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How to creatively use Shutter Priority mode ?

| February 28, 2009 | 8 Comments
Learn more about Shutter Priority mode. What is shutter speed and how does it affect photos? How to use shutter priority mode to freeze or emphasize action.

Shutter Priority mode refers to a setting on some cameras that allows the user to choose a specific shutter speed while the camera adjusts the aperture to ensure correct exposure. It is labeled as Tv on some cameras (Pentax, Canon), or S on other (Nikon, Olympus, Sony, Panasonic & Fuji).

What is shutter speed ?

In photography, shutter speed is a common term used to discuss exposure time, the effective length of time a shutter is open, thus indicating the duration of light reaching the film or image sensor. Shutter speed, or more literally exposure time is measured in seconds, but often marked in reciprocal seconds. In example a typical exposure time for photographs taken in sunlight is 1/125th of a second, typically marked as 125 on a shutter speed setting dial. A general rule of thumb, the higher denominator, the faster the shutter speed (i.e. 1/500 is much faster than 1/60).

How does shutter speed affect my photos ?
Correct use of shutter speeds allows a user to capture dynamic action shots by freezing action, convey a sense of speed, make creative low-light photos, and much more.

Shutter Speed - Waterfall

Shutter Speed - Waterfall

A waterfall image on the left side is a typical example, demonstrating how it is possible to achieve different effects by varying shutter speed in shutter priority mode. At lower shutter speeds (1 sec, 1/3 sec) the waterfall has soft, silky style water display, as it conveys motion. Higher shutter speeds (1/200, 1/800) freeze the action, showing every drop of water in the waterfall, thus sacrificing motion for detail.


Finally, how to creatively use Shutter Priority mode ?
Now, that I have explained about shutter speeds, and shutter priority mode, let me give you some examples on how can you use it to create some stunning photos.

Surfer

Surfer

Use high shutter speeds to capture fast paced action shots, and freeze the moment. This is of particular use on sport events such as surfing, racing, or any type of sport that relies on fast, action charged atmosphere. Since focusing might be an issue here, and the subject itself may be hard to track, i would recommend to use the continuous focusing option, and instead of single shot photo, i would recommend using high speed photo burst, capturing multiple photos, and later deciding on which ones to keep. It is always better to have a couple extra photos to delete, than to realize that you did not make the shot you wanted.

Motorbike

Motorbike

Use slower shutter speed together with panning, in order to convey a sense of speed. Let me just get one thing straight here. This sense of speed (blurred background going quickly in one direction) is actually produced by a photographer moving the camera and not the bike itself. However, since the shutter speed (although slower than in previous case) is still fast enough, due to panning, the biker seems to be frozen in place. Note that this is not an easy effect to achieve and it takes a lot of practice and experimenting with different shutter speeds to get this kind of shot right.

Light Trails

Light Trails

Night trails photography has significantly increased in popularity since the introduction of digital cameras enabling longer exposures (slower shutter speeds). This type of shot usually requires the use of the tripod. Typical exposure time for this kind of photos is between 1 min and 15 minutes. This can be achieved either by selecting a camera to as long exposure it will allow, or by using a so called bulb mode (B) on your camera (tip: don’t forget to select low ISO – 100 or lower to avoid noise).

Candle light trail

Candle light trail

Since even the slightest shake can impact the image, I recommend using a remote release for the shutter (a specific remote control used to press the shutter without touching the camera).

In the winter months shooting car light trails could be a freezing process, but you can still experiment with a candle in front of window/mirror (see candle photo to the left).

Finally, if making ghost images is your thing, it can easily be achieved by using low ISO and slow shutter speeds (30 sec in example to the left). Basically to achieve transparency, sit in front of camera for the first 15 seconds, and then try to move away as quickly as possible.

Alan Ghost portraitAgain, all of these are merely examples. Final ideas are up to you, and don’t forget: Practice, practice, practice.


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Category: Beginners Photography, Photography Lessons

About the Author (Author Profile)

Alan Graf is the editor and founder of Digital Photography Student. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, and is also editor of CRO-Wallpapers.com – a Croatian wallpaper archive, and his own photo gallery at http://www.alangraf.com.

Comments (8)

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  1. […] automation, it’s also its biggest drawback. Everything is automated including exposure, aperture, shutter speed and sensitivity. While this is a great feature for making snapshots, a photographer prefers also to […]

  2. […] you press shutter button, the camera will fire 3 (or more) shots, similar to the one you can see on the photo to the […]

  3. […] the aperture directly controls the amount of light reaching the camera sensor (in conjunction with shutter speed and sensitivity). Consequently, lens capable of using wider aperture settings (lower f-stop number) […]

  4. […] in the water, while the rest of the environment is perfectly still. This is best achieved using shutter priority mode (Tv on Pentax, or S on Nikon), since it gives you direct control over how long will the […]

  5. […] – Shutter Priority (on Canon and Pentax) = S (Nikon, Olympus, Sony, Panasonic & […]

  6. […] almost too easy to get all involved in the technical aspects of a photography, such as aperture, shutter, ISO, depth of field, etc without even realizing that the most important aspect of photography is […]

  7. […] have already talked about shutter speed & aperture in our previous posts. I have read somewhere an excellent comparison between taking […]

  8. […] is ‘the size of the opening in the lens when a picture is taken.’ When you hit the shutter release button of your camera a hole opens up that allows your cameras image sensor to catch a […]

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