fireworks long exposure

What Can Shutter Priority Mode do for your Photography?

Last time we looked at Aperture Priority Mode and how depth of field can help you be more creative with your photography.

With Aperture Priority mode the camera chooses the shutter speed for the shot.

(image: Fireworks at Disney by Express Monorail)

So this time we’re going to look at what happens when you flip it around and use Shutter Priority Mode (TV), and have full control over the shutter and let the camera choose the aperture.


What’s a Shutter?

The shutter in this case is the opening in the camera body that lets light through to the image sensor. But more importantly you can control how long the light gets to go through to the image sensor, or how long the image sensor is ‘exposed’ to the light. That’s why it’s called exposure!

As opposed to the aperture opening we talked about last time, where the aperture controls the amount of light coming into the camera through different sized holes or ‘apertures’ in the lens. The shutter controls how long that light then gets to pass through onto the image sensor.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of a second eg:

1/1000      1/500       1/250       1/125       1/60       1/30       1/15       1

The greater the denominator the faster the shutter speed. My camera goes from 1/4000 of a second all the way up to 30 seconds (in TV mode).

But this on its own doesn’t explain what these shutter speeds do or how they work. Take a look below:

shutter speed

shutter speed

How do I use Shutter Priority mode?

Changing the shutter speed can make your images very creative, here are some examples of what you can do with it.

1. Long Exposures

London Eye - long exposure

image courtesy of zhensem

One thing you can do using a long exposure is night photography. You need a long exposure in the seconds range to capture the scene nicely. But I think you can create some very nice effects with this type of photography, like a cityscape with roads, and you get the motion blur of a cars lights that leaves trails across the image.

Another essential bit of kit for night photography is a tripod, it’s impossible to use those kind of slow shutter speeds without one. In fact anything from around 1/30 of a second or slower you’ll need a (sturdy) tripod to eliminate any blur from hand shake (unless you have a very steady hand!).

And you can create some stunning images as you can see from the examples above. This image of the London Eye had an exposure of 45 seconds. And the firework image at the top of this post had an exposure of 11 seconds.

2. Short Exposures.

surfing short exposure

image courtesy of

Sport photography is the other end of the shutter range. Where you need to use a short exposure or fast shutter speed to freeze the action. Wildlife photography is another example of this where you need to freeze the animal (well not literally!) to get the shot.

In the image above the surfers and the water are ‘frozen’ but still give a very real sense of movement and speed. In the same way say you were shooting a race car, you may want to use the ‘panning’ technique. Where you pan with the car as you take the shot keeping the car in focus but the background will blur, giving a different sense of movement and speed.

So you can use shutter priority to either freeze the action or capture motion or give the feeling of motion.


These are only a few examples of what you can do with shutter priority mode. And I think when you start to learn how to use shutter speed, then you get a whole new dimension of creativity for your photography.

Using shutter and aperture together you can control the amount of light the image sensor sees. And how long it sees it for.

Do you start to see how shutter and aperture work together to form an image on the sensor?

And can you see how learning to adjust them can really take you and your photography to the next level?

Next time we’re going to pull this all together and look at manual mode….

…..sit tight….


P.S. image credit: London Eye –  Zhensem.

Comments 12

  1. Nice post again Mandy, great description of the benefits of shooting in Shutter Priority. I don’t use this as much as Aperture priority mode but after reading this I think I’ll give it another try!

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  3. Pingback: Why Understanding Manual Mode is important | Panarukan Photography

  4. Hi Mandy, What shutter speed would you suggest for taking Dog Agility Photos. It’s all a bit confusing. Thanks. Sue

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    Hi Sue, I’d start a 1/1000 sec to freeze the action, then try a stop or two either side to see which speed works best. Let me know if that helps…

  6. Mandy,

    I’ve just joined your blog and, as a novice, find the information down to earth and simple to understand. Can you please explain what exposure setting in Shutter Priority you would need to set in order to achieve the results in the fireworks display above? Many thanks

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    Phil – a couple of seconds, start at 4 secs and go from there.

    Also use a tripod (obviously!) and a low ISO like 100, and anywhere from f8 – f16, I like f11! Let me know how it goes….

  8. Hi Mandy, i am very thankful to u for good information plz send me detail of how i am uses Aperture priority mode shutter speed would you suggest deffrent pictures. please send me all aperture and shutter speed.

  9. Hi, mandy….
    Thanks a lot for such a nice elaboration of DSLR functions. I m planning to buy one in the mid range. I m confused between the canon and Nikon. I also have query about the lenses. Is the kit lens(18-55mm) coming with the cam body is good enough for the portrait n landscape n night photography? Does shutter speed differ with different cam, n aperture size is fixed for all lenses or many additional lenses I should buy n of what focal length.

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