Whether you are a seasoned pro or a complete beginner, most of the time you will need some help from the camera when shooting. That doesn’t mean choosing full automatic mode. Instead, there two essential modes that all DSLR and mirrorless cameras offer.
These are aperture priority mode and shutter priority mode. But what are they and how and when should you select them? This shutter priority and aperture priority mode tutorial guide will explain.
Table of Contents
What is aperture priority?
There are three essential components that make up the process of taking any photo. These are depth of field, shutter speed and ISO. Together they form what is known as the exposure triangle. In basic terms, any element of the exposure triangle that changes will have an effect on the other two.
Aperture controls the depth of field in photography. In other words, this determines how much of you image is in focus from your foreground to your background. The smaller your aperture (the higher your f/number) the greater your depth of field. So a low f/number means a wide aperture and a shallower depth of field.
By selecting aperture priority as your shooting mode, you are asking the camera to put the emphasis on the depth of field. So the camera will adjust the other two settings in the exposure triangle (shutter speed and ISO). This will allow you to able to capture the photo at the aperture you have selected.
Typically for a narrow aperture, this will mean a slower shutter speed and a wider aperture a faster shutter speed.
What is shutter priority?
While aperture priority controls the aperture (i.e. depth of field), shutter priority puts the emphasis on shutter speed. If this mode is selected, the camera will adjust your aperture and ISO. This will ensure it can capture images at the desired shutter speed.
This might mean increasing the ISO or having a wide-open aperture if you need a fast shutter speed. Or narrowing your aperture to allow for slow shutter speeds where the shutter is open for longer allowing you to capture long exposures.
The important thing to remember is that the camera will work toward helping you achieve your selected shutter speed in this mode.
How to select aperture priority or shutter priority?
On most digital cameras, it will be pretty easy to select either mode from the dial at the top. On Nikon cameras aperture priority is depicted at “A” and shutter priority as “S”. Aperture priority (Canon) is selected by choosing “Av” which is why it is sometimes referred to as “Av mode”. Shutter priority (Canon) is selected by choosing “Tv”.
You can simply turn the dial on your camera to either of these to select the desired shooting mode. In case you were wondering, “M” on your camera dial is for manual mode which means you have to select all settings when shooting.
Aperture priority vs shutter priority – which to use?
Hopefully now you have a better understanding of each mode. But when should you choose which to use? The easiest way to determine which is best suited to each scenario is to think about what shutter speed you will need to capture the photo.
For example if you are photographing a statue, then you don’t need a fast shutter speed. As long as you can take a photo at a speed that will allow you to hold a camera handheld then you will be fine. So in this scenario you can use aperture priority as it will be more important to get your depth of field correct.
But on the other hand, if you are photographing moving subjects such as someone dancing, then your shutter speed becomes far more important. Because without a fast enough shutter speed, the dancer will be blurred regardless of your depth of field. By selecting a fast shutter speed, the camera sets the aperture and ISO to allow you to take the photo at right shutter speed.
So as a rough guide, generally when you are dealing with moving subjects shutter speed might be a better mode to select. But when shutter speed isn’t going to be a problem then you can select aperture priority.
A word of caution…
One of the potential downsides of selecting either of these modes is that your camera might select a really high ISO to be able to achieve your desired settings. High ISOs can be really detrimental to the quality of your image.
Thankfully most cameras offer an option of setting a maximum ISO that the camera can select. But this will mean that sometimes your photos might be underexposed (too dark). So you may have to tweak your settings in these scenarios to allow you to take photos at better exposure levels.
Aperture and shutter speed are the two most critical settings when it comes to taking photos. Selecting manual mode in fast-moving scenarios just won’t allow a photographer enough time to be able to change settings and take a photo. Which is why these two camera modes are so commonly used by all photographers.
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Kav Dadfar is a writer and travel photographer who has written over 400 articles on photography. He is also a judge on the Wanderlust Travel Photography of the Year competition and a speaker at camera clubs and events. He has years of experience shooting assignments with his images having been used by some of the biggest brands in the world.
This article on aperture priority vs shutter priority and photos is subject to copyright. Words and photos by Kav Dadfar (That Wild Idea). Copying or reposting of photos or article elsewhere is strictly forbidden.