- A Beginner's Guide to Aperture Priority Mode and Exposure Compensation
- A Beginner's Guide to Aperture and Depth of Field
- Everything You Need to Know About Shutter Priority Mode
- Shutter Speed Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
Making a move from fully automated camera mode into manual mode can be daunting for the best of us.
As soon as you make that switch, your head starts spinning with all of the new features and settings to think about while you are trying to compose the picture. And God forbid the subject is moving or the light is changing… PANIC.
After attempting a couple of shots in manual mode and not getting anything that even remotely resembles a good picture, you just jump right back into the fully auto mode - a safe space that you can rely on to get some decent results.
But what if I told you that there is an easier way to slowly introduce yourself to your camera’s full potential?
Yup, you don’t have to dive headfirst into the ocean of settings to begin understanding how to use manual mode to take professional pictures. All you need to learn at first is aperture priority mode and shutter priority mode.
Aperture Priority Mode
Aperture controls how much light comes in through your lens by widening and narrowing the opening. The smaller the aperture number (we call it the f/stop), the bigger the opening is and the more light comes in.
As well as controlling the amount of light, aperture changes the way your depth of field behaves. Lower f/stops have a much narrower depth of field (as seen in the portrait above), making less of your picture in focus, while a higher f/stop will have a wider depth of field and allow you to make everything in your shot pin sharp.
In aperture priority mode, these are all the decisions you need to make. This mode allows you to work out the best aperture for your shot and the camera takes care of matching the correct shutter speed automatically for that perfect exposure.
When Should You Use Aperture Priority Mode?
Most modern cameras have light sensors that cope with automating shutter speed surprisingly well. When there is plenty of light, you can shoot just about in any situation using only aperture priority mode. If the light is low though, try to avoid moving subjects as this can result in motion blur.
When using aperture priority mode, you have to be mindful of the light that is available. Your camera will keep reducing the shutter speed to compensate for dimming of the light. If you’re not careful, this can result in blurry pictures!
I advise you to use aperture priority mode for shooting portraits or landscape photography. This way, you get the creative freedom of playing with your depth of field but none of the headache of trying to shoot in manual mode manual mode.
How Do You Decide What Aperture is Most Appropriate?
Aperture is the setting you want to understand in full. By having such a big effect on depth of field, aperture allows you to interpret the scene the way you alone can see it.
For example, when you want to exaggerate the subject in your foreground, you should use a very small aperture setting. At f/1.8, your background will be completely blurred, and this will focus the attention on your main subject.
However, when shooting landscape photography, most of the time you want to have as much of the detail in focus as possible. Here, an aperture setting such as f/16 would be a better choice.
With apertures higher than that, you might find that some cheaper lenses or your camera's sensor start to underperform, introducing noise and losing overall picture quality.
So, it all depends on what you are shooting, and what your personal vision of the result might be. Once you have those in place, it’s all about experimenting.
Shutter Priority Mode
Shutter speed is what controls how long your shutter will stay open. And the longer it is open, the more light hits the sensor.
Shutter speed is calculated in fractions of a second, so when you set your shutter speed to 100, it means that your shutter will stay open for 1/100th of a second.
This camera mode is great for shooting fast-moving subjects.
By controlling your shutter speed and leaving the aperture for your camera to determine, you can shoot moving objects much more effectively.
Be aware that when your camera changes the aperture, the depth of field will change as well, and this, in turn, will greatly impact your final picture.
Side note: Shutter priority mode doesn’t perform well in low light conditions, so when using this mode, make sure that there is plenty of light. While aperture priority mode can keep slowing down the shutter speed to make sure that exposure is correct, shutter priority mode is limited by your lowest aperture. If there is not enough light, your pictures will be underexposed.
So Which Setting Do You Use?
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question.
Try to experiment with each mode and see what kind of results you are getting. Just because you read online that shutter priority mode performs badly in low light doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go out one evening and see what happens. You might be surprised by the results and end up with some artistic photographs!
Experiment with different apertures too. Shoot the same scene with a few different aperture settings and see how that changes the photograph.
Also, pay attention to how the picture is focused. For example, if you shoot in the evening when there are plenty of street lights, pay extra attention how different apertures make those lights change.
By spending time shooting in both modes, you will quickly start to understand how both of these settings affects the overall picture and how they work together. This newfound knowledge will allow you to take full control of the camera, and the fear of using manual mode will be no more.