What is Shutter Priority in Photography? – All You Need to Know

By Arindam Roy

This blog post will teach you the basics of shutter priority in photography, what it is and how it can help your photos.


What is shutter priority?


Shutter priority mode is an exposure mode that allows you to control the shutter speed while the camera selects an appropriate aperture for best exposure. If your subject moves during shooting, you can achieve a sharp image by selecting a slow shutter speed. If your subject is stationary and any sort of motion in the scene might blur or be rendered as a blurry streak, selecting a fast shutter speed will freeze motions effectively.

What is shutter priority in photography

How does it work?


With a shutter priority mode, you select the desired shutter speed and the camera selects an aperture that will ensure the exposure you desire. The camera’s meter then reads how much light is coming through your lens, and adjusts for best exposure. If you want to achieve a sharp image while doing so, you must select a slow shutter speed. Fast shutter speeds will blur motion or render objects as streaks if it is faster than 1/250th of a second. If you want your images to be sharp enough that they may be used as a photo on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, then you should choose around 1/60th of a second or slower.

What is shutter priority in photography

(photo credit 1: Google Images images, photo credit 2: Flickr)

Read more: Things to Know When You Use a DSLR Camera: Beginner’s Guide

Which aperture should I select?


You may want to use a narrow aperture in order to get a shallow depth of field. If you are shooting at an F-stop of f/2.8 or slower, the depth of field will be shallow enough that your subject will be in sharp focus even if its background is blurry. A small aperture (for example f/2.8) generally allows less light through the lens than a larger aperture (for example f/4 or faster). This will minimize depth of field and make your subject stand out from blurry background.


You should choose a low aperture (for example f/8 or slower) when you want to use a wide aperture. A wider open, larger aperture will let more light in and will create a shallower depth of field. If you have a wide-angle lens, this can be achieved with the camera set to maximum telephoto. The ideal shutter speed would be in the range of 1/250th of a second for sharp images while using an f/4 focal length – which is the rough equivalent to f/8 on an SLR camera. Some professionals recommend using as little as 1/60th of a second for this purpose.


How to set up the camera?


Shutter priority mode is usually activated through a button or lever located on the back of most cameras. If you do not know how to find it, you can refer to some recommended reading: “How do I use my camera?”, wikihow guide and “Find out how to set up your camera” on Nikon’s website. Some cameras have more than one shutter speed to choose from (for example the Canon 5D Mark II and Nikon D600 have 2 options for selecting shutter speeds), however in this case you would want to select the slowest one as that will be the only one that is effective for best exposure. If you want to choose combinations of shutter speeds, a selector in the top of the camera is recommended.

Related article: Know How to Set up a DSLR Camera

What is best exposure?


The best exposure (for example, f/2.8 or f/4 for a shallow depth of field) will match the size of the aperture and focal length with your subjects being in sharp focus and the background blurry. When you shoot a moving subject, such as a bird flying in front of your camera lens, it will be easier to ensure that the image will not be blurry if your selected shutter speed is slow enough while maintaining a stationary position on your tripod or monopod.


In the end, shutter priority will help you achieve sharp or blurry images based on the speed you choose while taking into account what is the best exposure according to the scene. If violent actions occur in your photos, then it is recommended to use faster shutter speeds (shutter priority mode) because a fast moving subject may also blur your image. However, if you want a more artistic or pleasing look to your images (for example shooting at night), then you should use slower shutter speeds because that will make the image brighter and more colorful.

In the end, shutter priority mode will help you achieve sharp or blurry images based on the speed you choose while taking into account what is the best exposure according to the scene.


What is the right balance?


A handy rule of thumb is that your shutter speed should be at least 1 over your focal length. For example, if you are using a 50mm lens, then you should set your shutter speed at 1/50th or faster to achieve this balance. This rule of thumb works nicely as long as you aren’t trying to take photos indoors where there isn’t much light—then you might want your shutter speed to be a little faster than this so that you can capture all the available light. On the other hand, if you are shooting outdoors where there is a lot of light and you want to avoid blurred photos, then your shutter speed should be 1/100th or faster.


Many people like to shoot at the maximum aperture, usually around f2.8 or f4 depending on how much light they have. Other people like to reduce their aperture in order to increase the depth-of-field. In most cases this is overkill and brings your photo’s sharpness down quite a bit since (once again) it reduces your available aperture by one full stop. For example, if you have an aperture of f4 and then you change it to f8, then you have just lost a 1-stop difference in your exposure. This means that you will have to compensate for this loss by either increasing your shutter speed (by another 1 stop) or increasing your ISO setting (by another 1 stop). If you’re shooting outdoors, then the sun is going to be much brighter than indoors and so opening up the aperture will also provide more light.

Related article: Top DSLR Cameras To Buy Under 20,000 Rupees in India

What does it mean in practice?


When taking photos with your camera, take a look at what the shutter speed, aperture and ISO are set to. If they aren’t set correctly for the situation that you are in, set them accordingly. If you are in a situation where your ISO and aperture settings are correct for the lighting conditions, then you can try to get shutter speed as high as possible. In general, when taking photos indoors or when there is not much light, try to keep your aperture at around f2 or f4 and your shutter speed around 1/60th or faster. On the other hand, if you are taking photos outdoors where there is a lot of light and where you want to avoid blurry photos, then you can go as low as 1/125th or slower depending on how bright the light is. And of course if neither of these situations apply to you (i.e. you just want to take photos of inanimate objects indoors with plenty of light), then you can simply set your shutter speed at 1/100th or faster. This will ensure that your photos are well-exposed and you have a nice shallow depth-of-field.


Things to consider:

  1. Aperture and Depth of Field: The aperture controls the amount of sharpness in your images. The lower the number, the less in focus things will be; hence a very low number (like f8) will leave almost everything in focus while a very high number (like f22) leaves only one object in focus. The aperture also determines the depth of field: when an object is closer to the lens, it will be less in focus (i.e. blurrier) than an object that is farther away from the lens.
  2. Using a fast lens creates shallow depth-of-field: most lenses are not designed to take photos at very low shutter speeds, especially if they’re zoomed in on a subject (like you’re doing when taking pictures of people while they’re crossing the street). Therefore, you will have to increase your ISO setting using a tripod or by putting your camera on a low f-stop setting (like f22 or f11). This should result in a very blurry background.
  3. ISO: the ISO is how sensitive your camera is to light. As you increase the ISO, you will be able to take photos with faster shutter speeds even in low-light situations. However, increasing your ISO results in more noise, so it is important that you use good software (like Adobe Lightroom) to reduce this noise so that your photos don’t look grainy.
  4. Shutter speed: the shutter speed controls how long your camera’s sensor is exposed to light before the camera takes a picture of whatever scene is in front of it. Faster shutter speeds result in motion blur which is what you want to avoid (unless it is on purpose). So the faster your shutter speed, the less blur there will be.
  5. Flash: when using a flash, you will find that it increases your ISO setting meaning that you will lose even more of your depth-of-field. Depending on the situation, this may not be an issue or it may result in a blurry picture with motion blur.
  6. White balance: determining white balance can help your photos look more natural and avoid unnatural colors from appearing when taking photos outdoors.
  7. Camera settings: it is important to understand what various camera settings do before you start shooting photos. For example, having white balance turned off can result in a photo looking grainy and unnatural. Also, using a tripod or placing your camera on a low f-stop setting will produce blurry background photos even if you have great shutter speeds.
  8. Noise reduction: the more noise there is in an image (the pixels that the camera sensor captures), the blurrier the image will be as less of your depth-of-field will be visible. This makes noise reduction software (like Adobe Lightroom) very important for making your photos look nice (and avoiding motion blur).
    (example)Motion blur can be good if you’re taking photos of someone running or driving down the road. It can also be good for adding a creative effect to a photo (provided the scene is important; e.g. people crossing a street in front of you, a car driving past you, etc.).Taking photos of someone who’s running in the stadium at night (with no flash) and using ISO 6400 attached to an f-stop of 11 with settings on “sports” should produce an image that is in focus (the moving person). However, if you are taking photos of someone who is standing still near your lens, using the same settings as above should create motion blur across their entire body.In both scenarios, the person’s head should be in focus (as there is no motion blur). The lack of focus on the person’s face and upper body helps to make it look like they are moving or that they are chasing someone.

Learn about this technique called “bokeh” by watching the video below.

Also read: Top DSLR Cameras To Buy Under Rupees 50,000

How is the aperture of your lenses set?

When you’re taking photos, it is common practice to use a wide open aperture, especially if you’re shooting at night or during the day with very little light. Most lenses nowadays are capable of f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2.8 but there are two main points to keep in mind:

The smaller the number after the “f,” the more light can enter your lens and get to your sensor/film. The larger the number, the less light can get into your lens and reach your sensor.

The higher the aperture value (or f-stop), the more shallow depth of field an image will have (depending on how wide open it’s set). It won’t allow much light into your lens (thus producing a dark image) so you would need a very low ISO setting on your camera in order to take photos.

The higher the f-stop value (or aperture) is, the more light will be let into your lens. The lower the f-stop value (or aperture), the less light will let into your lens. A large f-stop number (f/1.4) would allow a lot of light to get into your camera and reach your sensor. At this point, a very low ISO would be needed in order to take an image, while a small f-stop number would produce a very dark image with lots of depth of field.

It is important to note that changing the aperture does not change what you are seeing – it only changes how much light gets in. After changing the aperture, if you still do not get a good exposure of your scene, your next option is to change the shutter speed (to let in more light).

If you want to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend that you watch the following video.


With all of this information at your fingertips, it should be easy to set up your camera for taking pictures in most situations. Understanding how each setting interacts with one another will help you produce better photos and really understand why things don’t turn out right when you shoot pictures. Remember: knowledge is power! Once again, please feel free to post any questions or comments below. I try to respond to each and every one of them. And don’t forget to check out my other photo guides if you need help learning how to use your camera.

Related article: Compact Camera vs DSLR Camera Difference: Detailed Comparison


What is a captured image?

Captured image means those images taken by digital devices that are stored in memory and later viewed in some way by the viewer that they have been captured by.

What is photo manipulation?

Photo manipulation is the alteration of any digital media downloaded from a camera, or manipulated on any computer via software such as Photoshop, utilizing various programs that allow for creative composition and special effects.

What’s an example of photo manipulation?

An example of photo manipulation would be the use of different tools provided to you through editing software to change lighting, color balance or elements (such as moving elements around within an image).

What are the benefits of this type of image?

The main benefit of RAW+ images is that people can see the details in an image which would be lost with a normal JPEG image file, as well as being able to manipulate them later with their editing software or other tools, without loss of quality compared to the original photo taken from the camera.

What is JPEG?

JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. It is a file format used to store digital photographs and other images with a particular degree of compression and different levels of quality. The lower the quality setting, the smaller the file size and higher the compression. More on JPEGs can be found here .


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