Aperture and Shutter Priority modes | Photography Basics

By now you should have a fairly good idea of what your aperture and shutter speed actually does, especially if you’ve tried my little experiments. We’ve also talked about moving on from automatic modes but this article is a slight step back as we’ll be firing on semi-automatic.


What are Aperture and Shutter Priority modes?


Basically what we’re telling our camera is that we want to photograph at a particular shutter speed or aperture (for whatever reason) and your camera will do the rest.

Aperture Priority is normally an A or Av on your setting dial and Shutter Priority is surprise surprise a big ‘ol S. (or TV which stands for Time Value if you are using Canon).

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Why would I use Aperture priority?


Consistency is always at the core of anything we do and if I want a consistency wide aperture for portrait work or small aperture for landscapes and don’t want to have to change the shutter speed with the changing light then I would use Aperture Priority.


Why would I use Shutter priority?


If I’m photographing some kids running around the park then it makes sense to use a high shutter speed to freeze the action. As I’m on the move I don’t want to worry about the aperture settings so I’d let the camera take care of that for me.


The opposite is true if you want to photograph a river or stream and have all the water blurred. I’d photograph (using tripod) with a really slow shutter speed and let the camera make its aperture adjustments.


The problem with Priority modes


As much as it can help you be consistent with one setting the other will always change (if the light does). In our desire it achieve consistency we’ve actually done quite the opposite and this can be a problem.

Lets go back to photographing those kids in the park. In the bright sunlight my camera will be using a very small aperture so as to not to let too much light in. What will happen is that the whole scene will be in focus and have a very large depth of field (area in focus). This might be fine for some types of photography but it limits our creatively, especially when we’re photographing portraits.

Now if those kids run under a tree into the shade then my camera will open up it’s aperture to let more light in. We could end up with a really shallow depth of field and one of the kids might be completely out of focus.


Experiment time!


First of choose three different scenes that you’ll most likely be photographing a lot. Try and choose something different for each. An example would be a landscape, people inside and animals outside.

Set your ISO to 200/

Start off with Aperture Priority. Set your camera to A and your aperture to something nice and middle of the road like f8. Photograph all three scenes and see how the shutter changes.

Now do the same but change your Aperture to something closer to what you would do to achieve the most creative result.

For example, a wide open aperture for people and animals and a closed aperture (f22 is good) for a landscape.

How does your shutter speed change? Would you need to change your ISO in some scenes? Are you getting camera shake (blurring) and will need a tripod?


Now do the same in Shutter priority with the speed first set to 1/200 and then to something a bit more creative to suite the scene.


Once you have all of your test images consider if it would be better if you were in full control of all of your settings or if the priory modes actually helped you. Remember, you are smarter than your camera and its always trying to take average photos.


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