Understanding Shutter Priority

Next to the Programmable mode [P], this is the mode that a new user is most likely to experiment with. It is a fairly easy concept for most people to understand how the speed of the shutter affects the resulting image. You can increase the shutter speed until you are able to freeze the action, or slow it to add motion blur to moving objects. Remember that each time you double your shutter speed, to balance the exposure your aperture size is opened (a smaller number) by one stop. The following shutter speed / aperture combinations are all equivalent insofar as a particular light level is concerned:

Shutter Speeed Aperture












You can raise your ISO level, if necessary to get an exposure as fast as 1/2000 sec. or higher if you want a smaller aperture than would normally be set given a specific shutter speed.

Many times, people only consider one aspect of this mode, which is the ability to increase the shutter speed to freeze action and remove motion blur, but there are actually a variety of reasons to use this creative mode. In many cases, shutter priority may not be the best mode to use, but let’s explore this one parameter before bringing other factors into it.

Tv-Blurring Motion

This is a technique that smoothes the actions of water, or other moving objects that follow the same or similar paths each time. By using a long exposure to blur the details, it makes all of the movement flow together. In an ocean scene, this can create a fog out of the crashing waves. In …

Tv-Capturing Ambient Light With Flash

To better capture a scene with dim lighting, you can take a flash picture using the shutter priority mode. You want to first experiment with longer exposure values to determine the best shutter speed – without flash – to capture the background. Then put your subject into the scene and use your flash. If possible, …

Tv-Capturing Low-Light Exposures

This can be a very gratifying use of the timed exposure mode. You must use a tripod or otherwise have the camera stabilized, as you will be taking long exposures – possibly very long exposures! You may also benefit from having a remote camera release with a locking feature if your camera has a “bulb” …

Tv-Conveying Motion

The next most common use for the shutter priority mode is to convey motion in one or more objects within a scene. By forcing the shutter speed to slow down, you will introduce motion blur, which can be very effective at conveying motion or speed. As the shutter speed is forced slower, the camera will …

Tv-Freezing Motion

This may be most common use of shutter priority by new users. As you increase the shutter speed, motion blur is diminished until it can be stopped in all but the most extreme cases. When taking a picture, most people think “Blur is bad; sharp is good.” Later in this discussion we hope to change …


This technique is used to get your subject in fairly good focus while the background is blurred – thus conveying a sense of speed to your subject. You can do this either hand-held or using a tripod. If you have vibration reduction or image stabilization on your camera, either turn it to Mode 2 (panning …

Tv-Removing Transitory Objects

Sometime you have a scene that has stuff that keeps moving through it, marring the picture you are trying to capture. Falling leaves, rain, snow, even people can be removed by taking a longer exposure. The length of exposure will vary, depending on what you are trying to remove. Rain may disappear with a 1/15 …

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