Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes

Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes


Digital-Camera-ModesOver the last few weeks we’ve been looking at different elements of exposure and how to move out of the ‘Auto’ mode on your digital camera. We’ve looked at Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO and have discovered what each of them is and what impact changing them will have on your images.

Now that we’ve looked at the theory of how changing these elements impacts an image I’d like to move into how to use them by examining two shooting modes that many digital have on them that allow you to take a step away from the automatic settings that you might be spending a lot of time in.

The two shooting modes are Aperture Priority Mode and Shutter Priority Mode.

A Quick Reviser

We’re looked at how the three elements of the exposure triangle impact one another. This is particularly the case when it comes to aperture and shutter speeds. As you increase the size of your aperture (make the hole that you shoot through bigger) you let more light into your image sensor. As a result you will need a shorter shutter speed. In the opposite way if you increase the length of time your shutter is open you decrease the necessary aperture that you’ll need to get a well exposed shot.

Priority Modes

Aperture and Shutter Priority modes are really semi-manual (or semi-automatic) modes. They give you some control over your settings but also ensure you have a well exposed image by the camera making some of the decisions on settings. Let me explain each separately:

Aperture Priority Mode

(often it has a symbol of ‘A’ or Av’ to indicate it’s selected)

In this mode you as the photographer sets the aperture that you wish to use and the camera makes a decision about what shutter speed is appropriate in the conditions that you’re shooting in.

When would you use Aperture Priority Mode? – if you remember our tutorial on aperture you’ll see how the main impact that aperture had on images was with regards to Depth of Field (DOF). As a result most people use Aperture Priority Mode when they are attempting to have some control in this area. If they want a shallow DOF (for example in the shot to the right which has the flower in focus but the background nice and blurred) they’ll select a large aperture (for example f/1.4 – as in the example to the right) and let the camera choose an appropriate shutter speed. If they wanted an image with everything in focus they’d pick a smaller aperture (for example f/22) and let the camera choose an appropriate shutter speed (generally a longer one).

When choosing an Aperture keep in mind that the camera will be choosing faster or longer shutter speeds and that there comes a point where shutter speeds get too long to continue to hand hold your camera (usually around 1/60). Once you get much slower than this level you’ll need to consider using a tripod. Also if you’re photographing a moving subject your shutter speed will impact how it’s captured and a slow shutter speed will mean your subject will be blurred).

Shutter Priority Mode

(often has a symbol of Tv or S)

In this mode you as the photographer choose the shutter speed that you wish to shoot at and let the camera make a decision about what aperture to select to give a well exposed shot.

When would you use Shutter Priority Mode? – in our tutorial on shutter speed we talked about how the main impact of different shutter speeds was how ‘movement’ would be captured in your images. As a result most people switch to shutter priority mode when they want more control over how to photograph a moving subject.

For example if they want to photograph a racing car but want to completely freeze it so there is no motion blur they’d choose a fast shutter speed (say at 1/2000 like in the first shot below) and the camera would take into consideration how much light there was available and set an appropriate aperture. If instead you wanted to photograph the car but have some motion blur to illustrate how fast the car is moving you might like to choose a slower shutter speed (like the second shot below which has a shutter speed of 1/125) and the camera would choose a smaller aperture as a result.

Keep in mind that as the camera chooses different apertures it will impact the Depth of Field in your image. This means if you choose a fast shutter speed to freeze your fast moving object that it’ll have a narrower DOF.


As you can see – Shutter and Aperture Priority modes do give you more control over your images but they do take a little practice to get used to.

As you use them you need to not only think about the setting that YOU set but also keep an eye on the setting that the camera selects for you.

I find that when shooting in Av or Tv modes that it’s often best to bracket your shots and shoot a number of images of the same subject (where you have time) at different settings. This will ensure that you’re likely to get at least one shot which meets your need.

The best way to learn about Shutter priority and Aperture Priority modes is to grab your camera, to head out with it and to experiment. Switch to Av or Tv and start playing with the different settings (taking lots of shots as you go). Particularly watch how the camera makes changes to compensate for your selections and what impact it has upon the shots that you take.

In Aperture Priority Mode take some shots at the largest aperture you can (small numbers) and see how it blurs the background (but also increases the shutter speed) and then head to the other end of the spectrum to take some shots at the smallest aperture you can (large numbers) to see how it keeps more of your image in focus.

In Shutter Priority Mode play with fast and slow shutter speeds and see how that impacts DOF.

Don’t be frustrated if your initial shots are not what you’d expect – it takes practice to get your head around these modes. But keep in mind that when you do master them you’ll have a lot more creative control over your shots. It’s really worth learning this.

Read more from our category

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • Pingback: links for 2006-08-31 | blog.forret.com()

  • Pingback: Mumbai Weekend Shoot - Night Shoot at Girgaon Chowpatty « Random Thoughts()

  • Pingback: Wildlife Photography for all of us – Mike Myers « Wilderness Blog()

  • Pingback: 5 ways to stop being a luck photographer {and start taking pictures on purpose}()

  • Pingback: Start taking pictures ‘on purpose’ : 5 Ways – FiveHive.com()

  • Coffeeman112

    These are some great tips. I force myself to shoot in Manual mode, but sometimes Av mode or even Tv mode, really suits my needs.

  • Japa Cp

    The “Shutter Priority” is very useful for aviation photography. I have some samples in http://tadashiaviation.tumblr.com/

  • Bob Gordon

    again, getting good ideas from your page. I may have to follow this from my personal account where I will see your posts more frequently.

  • marius2die4

    About 80%of my picture are taken on A mode. For me is a excellent mode to shoot photos. Rest of the photos are shoot in manual mode..
    The article are a nice to read. Congrats!

  • missfilmcamera

    Of course, aperture and shutter priority are actually same thing (if you have one, you have the other one too, indirectly).
    I used to almost always use aperture priority for photography (for increased background and foreground sharpness), and to meanwhile keep an eye on the shutter speed (so it won’t go too slow to cause blur). Then, I decided to, instead, use shutter speed priority and select the shutter speed that I am confident I can handle (around 125), and let the camera choose the smallest size aperture for me! It serves the same purpose without much worry.

  • Well written article. Most beginners believe that shutter and aperture priority is difficult to manage so they elect for auto and coincidentally to themselves a great disservice to what would otherwise be a great shot. Yes it does take a bit to get use to shooting in these modes but the outcome is well worth the time mastering this skill. The images I have taken after getting away from auto mode made it well worth the learning curve time. Your tutorial will shorten that learning curve for all who listen. Chris Flees Photography

  • Peter

    In practice Av & Tv are actually sort of Manual modes because you have to look at what Shutter Speed / Aperture the camera thinks you want anyway, and then adjust the ISO. And in any case you often have to do exposure compensation of some sort (e.g. by switching to M and then rolling the knob). Personally I think of them as shortcuts, and almost always start with one or the other rather than using “Manual”.

  • Littleiranianboy

    Not trying to be annoying, but I think you mean “incidentally” and not “coincidentally”. If it were a coincidence, it would be a random chance that a bad shot resulted when the camera was turned on auto, but it seems you mean to imply the exact opposite.

  • You are correct.

  • I am a beginner in photography,so if i want to freeze a water droplet falling down shutter speed of 1/2000 and an iso of 1000?

  • Just started using a dslr camera.

  • please keep in mind this article is 8 years old and the writer may not be seeing the comments now

  • Amy

    I am an Amaturer Photographer, this really helped. I finally grasped the concept. Thank for the way you explained it.

  • dantefrizzoli

    I like to blur the background. The objects always look mysterious.

  • Allan Hanley

    Cold as Ice

  • Scoop

    Very helpful for my understanding! Thank you.

  • I have used and learned a lot and now i know that was a stupid question.

  • bigdeli

    There are beautiful photos on this site. I really enjoyed it. Thank you for the illustrations. High quality images.
    ???????? ???? ???? ???????? ??? ???? ?????? ??? ?????? ???? ???

  • Sinduja

    Thanks for sharing these priority modes, really helpful http://sscrecruitmentresults.in/

  • superb article darren…. http://eduzoneindia.in/

  • Amareswari

    Thanks for sharing some great tips and Priority Modes. I really enjoyed it.


  • tam84

    Hi im new to this my camera is nikonD3300

  • Ojas Jobs

    I also like photography, i have lots of nature photos


  • Mihai

    With Fisheye objective, for panorama photos, what do you recomand A, S or M mode?
    Photos made in house, with static objects.No wind, no movements…for virtual tours

  • zzzxtreme

    with today’s high iso sensitivity sensors, manual mode + auto ISO is the magic (sorry panasonic and sony owners)

  • Nice Post

  • Jobs2Results web

    awesome article


  • alyssa

    hey all im looking forward to follow this blog as it’s quite useful ap eamcet 2015 results

  • vivek raj

    Good Information…

    SSC CGL 2015 Notification

  • Thanks for such an Amazing Article… it’s a very good Article Photography beginners AP ICET Result 2015

  • Thanks for sharing!! Great Article


  • rahul nambier

    very useful information thanks a lot – http://www.jobsgym.in

  • Your Hero

    There is no stupid questions

  • Valuable info. Thanks for sharing these modes. I like this post http://www.admitcardnet.in/

  • Awesome Post, loved to read it very informative for me thanks.

  • Carmen Anderson

    thank you for explaining these concepts in a way that is understandable. I am really struggling to get good shots with anything other than auto, and this is encouragement right here

  • i think the heading ‘Practise’ should be there in all of your articles. That portion is really very helpful.

  • Parul

    If you are a photography or smartphone lover you must check
    Best Power Banks in India

  • Jess

    I’ve been trying to capture shots during a volleyball game. I can’t get crisp action shots, even with the “sport” auto mode. I’ve tried different settings in the A and S mode as well and am not happy with them. I am using a Nikon that is 10 years old and a zoom lens. Are either of those contributing to the issue? I wondered if I was to get a new lens, if I’d have better results.

  • chaz

    hi im charles
    my social security number is 179-16-4893

  • 12458

    my snapchat is tanner1125

Some Older Comments

  • Start taking pictures ‘on purpose’ : 5 Ways – FiveHive.com February 8, 2011 12:19 pm

    [...] speed and white balance. Force yourself to shoot in manual (or one of the in-between modes like aperture or shutter priority modes.) and see what the different dials actually [...]

  • 5 ways to stop being a luck photographer {and start taking pictures on purpose} February 2, 2011 02:00 am

    [...] speed and white balance. Force yourself to shoot in manual (or one of the in-between modes likeaperture or shutter priority modes.) and see what the different dials actually [...]

  • Wildlife Photography for all of us – Mike Myers « Wilderness Blog September 8, 2010 06:53 am

    [...] photographs in Aperture Priority – most professional photographers shoot this way as controlling Depth of Field is key. Try not to [...]

  • Mumbai Weekend Shoot - Night Shoot at Girgaon Chowpatty « Random Thoughts April 5, 2009 06:03 am

    [...] used my camera this time in mostly shutter priority mode. This means I set the shutter speed and let the camera select the best aperture. Another experiment [...]

  • links for 2006-08-31 | blog.forret.com August 31, 2006 07:14 pm

    [...] Aperture and Shutter Priority Modes most people use Aperture Priority Mode when they are attempting to have some control over DOF most people switch to shutter priority mode when they want more control over how to photograph a moving subject (tags: photography tips aperture shutter camera) [...]

Join Our Email Newsletter

Thanks for subscribing!

DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed