Would you buy a Ferrari and just leave it on cruise control the whole time? Would you get cable and just watch the local network channels? Doesn’t make sense, does it? If you own a DSLR and leave it on Program all the time- that is essentially what you are doing. You are stripping it of most of its power. I’d like to make a quick argument for you to “turn the dial.”
Now there is nothing inherently wrong with Program – basically you are letting the camera make all the exposure decisions. Luckily, today’s DSLRs are very, very good at this. The downside is that you are giving up a great deal of creative control. For starters, you need to understand how exposure works. I actually put together a video tutorial last year on the basics of exposure. If you are still a little unclear on F-stop and shutter speed, then watch this first. Don’t worry- we aren’t going anywhere. Just watch it and come back.
OK, now that we are all on the same page, lets talk about the settings. Obviously Manual gives you the most control – but at the cost of having to make a lot of decisions yourself. If you are just getting started, that might be a bit too much to deal with. What I am proposing is that you just switch to Aperture Priority. The beauty of this setting is that you get to make decisions on depth of field and leave the camera to do all the messy math calculations. If only we had that option in grade school! Go with Aperture Priority until you are comfortable with it. That might take a few months or a few years. There’s no real rush. Once you feel 100% comfortable with aperture, then consider moving on to full Manual.
Like most things in photography, it doesn’t have to be overnight results. The important thing is that you are moving in the right direction. As long as you are making some progress-however small- you are getting closer and closer to your artistic goals. Now turn that dial and give it a try this weekend!