I posted tips on shooting wildlife last week. I mentioned that I often shoot in Shutter Priority Mode. Jason asked in our comments section why I didn’t shoot in Manual Mode and I thought that question would make for a good blog post.

Before I got my first D3, I used to shoot wildlife in Aperture Priority Mode. This was designed to give me both a shallow depth-of-field (which helps make a nice background, isolating the animal) but also defaults to the fastest shutter speed available for any given ISO.

The problem is that the fastest shutter speed for any given ISO might not be fast enough. That’s because prior to the D3, ISO above 800 was rarely good enough for me to be happy with the 17 inch by 22 inch prints I’d make on my Epson 3800.

When I got the D3, I found that I could easily shoot 1600 and even 3200 ISO and get good large prints. So I decided to use Shutter Priority Mode and default to 1/750th of a second when using my Sigma 300-800 F/5.6 lens. (My default lens for most of my wildlife images.) Sometimes I even select 1/1000 of a second or faster if I am in good light. While part of the reason for the fast shutter speed is my desire to freeze the action – the other reason is to avoid blur from camera shake. Long lenses magnify any camera movement.

Jason wanted to know why I didn’t use Manual mode. I do sometimes, just not most of the time.

When you’re tracking a fast moving elk, or sheep or bird moving across your frame, you literally have a split second to make all of your decisions. If the animal moves across the frame into different light, then you don’t have time to adjust aperture AND shutter speed. So I default to a fast shutter speed.

The one exception to this is that when I use AUTO-ISO on the D3 I do shoot in Manual Mode. That way, the camera lets me pick the faster shutter speed and typically wide open aperture and the camera selects the appropriate ISO.

I’m using this method more and more often, but looking at my photos from the November trip to Bosque, I used Shutter Priority about 55% of the time and Manual only 45% of the time.

As I continue to grow more comfortable with the Auto ISO feature on the D3, I’ll probably use it more and shoot more in Manual Mode. If I didn’t have Auto-ISO I’d never shoot fast-moving animals in Manual – but rather Shutter Priority.

I hope this helps.