Aperture Versus Shutter Priority – Which Shooting Mode to Use and When

Aperture Versus Shutter Priority – Which Shooting Mode to Use and When


I too was once a beginner and I completely understand that how difficult it is to move into using Manual Mode directly from shooting Automatic. Thankfully camera manufacturers have also thoughtfully provided us with Aperture and Shutter Priority modes. These two camera shooting modes are possibly the best ways you can understand the nature and role of aperture and shutter speed.

Aperture and Shutter Priority are semi-automatic, or we can call them semi-manual camera modes. These two modes can help you get away from the fully automatic modes (P, Auto) and at the same time get you a step closer to using Manual Mode.

What is Aperture Priority Mode?

The Aperture Priority shooting mode allows you to take control of the aperture, whereas the shutter speed and ISO (if you are set on Auto-ISO) are still controlled by your camera. This means that you can adjust the amount of light entering into the camera through the lens. So using Aperture Priority you can set the aperture value as per your need and control the depth of field.

Aperture Versus Shutter Priority - Which Shooting Mode to Use and When

Unlike the automatic modes, this mode gives you the freedom to adjust the aperture value and set the amount of blur effect that you want in your photo.

When should you use the Aperture Priority Mode?

As we discussed, Aperture Priority mode allows you to control the aperture value, which ultimately affects the depth of field. This shooting mode is ideal if you wish to adjust the depth of field as per your desire, whereas leaving the shutter speed and ISO value selection up to the camera.

Situation 1: Portraits

While taking portrait or close-up shots, I am sure you would want to keep the subject in focus and blur out the background by choosing a large aperture (small aperture value). Using Aperture Priority Mode you can manually choose the required aperture value such as f/1.8 or f/2.8 to achieve a shallow depth of field.

Aperture Versus Shutter Priority - Which Shooting Mode to Use and When

Situation 2: Landscapes

While shooting landscapes or cityscapes, you might want to have both the foreground and the background very much in focus. This is only possible if you manually choose a small aperture (high aperture value). Aperture Priority Mode gives you the freedom to select desired aperture value such as f/16 or f/22 to get deep depth of field, while your camera takes care of the shutter speed and ISO value.

Situation 3: Low lighting

Suppose you are in a dim lighting condition and your photos are coming out underexposed. By increasing the size of the aperture opening (selecting a smaller aperture value like f/1.8), you can allow more light into the camera and capture a better-exposed photo. Read: 6 Tips for Getting Consistent Results Shooting in Low Light

Situation 4: Midday bright sunlight

If you are shooting in broad daylight and are getting overexposed photos while shooting in automatic mode, you can close the aperture opening. This means that by using a higher aperture number (like f/16), you can minimize the amount of light entering the camera through the lens.

Aperture Versus Shutter Priority - Which Shooting Mode to Use and When

What is Shutter Priority Mode?

As the name suggests, Shutter Priority mode allows you to take charge of the shutter speed. Just to brainstorm, shutter speed is the duration for which the camera shutter remains open for the light to enter the camera and ht the sensor. The slower the shutter speed is set on the camera, the more the light is received by the image sensor. Similarly, the faster the shutter speed the less light would hit the image sensor.

Aperture Versus Shutter Priority - Which shooting Mode to Use and When

While you are shooting in Shutter Priority mode, you have the freedom to adjust the shutter speed as per your requirement while the camera chooses the aperture and ISO value on its own.

When should you use Shutter Priority Mode?

As we just discussed, if you want to take full control of the shutter speed and experiment with your camera then this is the ideal camera mode. Let’s look at two situations when you are most likely to shoot in Shutter Priority mode.

Situation 1: Freeze a moving subject

If you want to freeze a fast moving bird, animal, or car in your photo, using Shutter Priority mode will allow you to do so by setting a fast shutter speed. A shutter speed of anything faster than 1/500th of a second is considered ideal for freezing an object, but this may vary depending on the speed of the subject. Your camera will judge the required aperture and ISO values as per the available light.

Situation 2: Showing movement

If you are out and planning to capture star trails, light trails, or blue hour photos, you would have to select a slow shutter speed so that the subject’s movement is well captured in the single photo. To capture long exposure photos, you must carry a tripod along to avoid any kind of shake.

Aperture Versus Shutter Priority - Which shooting Mode to Use and When

Situation 3: Dim lighting

If you are in dim lighting conditions you might get underexposed photos while shooting in automatic mode. By simply reducing the shutter speed (e.g. from 1/200th to 1/50th), you can allow more light into the camera and capture a well-exposed photo.

Note: Watch out for the shutter speed going too slow as to introduce camera shake into your image;

Situation 4: Broad daylight

Let’s suppose you are shooting in broad daylight and your camera is capturing overexposed photos while shooting in automatic mode. Here you can increase the shutter speed. This means that by using a faster shutter speed (e.g. from 1/200thh 1/1000th), you can minimize the amount of light entering the camera sensor.

Aperture Versus Shutter Priority - Which shooting Mode to Use and When


Using Aperture and Shutter Priority camera modes enables you to get familiar with how the lens’s aperture and the camera shutter works. These modes ensure that you get well-exposed photos with your desired selection of aperture value or shutter speed, unlike automatic mode (where the camera makes all the choices for you).

So if your utmost priority is to manually choose the desired aperture value in order to get a particular depth of field, then you must shoot in Aperture Priority Mode. Otherwise, if your priority is to choose a specific shutter speed to capture something creative with the available light (freeze or blur motion), then you must go with Shutter Priority camera mode.

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Kunal Malhotra is a photography enthusiast whose passion for photography started 6 years back during his college days. Kunal is also a photography blogger, based out of Delhi, India. He loves sharing his knowledge about photography with fellow aspiring photographers by writing regular posts on his blog. Some of his favorite genres of photography are product, street, fitness, and architecture.

  • Capixaba

    How to call an automatic a Mode that I need to adjust on the camera what I want. For instance: if I want shallow depth of field or deep depth of field. If you want to freeze or blur some movement. Do not just put in Av, Tv, A or S Mode. I have to think and decide what I want and set it.
    The M mode does not improve my picture at all and it still wastes my time.
    it is urgently necessary to end with the myth of Mode M.

  • Neil Robertson

    If you are shooting in broad daylight and are getting overexposed photos
    while shooting in automatic mode, you can close the aperture opening.

    If we’re talking about aperture priority here, closing the aperture opening will result in a longer shutter speed and thus the same amount of light would be passed to the sensor. If your photo is overexposed, then either shoot in manual or use exposure compensation.

  • Boris Maryanovsky

    I do not undersrand how one can get under or overexposed photo in Auto mode. If camera is not able to adjust speed/aperture/ISO in extreme light conditions it just doesn’t take photo. If YOU can get normally exposed shot in Av or Tv mode, a camera is able to do it in Auto as well. Am I wrong?

  • Neil Robertson

    Yes, that would be wrong. Taking pictures in snow is a good example. If you’re taking a picture of someone and the background is (highly reflective) snow, the camera may include the brightness of the snow when it decides what exposure to use, with the result that the exposure is insufficient and the subject becomes under exposed.

    On the other hand, if you’re taking someone’s picture against a dark background (say the night sky), that might cause a camera on auto to over expose.

    Auto modes on a camera do not promise a perfectly exposed picture, because that is often a subjective opinion. Sometimes the difference between the brightest white and the darkest black is too much for a camera’s sensor and you have to make a decision – blow out the highlights or lose details in the shadows. That’s where the histograms come into play, making it easy to check things like that.

    In the days of film, we used to have to remember stuff like: Snow scenes, over expose by two stops. Or we’d spot meter someone’s face because that was the most important piece of the picture.

  • Purza

    In the days of film you weren’t able to change the ISO. With digital cameras you can change the film speed. I find explanations of ISO frustrating. I shoot most of the time in Aperture priority and manage my ISO depending on lighting conditions and subject matter.

  • Our digital cameras have reflective light meter, which is made to read that every subject in the frame is 18% gray. Now even if you are shooting in white slow or a black car, the camera will try to convert that white/black to gray color, ending up making that photo over/under exposed.

    This is the reason we have to use the aperture priority mode or shutter priority mode and then adjust the exposure using the exposure compensation.

  • Boris Maryanovsky

    Thank you Kunal, in other word autimatic exposure meter is not perfect. The previous reply doesn’t take into consideration that this dropback may be compensated by measuring light at subject point rather than at whole area, in auto mode

  • Mitzi Geffen

    I have a problem shooting family shots at home at night, with regular room lighting. The photos always come out rather yellow. What can I do? I’ve tried raising the ISO, but the pictures are still yellow.

  • Roy Ladds

    Hi Mitzi, I’m not an expert but when I had the same problem I experimented with different white balance settings.

  • Mitzi Geffen

    Thanks, I’ll try that.

  • Ralph the Bus Driver

    Depending on your type of camera, look for the WB (White Balance) control. By clicking on it, you should get some icons representing different light sources. Choose the icon best representing your situation.

    Light is classified by “temperature”. The warmer the color the more red it will be. Pictures taken over a birthday cake, for example, will look orange. An incandescent light will look yellow, fluorescent lighting is greenish, and halogen stadium and industrial lights have a bluish cast. A cloudless sky at noon will have a very cold, bluish color, especially in the shade.

    Although it is best to set your camera to the correct color temperature / source, if you miss or forget all is not lost. Provided you shot in RAW. RAW allows an easy correction in most photo editors by clicking on a white or gray object. (Another reason why shooting in RAW / JPG is a good idea)

    Often, especially when shooting inside, a flash or light source will pick up the color of a wall. This is harder to prevent for a casual photo. Using a flash with a bounce card will help though. Also, using the color correction in your photo editor helps.

    Good luck.

  • Ralph the Bus Driver

    In the days of film you weren’t able to change the ISO.

    Not exactly true. I would often change my ISO (or ASA in those days) setting to compensate for an over / under exposure. If I’m shooting in snow I might boost the ISO by two stops to bring up the foreground. With a dark background I would lower the ISO setting a stop or even two in order to compensate.

    With my AE-1 I couldn’t boost the sensitivity of the film and it would be inconvenient to change film in the middle of a roll. But, I could change the setting for the ISO which would act similar to changing the ISO on a digital camera. Better film cameras had analog computers that could take the ISO, aperture, and shutter settings and tell the photographer in the viewfinder if settings matched the light. Later models could adjust the aperture or shutter to the correct setting.

  • Mitzi Geffen

    Hi Ralph,
    Thanks so much for taking the time to answer. When Roy mentioned white balance in his answer, I tried different white balance settings and it really fixed the problem, so I’m very grateful to both of you. Now I know to check the white balance not only in the evening in my living room, but in every situation!

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