shutter priority

What is Shutter Priority Mode?

Are you trying to get out of shooting fully auto but not sure on what to do?

If you understand the exposure triangle but are not yet ready for full auto mode then shutter priority mode may be right for you.

What is Shutter Priority Mode?

Shutter priority mode is a semi-automatic camera mode in which the photographer chooses one component of the exposure triangle, shutter speed. You select the shutter speed and the camera takes a meter reading when pointed at a given scene and does the rest of the work for you. The cameras built in sensors will choose the aperture and, possibly ISO, values that it thinks will get the most accurate exposure.

To make sure ISO is also decided by the camera in shutter priority mode you need to have auto ISO switched on. This will make sure that the camera chooses everything for you aside from your shutter speed. In order to set your ISO to auto, you likely will need to go through your camera’s menu, which varies from camera to camera. If you decide to set ISO yourself the camera will only change the aperture to try and find the correct exposure.

Need to understand aperture to?

How do I Select Shutter Priority Mode?

Putting your camera into shutter priority mode is simple but may not be obvious if you have not done it before. You will need to adjust the dial which is usually on found on the left side of DSLR cameras. It’ll generally have a few letters and possibly pictures printed on the dial:

Camera mode dial set to shutter priority mode

‘M’ is for manual,

‘P’ is for program mode

‘A’ is for aperture priority mode

‘S’ for shutter priority mode.

Beginner cameras may also have little pictures on the dial to further help you. Those modes are supposed to correspond with whatever picture is on the mode dial, i.e. the mountain is optimised for landscapes, a person’s face is optimised for portraits etc. We recommend to leave these alone for a while and just use M, P, A and S until you start to understand things a bit more.

Once you get your camera set to shutter priority mode, you’re free to snap away and your camera will choose an aperture based on what your shutter speed is set to. Remember what we said above. Your camera will likely be set to manual ISO, but you have the option of setting it to auto ISO. This takes a bit more pressure off and lets you just choose the shutter speed. The camera will choose the aperture and ISO.

Reading Shutter Speeds

Shutter speeds are displayed in seconds or, mostly, fractions of seconds. Your cameras make and model will determine where the shutter speed is displayed and how it is displayed. It will either be displayed in a full fraction or as a quick fraction. For example either 1/250 or 250. This means the shutter will close at a speed of one two hundred and fiftieth of a second.

What Shutter Speed Should I Choose?

To decide this you need to think about the main subject of your image and what you want it to look like. Do you want to show movement or do you want it sharp and clear?

The above diagram should give you a rough idea. In short. The faster the shutter closes the more clear your subject will be. The slower it closes the more blur and movement that will occur.

Fast Shutter

If you want to take sharp images where everything is in focus then you’ll want to shoot at a fast shutter speed. ‘Fast’ though, is dependent on what you’re photographing.

If say, you’re shooting a jet at an air show flying through the sky or a fast moving bird in flight, you’ll need to shoot at one of your camera’s fastest shutter speeds. Most camera shutters top speeds cut out at 1/8000. Do not forget that light only enters your camera for the duration the shutter is open. Cater for this lack of light by changing ISO or aperture as per the exposure triangle.

If you’re photographing moving people or slower sports then a great go to speed is 1/250. That should give you a foundation to decide whether you need to be shooting faster or if you can get away with dropping a bit slower to let more light i.

Do not forget to cater for moving subjects. If you are shooting something that is moving fast and you want it to be clear then you need a very fast shutter speed.

You can see here that the photographer opted for sharpness when shooting a fast moving subject. This would have required a fast shutter speed. Something around 1/800

Slow Shutter

Shooting with a slow shutter speed results in what’s technically called “motion blur” and is used in many scenarios where you want to show movement.

Motion blur is the result of using a slow shutter speed and makes moving subjects appear blurry in an exposure. Your results can vary from just slightly blurry to very blurry depending on the shutter speed you’ve chosen, with the slower the shutter speed resulting in progressively more blurry images.

When handholding the camera there’s a limit to what you can realistically shoot at slow shutter speeds. Eventually you’ll move to much that your background also blurs in with your subject. If you have enough time make sure to use a tripod!

The use of a tripod also means you can REALLY slow down the shot and go for a slow moving capture for a few seconds or even minutes.

Here the photographer wanted to capture the movement of water and clouds. For this a slow shutter speed was chosen. Something around the 3-5 second mark would achieve these results.
Image Source: Ron Bennett

Panning the Subject in Shutter Priority Mode

Panning your shots means you move your camera in time with the subject you are shooting to create a great movement effect. A great example of this is to imagine you are at a race track. As a car comes past you, you want to show the speed its going so select a slower shutter speed. Something like 1/40. As you take the shots you make your camera lens follow a certain part of the car. If you are doing it manually you will have to twist your hips or on a tripod turn the shaft.

Tracking the car whilst holding down the shutter button will blur everything against the subject you are following to create some great movement lines.

This is also a great time to use a selective colour setting. That is all covered here if you are interested.

Top tip: Try to leave some space on the direction of travel side of your frame to allow the subject some space to move into.

shutter priority

We hope this has been a great help to you. Do not forget to join our Facebook group to put your new skills to the test and compete in daily photography competitions.

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