Your camera offers a lot of settings to make shooting easier.  While I’m personally a fan of Aperture priority mode (where you set the depth of field and let the camera do the most of the rest) I also find Shutter Priority (or Time Value) Mode quite useful. In this shooting mode, you tell the camera how long to leave the shutter open.  It will then determine the Aperture and ISO sensitivity. This is all part of shooting with the exposure triangle if you need a refresher.

Here’s a simple example with a spinning industrial fan.  This photo is being used for technical illustration purposes (not artistic).

compareThe image on the left has the longest shutter speed, nearly half a second.  The image on the right has the shortest shutter speed of 1/3200 of a second.  Comparing this is 0.4 seconds versus 0.00003125 seconds, which is a HUGE time difference. The first image was at ISO 100, so the sensor was least sensitive. In all other cases, I shot at ISO 800 since it was an overcast day and a need the boost to balance the exposure.

Here’s a  gallery so you can inspect the images in greater detail.

You’ll note that as the depth of field in the scene increases, the shutter speed slows down.  This is because more light needs to enter the camera to balance the exposure.  This essentially streaks the action.  Hence the fan blades become full of energy and motion.  With the shorter shutter speed, the blades appear to freeze mid-rotation.

Here are a few more shots that use shutter speed to achieve the desired result.


A 10 second exposure turned the traffic in this shot into streaks of light.


Using a short shutter speed was necessary to capture this bald Eagle.  Since the bird was moving a fast as a car, it was necessary to use a short shutter speed to freeze the motion.  Look closely at the water droplets and point of impact on the water’s surface.


While this image is a HDR file made from multiple exposures (learn more here), I did use longer exposures to blur the water. This turns the water into a silky ribbon.

The use of shutter priority is a natural complement to shooting Aperture priority.  It lets you control the amount of blurring in your exposure, especially when you want to drive the focus (or lack of) as a major part of an image’s narrative.


This Post Sponsored by:

Photoshop World, the ultimate Photoshop, Photography & Lighting Conference. Atlanta GA, April 8-10.  Use the promo code PSWFOCUS414 to discount $50 OFF a full conference pass. Learn more in three days than you have in three years! 

ViewBug  Stick With ViewBug & Photofocus throughout 2014 – because we’re announcing the biggest contest in Photofocus history — coming soon!

The HDR Learning Center Check out new ways to use High Dynamic Range photography to make compelling images. Free tutorials and posts to get results. Produced in partnership with HDRsoft.

Mosaic A complete solution for photographers using Lightroom who want to manage and share their photos. You can easily view images with their iOS app or web service. Plus your photos are backed up to the cloud with several plans to match your needs. Be sure to also check out the Lightroom Learning Center to learn new ways to work in Lightroom. Learn photography anytime, anywhere, and at your own pace—from bite-sized tutorials to comprehensive courses. Try free for 10 days by visiting Photofocus.

The Topaz Labs Image Enhancement bundle. Open up a world of creative possibilities with a seamless, integrated workflow. You don’t need to be a Photoshop wizard to look like one. Click here and use the code photofocus to get a 15% discount.

Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. The photos of the fan is a great illustration of the effect of shutter speed. I photographed an air show and my research on Google indicated propeller blur was better for those planes rather than a propeller that looked frozen. I chose a slow shutter speed to record the propeller driven planes, like this plane taxiing on the runway: I didn’t record the shutter speed because of the action and I shot six rolls of film that day.
    Sports: Using Aperture Priority may not make sense, but shooting Kodak Portra 800 at a nighttime baseball game, I switched to Aperture Priority set to my lens wide-open aperture and let the shutter speeds fall where they may.

  2. Reblogged this on geri emmelman and commented:
    I struggle with shutter priority ….

  3. I use it when using fill flash during the day. 1/250, gets the most power from your flash, saves on batteries and recycle times.


Let us know your thoughts...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus and Creative Cloud User as well as an author on Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.


Cinematography, Photography, Shooting, Technique & Tutorials


, ,