Under what circumstances would you use aperture priority vs. shutter priority and vice-versa?

I typically don’t use shutter priority (ever) and favor aperture priority to try to get a max aperture with the thinking that I’ll get more light and a better low light shot. But after getting almost all my shots being blurry and the help of a couple questions posted here I learned I should use faster shutter speeds to get clear shots.

What my question boils down to is me trying to get a firmer understanding when to use one over the other, and why.

Thanks all.

  • 1
    Not answering your direct question, but a comment regarding your initial motivation: Many cameras will give you some sort of warning indicator in the viewfinder if the shutter speed that's being chosen in Aperture Priority mode is going to be slow enough to be likely to cause blur from camera shake. You may want to try to identify what that indicator looks like for your camera, and then watch for it -- then you can stick with Aperture priority. Another option is to use Manual mode, where you have control of both at the same time!
    – lindes
    Jan 8, 2011 at 18:34

7 Answers 7


Shutter priority (Tv) gets used for a couple good reasons

You want to control the shutter speed (obviously) and don't care about the aperture. You'd use this to have creative control over the shutter speed which mostly involves motion blur. Some techniques that use this are 'dragging the shutter' with flash to create motion streaks and a final 'flash' to stop the motion. Or 'dragging the shutter' while tracking action where you move the camera to follow a subject and keep it sharp while blurring the surroundings.

You also use Tv with flash when you want to lock in a certain shutter speed (to avoid camera shake) while allowing the camera to control the aperture (and sometimes ISO). Useful when you're, say, shooting with a 85mm lens and you know you want to have at least 1/100th shutter speed to not blur the subject and let the flash/aperture handle the rest.

  • 85mm lens, not camera, yeah?
    – mattdm
    Dec 29, 2010 at 23:38
  • 1
    Note: creative control of shutter speed can also mean a fast shutter, e.g. if you're trying to particularly freeze motion.
    – lindes
    Jan 8, 2011 at 18:32
  • Aperture priority, on Canon at least, will also lock the shutter speed to the max flash synch speed (usually 1/250)! You can lose some shots if the flash is on outside and the shutter speed needs to be much faster.
    – AngerClown
    Jan 10, 2011 at 17:06
  • @AngerClown Thats actually optional via a Custom Function, C.Fn I-7 on the 5DII, there are 3 options.
    – Shizam
    Jan 10, 2011 at 17:49

There are probably more formal answers, but for me it boils down to what kind of shot I am looking for.

  • If I want to register something in time (either frozen or moving) then shutter speed is more important than aperture.

  • If I want to register something in space (meaning a deeper or shallower area in focus) then aperture is more important than shutter speed.

Note that this doesn't mean necessarily using shutter priority or aperture priority in either case. The point is determining what is more important in my vision of the shot, time or space, and then choosing the best camera mode for that.

I have to agree that S/Tv and A/Av modes are easier to use when prioritizing speed or aperture, but once you get used to the relations between speed, aperture and ISO and the way your camera handles the exposure calculations, it is not that hard to use almost any mode (including P - Program Exposure) to take your shot.

As lindes pointed in the comments, let's not forget Manual mode (M) with its full control of the variables involved. Just keep in mind that when using Manual, the camera will not compensate any light changes that happens after you set the values, while the automatic and semi-automatic modes allow the camera to keep your desired exposure levels by changing the free variables (the ones not set by you).

  • Nice answer, André! This does a good job of summing it up. And I'll just point out that the one mode (other than special automatic modes) that you haven't named is M, which you seem to be implying without mentioning, and I think warrants explicit mention. :)
    – lindes
    Jan 8, 2011 at 18:36

General rule of thumb:

Use Aperture priority if you are trying to get a certain DOF. This should probably be your main mode that you shoot in.

Use Shutter Priority if you are doing some kind of a motion blur, stop motion, or are shooting in a condition where you want the most DOF possible, but with no camera shake.

  • 1
    Allow me to disagree with "This should probably be your main mode that you shoot in." -- Different modes are good for different situations, and for different shooters -- if I thought my way was "right", I'd say that M "should probably be your main mode that you shoot in", but really, it's up to the individual, what your skills are, what your situations are, etc. etc. There is no "should". :)
    – lindes
    Jan 8, 2011 at 18:39

I shoot mainly in aperture priority because I'm generally most interested in depth of field. I will take a trial exposure in the light where I'm shooting, and see if the shutter's fast enough to get a sharp shot at the focal length I'm using (using the 1-over-focal length guideline), and if it's not, I change ISO, aperture, or sometimes both.

So far as I know, no camera offers an "try to keep the aperture I set, but if I'm going to be susceptible to shake, bump the ISO as high as X but no more, and if I'm still not shooting fast enough, open the aperture more, but only up to Y additional stops" mode, which is what I really want.


I use shutter speed when motion is the biggest factor in the image. Faster shutter speed allows me to stop motion, say capturing a race car zooming by. Slower shutter speed allows me to illustrate motion; i.e. panning on a subject moving left-to-right showing the subject's motion in comparison to the surrounding environment.

When using aperture priority, I am primarily concerned with depth of field; i.e. how much bokeh (bluriness) I want to apply to an image.


An interesting exercise is to shoot in Tv/S mode in daylight, say at 1/100. This will effectively give you very little control over the depth of field, which is the point. You need to find compositions that don't rely on blurring the background.


I use Tv almost exclusively for my primary focus of performance photography. I am usually dealing with a very large contrast scene that is constantly changing (both in terms of subjects moving around and the light). I am not allowed to use flash or any active method of light control, so I have to use what is there. In almost all cases, it is better to have a slightly dark image than to have unintentional blur because the meter decided I needed a half second exposure at the exact time it metered. I get much more consistent results by setting a shutter speed where I think it needs to be, and letting the camera fine tune using ISO and aperture.

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