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Do you want to understand your camera and take great photos today?

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If you find that shooting in Manual mode is a little too advanced for you, there is always Shutter Priority mode. With this, you can set one important camera setting and the camera will do the rest.

For the benefits and disadvantages of using this mode, read more below.

A blurry photo of passengers on a train - shutter priority mode

What Is Shutter Priority?

Shutter Priority is a camera mode you can set on your camera. It allows you to change the shutter speed setting only.

When we capture any given scene, we are using three different camera settings. These three work together as part of the Exposure Triangle and work co-dependently.

With shutter priority, you can photograph this scene by only controlling the shutter. By setting the shutter speed of your image, the camera is free to change the aperture. It does so to ensure correct light reading.

The shutter setting of your camera focuses on movement. If you use a fast shutter speed, such as 1/2000th, you freeze any movement that happens in front of your camera.

A slow shutter speed will blur your subject. This shows that the subject isn’t frozen, but actually moving. We are free to decide which we would like in our scene.

Shutter priority lets us set the shutter speed. For that particular scene, where you need full control over the movement. As the aperture is less important, the photographer doesn’t mind if it fluctuates.

The shutter priority makes up 1/3rd of the basic shooting modes available on your camera. You can find it under the initials ‘S’ (Nikon and Sony) or ‘Tv’ (Canon and Pentax). The others are aperture priority and manual mode.

A large bird in flight over a lake - shutter priority mode

When to Use Shutter Priority?

Shutter speed focuses on the movement in any given scene. So, this is something you would use for non-static environments.

Photographers who want to freeze movement might be event, sports, street or action photographers.

There are fields of photography where creating motion blur is artistically desired. Landscape photographers who might want to allow the movement of waves or clouds to create something more interesting, for example.

Using shutter priority might come down to the physical side of photography. If you are using a telephoto lens without a tripod, a faster than usual shutter speed will cut out camera shake.

This is also a great feature to use when the light intensity is changing quickly in very short spaces of time. For example, the sun is repeatedly shining through then hiding behind clouds.

Here, the camera will capture the images while keeping the exposure constant.

Any scene that has movement is a great setting for shutter priority. However, if you want to capture a scene with movement and depth of field in mind, you might be better off using manual mode.

With shutter priority, there is no control over the aperture, and well-lit scenes will see your ISO at 100 and a narrow aperture. This means lens diffraction interference.

A motion blurred image of a man riding a motorcycle - shutter priority

Advantages and Disadvantages of Shutter Priority

Advantages

  • You only have to worry about one camera setting. With manual mode, you need to think about all three to expose a picture correctly.
  • It’s easy to change between fast and slow shutter speeds for changing subjects or environments.
  • With shutter priority, you can still control the Exposure Value scale, adding or subtracting stops of extra light. This helps to tackle your camera’s inefficiency.

Disadvantages

  • You will still need to set the ISO value. It will not change unless placed on Auto ISO.
  • By using Auto ISO, there is no setting that the camera will prioritise after it selects the shutter speed.
  • If you reach the end of the aperture range, the camera will still let you photograph. The aperture value will flash, to show it has reached its limit, but it is easy to miss.
  • Shutter priority can be problematic in obtaining the correct exposure of a given scene. Depending on the metering mode you use, you could over- or under-expose your scene.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

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Craig Hull

Craig is a photographer currently based in Budapest. His favourite photographic areas are street and documentary photography. Show him a darkroom and he'll be happy there for days. As long as there are music and snacks. Find him at craighullphotography.co.uk and Instagram/craighullphoto

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