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Using Shutter Priority Mode on Your Digital SLR

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 1 6

After learning how to use Aperture Priority Mode on your dSLR you want to step into using the Shutter Priority Mode. This is the next step in your progression to becoming a more well-rounded photographer. Shutter speed and aperture work together to give proper exposure of light to the film or digital light sensor in your camera. Let's look at how shutter priority mode works to give you more control on your pictures.

Shutter Priority Mode
You place your camera in shutter priority mode by turning the mode dial on your dSLR to S or Tv. When placing the camera in shutter priority mode you are still allowing the camera to control the aperture and film speed (or ISO) while you control the shutter speed setting. The aperture, shutter speed and film speed together determine how much light your camera needs to give you a good exposure for a picture.

Shutter speed controls how long light is allowed to expose the film or sensor. Aperture settings control how much light enters the lens. And film speed (or ISO speed) controls how sensitive the digital light sensor will be to the light that is allowed in by the other two factors.

When your camera is in shutter priority mode it gives you control over how long the sensor will be exposed to the image being captured. You don't have to worry about the other factors since the camera is taking care of that to assure that you get a good exposure. You control the shutter speed time so that you can affect how the final image looks. A faster shutter speed will completely stop motion giving you sharp pictures without blurring. But there are times you want to show motion. You can do this by having a slower shutter speed.

To control your shutter speed properly, you will need to know how the settings work. Shutter speeds are represented in fractions of a second. Therefore 1/500 s leaves the shutter open for twice as long as 1/1000 s, but only half as long as 1/250 s. Remember that this time in seconds is how long the shutter is open allowing light to be captured by the film or the image sensor.

  • Higher denominator = faster shutter speed = shorter light exposure = stops motion
  • Lower denominator = slower shutter speed = longer light exposure = blurs motion

Using Shutter Priority Mode Creatively
The way that you could use shutter priority mode creatively is to intentionally blur some items in your pictures while keeping others in sharp focus.

Think of taking a picture of your child riding a bike. To show how fast they are going you can use a slow shutter speed and keep the camera still while taking the picture of your child speeding in front of you. This will keep the background in focus, but the child on the bike will be a blur of motion. Or, you could use the same shutter speed and instead of holding the camera still and capturing a blurred child with a crisp background, you could move the camera along the path of the child while you snap the picture. This will keep the child in focus but blur the background. This is how photographers capture race cars zooming by. They move the camera along the path of the car which will keep the car in focus, but blur the background.

Another way to use this mode is to take various pictures of a waterfall. If you wanted to stop the motion of the water coming down the side of the cliff you would use a fast shutter speed. To show the motion of the water coming down, you would shoot the picture with a slower shutter speed to allow the water to blur in the image.

Remember that when you increase or decrease your shutter speed manually your camera will have to adjust the aperture. This aperture adjustment will effect your depth of field.

Experiment with Shutter Priority Mode
Get outside and take pictures of your child on their bike. Find out which version captures the feeling of motion and freedom better. You can do the same thing with cars driving down your street. How about a busy indoor scene? You could set your shutter speed to 1 second or more and show the shopping mall standing still but a blur of activity going on within. Of course you need a tripod for slower shutter speeds.

Shutter priority mode is the next step after you have learned to use aperture priority mode. Just because you have graduated to this next mode does not mean that you no longer need the aperture priority mode. It just means that you have more tools in your photo bag to pull out and use when the situation arises.



Oct 28, 2010 2:25pm
Using the slow shutter and a tripod, you should also get a remote switch. I like the dSLR rather than my old 35mm because I can see the results right away and take more shots, (all free).
Oct 28, 2010 3:17pm
Great point javrsmith! If you are using slow shutter speeds you want to get the remote switch for your camera. Back in the old days we just had a special straw with a wire through it that screwed into the shutter release button. You pushed the plunger on the trigger mechanism and it would take the picture without any shake. Cost $5. Now you have to buy a $40 remote control unit. So much for digital being cheaper. :-)
Oct 30, 2010 1:53pm
Great article, and very good information.
I love your waterfall (running water) example; - it explains how to use different shutter speeds very well.
Oct 30, 2010 5:32pm
Thanks. As I was thinking through an example I saw a picture of a waterfall that made me think of that.

Thanks for the comment.
Oct 31, 2010 9:57pm
Keep coming these articles with good and very descriptive info for newbies. Thanks!
Oct 31, 2010 10:29pm
Thanks LoveSpaces, I will dust off the brain cells and get more camera articles written this week.
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