so 250 is actually 1/250th of a second. F/16 is actually F 1/16 opening in the lens.

      If you were shooting at F/16 and the light was too dark, you would get a underexposed image. Same hold true if you were shooting at 1/1000th of a second and the light only allowed 1/125th. You would be completely under exposed. When one or both of these two settings are off, the aperture or shutter speed numbers, in the viewfinder will BLINK. This is a warning that there is not enough light. Unfortuantely, many new photographers miss this delicate, often hard to see warning sign.

      The beauty of Program mode is that the camera will give an accurate exposure in ANY light. However, it will give an accurate exposure but that doesn’t mean the shutter speed will be fast enough to stop the action. So then you have to start wording about ISO, and if you have enough light to hand hold or do you need to move the camera to a tripod. Hope this is clear as mud. If not let me know I’ll try to reexplain.

  27. AndyOn May. 3rd, 2014

    I shoot with my humble D60, and for years I’ve used ‘A’ mode exclusively, applying exposure compensation when necessary.

    When shooting low-light long exposures, I’ll usually use Manual, because I need to lock in the settings to fine-tune, and it’s less fiddly than doing the same thing with other modes.

    I’ve had a little play with P mode before, but I still struggle to see how it’s better for me than A mode. Perhaps you can enlighten me. I’ve read your comment about not being able to botch a shot straight out of the bag, but I’m canny enough to notice when the camera’s past its limit when I look through the viewfinder and see that the meter is skewed – one quick flick of the dial and I’m back in the game.

    Aside from that, I fail to see an advantage to me switching to P, especially when I’m so used to A mode – I’m so proficient with it after all these years that it’s second nature.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn May. 4th, 2014

      You are ahead of most if you are able to remind yourself to check your Aperture setting in every situation, immediately. Many folks miss this important element. I can’t tell you how many times I see students who are shooting on either Aperture or Shutter priority where they can’t understand why the exposure is dark. They miss the “Blinking” aperture or shutter indicator in the viewfinder which is warning them of over or under exposure. You could easily make the argument they should be paying better attention, but many don’t. I love the fact Program is basically a combination of shutter and aperture priority all rolled in to one “Program”. Sounds like you have yours pretty well figured out so I agree with your decision to stick with aperture priority. I too preferred aperture priority up until the mid 90s when Nikon came out with what they call their variable program. I’ve been shooting on program ever sense. Thanks for your input and we appreciate you stopping by and adding your voice.

      In many regards Aperutre is almost identical to Program.

  28. WhitneyOn Apr. 12th, 2014

    I’m shooting with a Nikon D800 and I can’t figure out why my camera doesn’t adjust shutter speed and aperture when I rotate the command dial. I get the P* when I rotate the dial but see no change in the ss or aperture. Is there a place I need to turn this on?

    Thanks for your help!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 12th, 2014

      Whitney, that sounds very strange. You mention that you get the P*. That’s the indicator that the camera is changing from what it originally choose. Feel free to call me if you get this note at 406-556-8212. I’ll see if I can help you out over the phone.

    • AlanOn Mar. 18th, 2015

      Not seeing anything change in P/program mode when turning the dial?

      The camera does not think there is enough light for either “higher depth of field” (smaller aperture) or “stop faster action” (faster shutter) AND HOLD YOUR ISO BELOW YOUR RECOMMENDED MINIMUM SHUTTER.

      Recommended Minimum shutter = 1/ (current_focal_length “minus” 3-4 stops VR “plus” the ISO-min_shutter hint “plus” detected subject_motion ).

      Anything less than bright sun, and you probably will not see the settings change when spinning the dial.

      We typically go birding in P mode, auto ISO min 100, max 1600, with auto-ISO-min_shutter set +1 toward faster, with a 55-300 F4.5-5.6. Since the depth of field at 300mm with near objects is so small, setting P* mode two stops to the left (higher depth of field) MAY give greater depth of field for small bugs and large birds in direct sunlight, and still give separation from distant backgrounds. Trying to *control* depth of field or motion blur in P mode with Auto ISO in Nikons is wrong thinking. It will listen to your suggestion but rarely will use your suggestion.

      Walk into the shade with this lens zoomed to 300mm and the camera will ignore the depth of field hint and it will open up to max aperture, it will raise the ISO to keep shutter speed up, and then it starts suggesting flash when the shutter speed needs to be beneath the recommended minimum.

      Surprisingly, we have some good pictures at 1/15 to 1/30th at 300mm in P mode in early evening, braced against something. The little flash symbol was trying to tell us to use flash, so one without flash and one may get a passable shot.

      P and P* modes will get the exposure right. If you want more control, and there is lots of light – jump into A or S mode as appropriate. If the picture suddenly comes out dark, switching to P right quick is the safe way to get the shot. Otherwise you need to be experienced with assessing how much more light is needed and how much aperture or shutter speed is needed to get that extra light.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 19th, 2015

      Alan, great input. My only quibble is I still feel the Flexable Program Mode is best in all light situations. I find that many inexperienced photographers who switch to Aperture priority often miss the light is too low or too high warning (a blinking shutter or aperture) and will continue to take photos having no idea why their images are too dark or too light. Most the time the issue is lack of light and thus their images are dark. I’m also not a big fan of Auto ISO although I know many people who use it and are very. Positive about its benefits. Thanks for adding your voice. You related some useful and interesting observations to Progra Mode.

  29. BENZINOn Apr. 5th, 2014

    Using program modes means using automatic metering like matrix. Which means letting the camera do all your exposure for you by means of some electronic black magic. I.e. having no control on exposure.
    It often makes mistakes. You have to compensate with exposure compensation. It isn’t faster and it is harder because you don’t know what and how the system measures (not like spot metering) therefore you don’t know really how to compensate. I.e. you got to go by trial and mistake.
    It is silly.
    I think one got to shoot manual if there is enough time for adjusting exposure.
    And yes, if you have no time – shoot P on matrix + raw and hope for the best.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Apr. 7th, 2014

      Benzin, I can’t disagree more. I use Program 99% of the time. When the camera can’t handle the situation I take over (go manual) by using the +/- compensation button. It’s fast, efficient, very effective. As far as I’m concerned anybody not taking advantage of the immense computing power all cameras have today, including their metering capabilities, is most likely missing lots of images. Just my opinion. Happy shooting.

  30. Terence BoylenOn Mar. 12th, 2014

    I do have an explanation of why pros favour manual. Manual doesn’t rely on metering and is the only mode like that. Program Mode (and all others excluding Manual) rely on some sort of in-camera metering.

    When I’m in the studio (a large portion of many professional’s work) I CANNOT shoot Program – it simply doesn’t work (as in technically). And when I’m in the field (eg a wedding) I need exposure to remain consistent on the location. For example, if I’m shooting a bride, I need the exposure on her face to remain the same for the entire ceremony, regardless of if there is a light source somewhere in the frame. I use this example because one of the main problems with shooting a wedding on an auto mode is that the camera will screw up the metering (18% rule). And guess what? The more of the very white dress is in the frame, the more the exposure will screw up.

    When I’m processing hundreds of photos from dozens of locations Manual mode is the only way to develop quickly hundreds of photos so I’m not adjusting exposure, highlight, etc… It is far quicker to take a quick light meter reading at each location and be done with it.

    As I was writing this I also thought of a less common use of manual, and that is when you’re using the digital zone system to compensate for large dynamic ranges.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Mar. 15th, 2014

      Great input and solid reasoning for your need to use Manual. The same content lighting does allow for easy manual and consistent results. When I was working for a small newspaper back in Minnesota I used manual metering when shooting basketball in a particular gymnasium. It was the same light from one end of the court to the other and it was simpler and more consistent to shoot in manual mode. Thanks for reminding me of the other types of photography i used to do. By the way, going through college I shot probably 250 weddings myself and yes all manual.

    • Lou FloresOn Mar. 19th, 2014

      Of course Manual should be what you use in a studio shot because the light is controlled by you and it will be consistent all throughout the shoot.

      But the field is where (in my case) my AE Lock comes in. I use the back button for focusing, and the half-pressed shutter button for AE Lock. I look for an area where I lock in my exposure to match what I need. So after I take my intentionally over/underexposed photo (according to Matrix Metering), I let go of the shutter button to remove the AE Lock. but I do shoot M especially when I use flash, but P also works well for me.

  31. bhushanOn Feb. 18th, 2014

    Thanx a lott for explaining programe mode in a much simpler way. .very impressive 😀

  32. CGraysonOn Feb. 15th, 2014

    At last someone agrees with me. I have asked so many people to explain the benefits of using aperture priority over program when you can change the aperture in program mode. No one has ever given me a reason that made sense. I figured I just didn’t understand exposure or the camera well enough. I’m now going to proudly use this mode and really push people to explain why I would be better off using aperture priority!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Feb. 16th, 2014

      Next time someone tries to convince you Program is a bad choice, ask them if they’ve read their manual on the subject of Program. Or, are they just going by what they continue to hear and haven’t tried, or what they experienced in cameras before the 1990’s. I’m always astounded how many photographers latch on to something and never open their mind to new and different. They say, “I’ve always shot Aperture, it worked for me in 1978, it must work just as good in 2014”. I say without exploration and embracing change, (Variable Program in the Nikon system came out in the 90’s for sure but possibly as early as the late 80’s,) you will loose to those who do. Program is an amazing tool if you know it’s changeable. It’s the equivalent to having Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority all wrapped in to one Program. What could be better or faster? Not manual for sure.

  33. Wayne ConradOn Dec. 12th, 2012

    Finally I see that someone else recommends using the built in intelligence of the camera. I find it amusing that the “pros” when discussing camera settings, especially manual, they use the exposure indicator to show where to set things. Like you, I use the P mode unless I specifically need to compensate in another manner. I’m not a pro, but after spending almost $2k on a camera, I don’t second guess the sophisticated electronics within.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Dec. 12th, 2012

      Wayne, great to hear your thoughts. I agree with you whole heartedly. As I tell my workshop guests, “you’re every bit a professional knowing when to take over from the Program Mode as you are using Manual exclusively”. You’re comment about “compensating” is no different than using manual, you’re manually taking over from the camera. It’s basically the same as manual. One could even argue you’re even more professional since you’re using all the technology you can to get your pictures. I’m a firm believer in taking advantage of the equipment you have to be creative and come away with a great image. Great to hear from you.

  34. Eddy RakhmanOn Dec. 4th, 2012

    Currently I’m using D600 mostly with 50/1.8 G lens. I have set it to P* mode and auto-iso but when I try to turn the main dial, nothing changed. With my office indoor lighting, the speed and aperture is stick to around 50 and 1.8 respectively. What do I miss? Why can’t I change the speed and aperture value?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Dec. 5th, 2012


      Given the information you have shared, “the speed and aperture is stick to around 50 and 1.8 respectively” and without me having the camera in my hands in your office, it seems the camera is at the upper limit of the lens you are using which is F/1.8. Even with Auto ISO, there will be a limit to what the camera can shoot at depending on the maximum aperture of the lens. If the camera has selected the upper ISO you’ve set and the lens only goes to F/1.8, then the Program Mode is topped out, has no more head room so to speak. Program Mode is limited to the ISO and maximum aperture of the camera you’re using. If by chance the Auto ISO is not topped out then something else is in play. I will check my camera while set to auto ISO (I’m not completely familiar with auto ISO since I’ve never used it. I like selecting my own ISO settings but I do know for some photographers such as sports shooters it is a tremendous tool) to see if the camera tells me what ISO it is shooting at. I believe the camera does display ISO it has selected. If so, you all you have todo is check the ISO to see if you are at the upper limit. Hope this helps.

  35. jonieOn Jul. 26th, 2012

    When i try to use flexible program mode on my d300s turning the main command dial does not let me change s/s or aperature. Am i missing a step?

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Jul. 26th, 2012

      Jonie, do you have Auto ISO set to on? If so that can effect the use of Variable Program Mode. If so try selecting manual ISO and give the Program settings another try.

  36. somOn Jul. 7th, 2012

    I have never used the P mode before. When I try it, I find the followings.

    With the D4 under Auto ISO, when using the flexible P mode, the f number and speed number shown in the viewfinder and the LCD screen will not change even though the command dial is rotated. However the P in the LCD screen changes to P*.

    If the D4 is not under Auto ISO, then the f number and speed number change when the command dial is rotated as explained in the article.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Jul. 7th, 2012

      Absolutely correct. Auto ISO changes the usefulness of Program mode. Good point.

  37. DavidOn Dec. 18th, 2011

    its a small point, but even photographers who proudly “only shoot manual” (exposure), usually rely on the camera’s automatic metering to help them choose their settings, unless they are using an off camera handheld meter. Even when I’m shooting manual (which for me is only maybe 30% of the time), I’m heavily relying on the feedback my camera’s metering system(s)give me.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Dec. 18th, 2011

      Good point. Thanks for sharing.

  38. DavidOn Dec. 14th, 2011

    Yeah, that is something I do like about the Nikon P mode. I was a little confused by some of your post. Seems like you used the word “metering” sometimes when you were really referring to exposure. While the P mode also allows different types of metering (spot, center weighted, etc), I think you were mostly speaking of exposure (aperture and shutter speed).
    I guess you can think about the exposure as what the camera (or photographer) selects for aperture and shutter, and the metering is more how it is selected.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Dec. 14th, 2011


      I’ll take a fresh look at my post and try to see if things need clarification. I appreciate your comments and it’s always possible in my enthusiasm to get a post out that it could be cleaned up. Thanks for your input.

  39. Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

    danieljcoxOn Dec. 6th, 2011

    Michael, great info. Thanks for clarifying and adding your voice.

  40. WillOn Dec. 6th, 2011

    Great post! I hear some call it “Professional” mode now. I find that I need to trust my Nikons more, they are almost always right. Another thing I do is to set the contrast to “Auto” in the picture settings. This frees the camera up to evaluate the scene and deliver a better image than one where the contrast is locked in. I only set the contrast to standard in the studio.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Dec. 6th, 2011

      Will, good information. Thanks for adding your voice.

  41. Bruce MatthewsOn Dec. 1st, 2011

    Great reminder here. I had fallen out of doing this of late.

  42. JeffOn Dec. 1st, 2011

    I find your comments inconceivable !
    Aside from the fact that P will inevitably choose the wrong combination of settings due to a bright background thereby underexposing the subject or any other of numerous mistakes…
    even if I accept the idea that P is “flexable”… if I have to give it that much thought I might as well use Manual ! or at the very least Shutter or Aperture priority !

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Dec. 1st, 2011

      I’ve been called worse than inconceivable. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  43. Peter hovestadOn Nov. 30th, 2011

    When I first started shooting digital I always shot in Program mode. Eventually I switched to mostly Aperture priority as my skill level and confidence increased. Since I’m generally shoot landscape and still life this makes a lot of sense but the advantage of putting the camera in P made while it’s sitting on the passenger seat or in the bag does make a lot of sense. Today’s cameras are sophisticated tools and the smart photographer will always think about the best way to use the features at their disposal.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Nov. 30th, 2011

      Peter, you are right, good photographers look to all their tools that are the best for the job. Program has always had a negative connotation from serious photographers and the reason is, it was unchangeable before Nikon’s Variable Program. Todays version of Full Auto where, you can’t change anything, is the little Green Rectangle Mode that appears on the lower end cameras of all makers. That’s the setting that P used to be. But no longer. Most photographers are not aware of the power of the P. Thanks for adding your voice.

  44. John PennoyerOn Nov. 30th, 2011

    Thanks for the explanation on the Flexible “P” mode. I generally us the Aperture Priority Mode and use the EV button for exposure compensation as necessary. At time will also use the “M” mode. I will generally instruct my students to use those two modes. Tomorrow AM I will be out after Whitetails and will experiment with the Flexible P mode. However I can not see much difference than the “A” mode I can do the samething by adjusting my aperture for DOF and shutter follows along! So for a fast shuutter speed Aperture is wide open and as you begin to stop down the shutter speed slows down. Not sure what I am missing but will playing with that program this week. Always interested in faster, better ways to capture that peak moment!

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Nov. 30th, 2011

      John, you are right. Aperture Priority is very similar to Program. However, one of the advantages to the P Mode is that when you first turn your camera on the camera will always give you an correct exposure. It may not be the one you want but it will always be set to expose properly. In the Aperture Priority Mode, if you turn your camera off and put it away, then grab it quickly for an unplanned photo opportunity, the Aperture will always be where you last left it. It’s not a big difference but could mean a captured image or not. Additionally, I like using the control dial on the back of the camera as opposed to the front for Aperture Priority. That may be a nonissue however, since it may be possible to change the dial in back to operating the Aperture. Then are very close but my main point to my post was to encourage people to try some of the Auto options. They can be very helpful in getting the image captured quickly.

  45. David DombachOn Nov. 30th, 2011

    Thanks for your great comments! I have a D7000 and use the P mode most often. I’m glad to hear I have been using what I thought was the the best setting. I will check out your blog soon!

  46. Jorge R. GonzalezOn Nov. 29th, 2011

    Thank you for explaining this feature. I most of the time shoot in the P mode because I’m more interested in capturing the action that looking a small bar in the viewfinder to see if I’m on target with the exposure. With the P mode I can shoot away and get a rather acceptable exposure and since I usually shoot RAW I can always do final detail adjustments.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      danieljcoxOn Nov. 30th, 2011

      Good for you Jorge. Glad you appreciated the explanation.

Add your voice to this conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In an effort to combat spam, your comment may be held for a brief moderation period.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.