Episode 193: Shutter Priority What It Is and When to Use It

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Greeting, you’re listening to the Liam Photography Podcast, I’m your host Liam Douglas and this is Episode 193. Shutter Priority mode is another of the semi-automatic modes that all cameras have. For those of you who want to get away from Automatic Mode, but are not ready for Manual Mode yet. Shutter Priority is similar to Aperture Priority Mode.

What is Shutter Priority Mode?

In Shutter Priority mode you set the shutter speed and the camera decides on the ISO and Aperture and adjusts them automatically. The Shutter speed on your camera is how fast the Shutter opens and closes when you make an exposure. This determines how much light gets to your sensor, the faster the speed the less light that gets through. On the inverse, if you slow your Shutter speed down, more light gets to the sensor, which can come in handy when doing night time long exposure photography.

So if you set a fast Shutter speed, like 1/1000th of a second the camera will automatically set the Aperture as wide as possible like F/2.8. The wide Aperture counters the Shutter speed to allow more light to the sensor to make a good exposure. If you then set a slow Shutter speed like 1/10th of a second, the Aperture will step down to say F/16 to reduce the amount of light to make the exposure. For the majority of cameras the Shutter speed can be adjusted from 30 seconds to 1/8000th of a second and if you need more than 30 second, you can switch your camera to Bulb mode and use a remote trigger.

On the majority of cameras that have a top Mode dial and have Manual Mode, they will also have Shutter Priority mode, which on Canon is labeled Tv mode which stands for Time Value, on Nikon and Sony camera the Shutter Mode is labeled with an S. If you remember from last week’s episode Canon labels Aperture Priority Mode as Av which stands for Aperture Value and Nikon and Sony label it with just an A.

To use Shutter Priority Mode, set your Shutter Speed on the top dial and then you can also set the ISO. In most cases you will want to set the ISO to auto mode so it will select the right amount to make your exposure balanced. In a lot of cases you can set the ISO to a limited auto mode with an ISO range so the camera doesn’t introduce noise into your images.

If you change your Shutter Speed the exposure will not change as the camera will keep changing the Aperture to keep things balanced. If you really want to make your exposure brighter or darker you will need to use the cameras Exposure Compensation dial. 

When To Use Shutter Priority Mode

You want to use Shutter Priority Mode when the Shutter Speed is the most important part of your exposure, such as when photographing motion. Depending on your set Shutter Speed you can either freeze motion or show motion blur in your photo. A very fast Shutter Speed can freeze motion such as the wings of a hummingbird or if you are photographing sports and want to get the most details. The faster the motion, the faster the Shutter Speed needs to be. To shoot a sport like football you can freeze the action with a Shutter Speed of 1/500th of a second, but to stop the motion of the hummingbird, you will need a Shutter Speed of around 1/1000th of a second and then you will freeze the wings and be able to see all the details. Another time to use a high Shutter Speed is auto racing such as NASCAR or GT Racing, which is something I photographed this past weekend at a local track. In my image below, you can see how well my Shutter Speed of 1/1000th of a second allows you to see all the details in the race car.

Using Canon EF 100-400mm with a shutter speed of 1/500 sec

GT race car this past weekend shutter speed of 1/1000th of a sec.

Mid point of Amicalola Falls in GA shot with a Shutter speed of 30 seconds


When blurring motion, a lot of landscape photographers like to use long Shutter Speeds to make water or clouds blurry. If you make your Shutter Speed really long you can actually make water look as smooth as glass. Ideal Shutter Speeds for this kind of photography range of a half second to minutes in length. If you wanted to create motion blur for the artistic effect such as a flock of birds at the beach. Play around with Shutter Speed and see what you can come up with.

Avoiding Camera Shake When Shooting

If you need to use a long Shutter Speed, use a tripod to prevent camera shake in your images, especially if the Shutter Speed is slower than your lens focal length. As an example if you are using a 50 mm lens then your Shutter Speed should be 1/50th of a second or faster. Remember, this is not a hard and fast rule and photographers who are able to hold their camera more stable can get away with a slower Shutter Speed without shake. Another new innovation is that many of the newer, mirrorless cameras have built in Image Stabilization, also known as IBIS. If your camera doesn’t have IBIS, then make your Shutter Speed faster, at least equal to but ideating, faster than your focal length. Shooting with a 70-200mm then make sure your Shutter Speed is 1/200th of a second or faster. I generally prefer a bit more wiggle room so I would make my Shutter Speed 1/320th of a second or more.

Shutter Priority vs Manual Mode

There are times when Shutter Priority mode can be better than Manual Mode, if your focus is on capturing motion, you probably don’t care about the Aperture. When in Manual Mode, you have to pick the Aperture as well as the ISO and Shutter Speed.

When shooting fast-paced action such as high school, college or professional sports you probably don’t have enough time on the sidelines to mess with Aperture. Additionally, if the light changes frequently in your shooting situation, an assisted mode such as Shutter Priority to get your exposure leveled such as when the sun moves behind some clouds.

Now if you want to set your Depth of Field such as I talked about last week, you can use Manual Mode or Aperture Priority Mode, which of course will determine what and how much in your scene is in Focus. If you are shooting sports or wildlife on a very sunny day, then your camera will not set a wide Aperture. Instead it will set the Aperture to a narrow value such as F/8 or F/16 to minimize the amount of light introduced to your sensor. In this kind of situation, Manual Mode is your best bet to override the camera’s tendency to try and balance the exposure.

In Conclusion

Remember that Manual Mode is considered to be the best and most professional mode on your camera, but there are certainly times when one of the assisted modes such as Shutter Priority or Aperture Priority Mode. So, if you are capturing motion, Shutter Priority Mode can be better than Manual Mode. If you are a beginner photographer and have only used the Fully Automatic Mode on your camera then take more control of your photography using Shutter Priority Mode.

Also be sure to join the Liam Photography Podcast Facebook Group https://www.facebook.com/groups/liamphotographypodcast/ You can reach the show by call or text @ 470-294-8191 to leave a comment or request a topic or guest for the show. Additionally you can email the show @ liam@liamphotographypodcast.com and find the show notes at http://www.liamphotographypodcast.com.

You can find my work @ https://www.liamphotography.net on and follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter @liamphotoatl. If you like abandoned buildings and history, you can find my project @ http://www.forgottenpiecesofgeorgia.com. and http://www.forgottenpiecesofpennsylvania.com.

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