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Working with Shutter Priority

What is Shutter Priority Mode?

Working with Shutter Priority
photo credit: Chris Smith/Out of Chicago

Shutter priority is one of the creative manual modes and selecting it allows you to change the shutter speed of the camera while the camera selects the aperture value automatically.

Some Practical Uses of the Shutter Priority Mode

Shutter priority is rarely used for any other purpose other than creative photography and half the time it is used it is done so with along with a tripod. If you are working with shutter priority mode, it means you are shooting in a situation where there is not enough light to go with and using a flash is not practical. It could also mean you are deliberately trying to capture motion blur in your images.

Let’ say you are trying to shoot a general landscape scene in day time. You would ideally not be using the shutter priority mode in this case, because it does not serve any purpose other than create blur. However, let’s say you are trying to shoot an iconic building or natural history icon in ambient light. In this situation you can use a slower shutter speed to make a long exposure over a longer than usual time frame.

Working with Shutter Priority
photo credit: Cayusa

Again, let’s say you are trying to shoot a waterfall scene and want to capture that misty white effect that is so synonymous with waterfall photos. In this case as well you will need to use the shutter priority mode, by selecting a slower than usual shutter speed and depending on the light, some filters to balance the exposure. Additionally, you will need a tripod to ensure that there is no image blur (except for the moving water that is).

Working with Shutter Priority
photo credit: tim caynes

In another example, let’s say you are trying to capture light trail on a dark evening or the Fourth of July fireworks display. These type of shooting too would require you to use the shutter priority mode. You will need to select a slow shutter speed that will capture light over a period of time and in the process capture movement of the tail / front lights on passing vehicles and the trails of light in the sky during the fireworks display.

A Tip on Using Slower Shutter Speed While Hand-holding

Working with Shutter Priority
photo credit: HAMACHI!

So what’s the slowest shutter speed that you can comfortably use so that you don’t induce camera shake? The thumb-rule is never to use a shutter speed that is the inverse of the focal length at which the lens is set. Let’s say you are using an 18-55mm lens zoomed-in all the way to 55mm. At this focal length the slowest shutter speed that you can use while hand-holding the camera and get away with is 1/55th of a second. Since, no camera will allow you to set an exposure time of 1/55th of a second, the nearest setting is 1/60th of a second. Of course this rule is a bit subjective, because if someone has really shaky hands or really steady ones the recommended shutter speed will need to be readjusted to something faster or slower respectively.

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