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Camera Mode: Shutter Priority

Help your camera set the right exposure in any situation, based on the shutter speed you choose
Camera Mode: Shutter Priority

Recently, we explained the way Aperture Priority mode works, so today we’ll look at its counterpart on the automatic exposure spectrum: Shutter Priority exposure mode.

Often represented by an S or Sv on the camera mode dial, Shutter Priority mode sees the photographer dialing in a manual shutter speed and leaving the selection of the appropriate aperture to the camera’s brain. Some cameras, such as the Fujifilm X-Pro2 pictured here, don’t have an S on the mode dial. Instead, to set Shutter Priority, simply dial in the manual shutter speed and then set the lens aperture dial to A for automatic.

Camera Mode: Shutter Priority

As with any automatic exposure mode, Shutter Priority is particularly helpful in changing light situations, though it’s useful in any situation in which it’s the shutter speed you primarily want to control. For instance, when I handhold a camera, I want to ensure my shutter speed never dips below the focal length of the lens I’m using. And more often than not, I want to handhold at 1/250th at least to ensure my pictures will be unaffected by the movement of a human subject or the shaking of my hands.

If I’m shooting sports and I know I want at least 1/500th, I can set the shutter speed in Shutter Priority and let the camera pick the correct aperture to accompany it. Just be sure that you don’t end up underexposing in low light by setting a shutter speed that’s too fast for the available light. When this happens and the camera detects that it can’t open up the aperture sufficiently for the light at hand, it will typically let you know. Some cameras change the color of the indicated aperture in the viewfinder, or it will blink, or the display may not show the actual f/number in lieu of a blinking dash.

Camera Mode: Shutter Priority

For special effects in which motion blur is desirable, shutter priority excels. Let’s say you want to make a picture of a bicyclist and you want to impart a sense of motion to the scene with the deliberate use of motion blur. Or perhaps you’re a landscape photographer faced with a waterfall that will look beautiful with motion blur. In either case, you may find that a particular shutter speed—say, 1/4th of a second—works especially well for the subject at hand. By dialing in that shutter speed in Shutter Priority mode, you’ll ensure the camera’s autoexposure controls won’t eliminate your ability to create deliberately blurry special effects.

Another situation in which I want to control the shutter speed, in particular, is if I’m using a fill flash. Most cameras can’t synchronize with a flash at a shutter speed faster than 1/250th. And many cameras claim 1/250th as the sync speed but in fact sync slower than that. For years I used a DSLR that couldn’t sync reliably beyond 1/125th—so that’s where I’d set my shutter speed when working in Shutter Priority mode. In practice, this is especially handy when photographing a party or event or while traveling and exploring a location indoors and out, all the while needing to change exposures while maintaining the ability to effectively sync with my flash.

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