Secrets of taking good pictures: Professional mode

Professional mode will help you to shoot like a professional and use your camera as a simple tool.

July 8, 2013 13:52
3 minute read.

Camera 370. (photo credit: Reuters)

Twenty years ago, when I taught photography in London, every student had a metal-bodied SLR film camera equipped with the standard 50mm lens. These cameras had only a few simple controls: A ring and collar around the lens adjusted the aperture and focus; dials on the top of the camera set the shutter speed and the ISO rating of the film; and there was usually some simple way to adjust the exposure to make the shot brighter or darker. 

Since there was very little to learn about the camera, I could concentrate on teaching basic photography: How apertures affect depth-of field and sharpness; how distance affects the look and feel of a picture; how to control contrast by altering positions, using reflectors or flash, etc: Simple, basic and practical information that is just as essential to understand and put into use today as is was back then.

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Back to basics 

The instructions that came with my first professional film camera were on a single folded sheet. Today’s digital cameras have become so complicated that manuals can run into hundreds of pages and enthusiasts have to spend much more time learning how to use their cameras. 

Only a fraction of all the features stuffed into modern cameras are genuinely useful to working photographers. Every shot still requires the selection of an aperture, shutter speed, ISO, exposure and white balance. The truth is that cameras, whether digital or film, can only take snaps. Computerization is useful, but to take a good picture still requires knowledge of basic photography, experience and some talent.

By learning practical, basic photography you will begin to understand what settings and modes are essential: You can then concentrate on what’s important, taking a good picture, instead of fiddling about with the menus.

Professional mode 

Here’s a tip on how to shoot like a professional and use your camera as a simple tool. DSLRs and many compacts have a dial that you can turn to P mode. Program mode is the advanced version of Auto mode that gives you more control over your camera. 

It’s often called Professional mode because it has an extremely useful feature usually called “Program Shift.” By simply turning a thumbwheel (or using a button) you can alter the combination of aperture and shutter speed without affecting the exposure. Many professionals use P mode because they can quickly choose a wider aperture (and a faster shutter speed), or narrower aperture (with a slower shutter speed) without even taking their eye from the viewfinder.

Wider apertures create less “depth of field” – useful to make the backgrounds more blurred for portrait shots. Narrower apertures create greater “depth of field”, good for landscapes and deeper group shots. Faster speeds are necessary for freezing movement and preventing camera shake.

In P mode the pop-up flash will not fire unless you want it to, and you have control over the ISO and white balance. You can also use the “+/-“ Exposure Compensation feature to brighten or darken the picture.

This one mode can handle most types of photography and will replace most scene modes once you understand some basic photography and know how to use it. 

Fortunately there is no shortcut to using your camera creatively. If you want to develop as a photographer you could do no better than to spend your time learning and practicing how to use P mode. It is a steep learning curve because it requires a good, practical understanding of basic photography. 

The technology of image capture has changed dramatically in the last 20 years but it is still just as difficult and rewarding to take a good picture in any situation and make your camera work well for you. Send me an example of how you have used P mode creatively and I may share it with our readers.

Picture Clinic 

If you would like to develop your photography skills, you are welcome to send to me one of your pictures that I may publish with some constructive feedback. Upload your picture here: 

Tom Langford is an Event and Commercial photographer: & 

Details of his next photography and retouching courses in Israel:

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