Aperture Priority vs. Shutter Priority vs. Manual Mode | Which is Best?
Camera Modes give the photographer control of the exposure triangle, the Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO. The different modes on a camera give the photographer control of different parts of the exposure triangle. For example, with Manual Mode, the photographer sets all three parts of the exposure triangle. On the opposite end of the control spectrum, Auto Mode allows the camera to determine all three components. In between are Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority, which we’ll get into later. But what is the best camera mode?
Some preach that the only way to take a decent photo is in manual mode. Others climb to the tops of proverbial, Internet-based rooftops to shout that this mode or the other is the true path to photographic enlightenment. In this article, we’ll discuss all of the camera modes, including aperture priority vs shutter priority, manual mode vs auto mode and more. The following article will review the following topics:
This article was originally written in 2015 and updated, reformatted and republished in 2022.
This is the most maligned and overlooked camera mode. In Auto, your camera does pretty much everything but point itself. In this mode, your camera makes all the decisions relating to exposure based on where your camera is “looking” and the light your camera’s sensor picks up. It will select shutter speed, aperture width, and ISO. You point your camera, click the shutter button and move on. Done.
When Should You Use Auto Mode?
This is kind of a catch all, “snapshot” mode, perfect for those that have neither the time nor the inclination to delve any deeper than the surface potential of their camera. Most professionals will avoid this mode because of the lack of control over the creative and technical components of an image.
Aperture Priority Mode
This mode is great for times when you want a nice depth of field with separation between the subject of your photo and the background. This mode allows you to choose aperture and adjusts shutter speed to compensate for lighting conditions. You are able to adjust the ISO in order to combat lower light situations as well. If you are in a darker environment, increase your ISO to allow more light to get to your camera’s sensor.
The key important difference in shooting in Aperture Priority (vs Manual Mode) is that the exposure will be adjusted by the metering mode. Depending on the metering mode we select (Spot Metering, Center-Weighted Metering, or Evaluative/Matrix Metering), the camera will determine the appropriate Median Exposure for us.
Because the camera determines the Median Exposure and the shutter speed for us, we will have less control when shooting in Aperture Priority. Exposure adjustments for the Median Exposure when in aperture priority must be made via Exposure Compensation. However, Aperture Priority is still a great mode to start shooting in if you are uncomfortable shooting in Manual Mode.
Tips for Shooting in Aperture Priority Mode
- In darker scenarios, look out for blurriness due to movement. This is a sure sign that you need to increase your ISO or that you may need to open your aperture some more (lower your f stop number). For example, if you are at f11, try dropping it down to f9 or lower based on how dark your photo turns out.
- In brighter situations, lower your ISO and decrease aperture width to allow for a greater depth of field.
- When you shoot in Aperture Priority, set your base ISO at the lowest possible native ISO setting.
Shutter Priority Mode
At your child’s ball game? Trying to capture some photos of the grandkids or your toddler running around the playground? This is likely the simplest mode for you as it allows you to control shutter speed. When looking to “freeze” motion, increase your shutter speed. The ideal shutter speed is going to vary widely based on the type of movement you are attempting to freeze. Start somewhere in the 1/250th of a second range and adjust things from there based on how the photo comes out.
- Fast motion needs a fast shutter speed in order to freeze it. This will decrease the amount of light you are able to capture. You can adjust ISO to give yourself a bit more margin for shutter speed, but don’t increase it too much.
- There are some instances where you don’t need a fast shutter speed but your shots in Aperture Priority (or another mode) come out slightly blurry because you are unable to hold the camera quite still enough. In these instances, try switching to Shutter Priority and increasing your shutter speed just a bit to compensate.
- A general rule of thumb is that you want the denominator in the fraction to be equal to or higher than the focal length of your lens. For instance, using a 50mm prime lens? Start with shutter speed at 1/50 and see how things turn out. You can always increase it if necessary.
The ultimate in control over the functions of your camera! You are the authority regarding aperture width, shutter speed, and ISO. This is the mode that I heard shouted from the rooftops as the “only mode with which to use your camera” for a while. It wasn’t until I actually began talking to some industry professionals and became more comfortable with my photography that I realized that Manual Mode is simply another tool that gives you the ability to get the shot that you are looking for. It’s not a magic mode that is going to help you skyrocket into photographic brilliance. However, I certainly recommend that EVERYONE take time to learn this mode and become proficient in its use.
How Do I Know If Manual Mode Is The Best Mode For This Photo?
Basically, this is something that you will learn as you become more acquainted with your camera and your personal preferences. I use this mode when things just don’t seem to be “gelling” for me in aperture or shutter priority. I think about my goals, such as:
- Am I trying to capture motion?
- If so, I might want to use Manual in order to increase my shutter speed while still maintaining my desired depth of field.
- Am I trying to capture a specific depth of field (blurred background)?
- Manual mode allows me to increase ISO and widen my aperture while keeping shutter speed within my control to avoid camera shake.
- Am I experiencing some “camera shake” where I can’t hold the camera quite still enough?
- There’s typically an adjustment that I can make in Manual to increase my shutter speed just enough to get rid of that tell-tale blur.
Ultimately, there are tons of options and it’s very easy to become overwhelmed when trying to determine which is best for you. The most important thing to remember is to get out there and shoot, shoot, shoot! You will learn more by doing that than you will any other way. Another invaluable resource to check out is Photography 101 if you are looking to improve yourself as a photographer!
Camera Modes in HDR Photography
When shooting HDR images, there are two camera modes that you should shoot in: Aperture Priority or Manual Mode. If you are not comfortable shooting in Manual Mode just yet, then stick with Aperture Priority. In this article, we will discuss the differences and benefits between Aperture Priority and Manual Mode.
Using Manual Mode for HDR Photography
On Canon 5D Mark III, we have turned the dial to “M” which means we are shooting in Manual Mode.
If you are more comfortable with your camera and its settings, and have also shot in Manual Mode before, then choose Manual Mode when shooting HDR images. Like shooting in Aperture Priority, you will also select the lowest possible native ISO setting. After you have selected your ISO setting, dial in your aperture. However, in Manual Mode, you will control your own shutter speed to obtain your Median Exposure.
Instead of automatically adjusting the exposure settings like it does in Aperture Priority, the metering mode that you have selected will simply be a guide to help you dial in the appropriate Median Exposure when you shoot in Manual Mode. Shooting in Manual Mode will give you more consistent image exposures, as well as much more control in dialing in the perfect Median Exposure.
If you are not comfortable with your camera just yet, shooting in Aperture Priority will give you one less thing to worry about – the exposure. The metering mode that you have chosen will determine the Median Exposure needed in your image. However, practice shooting in Manual Mode to see what it’s like to control the exposure.