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Photographing People: When to use Program mode, Shutter Priority, and Aperture Priority


Full Auto mode makes it easy for novice photographers to start shooting. While this may work while you’re still finding your way around your camera, it will limit you in the long run. If you’re serious about improving your skills as a photographer, you need to start exploring the other modes – especially Program Mode, Shutter Priority, Aperture Priority, and Flexible-priority mode.

Program Mode (P)

One thing you must know about Program mode is that it's used even by professionals and press photographers. Its aim is to allow for the best balance between shutter aperture to give a well-exposed image with sufficient depth of field and sharpness - giving you the focus to compose the frame and capture the ‘moment’. The camera assigns an exposure value as it reads the scene, at which the aperture and shutter speed will be set accordingly. While most cameras’ ISO start from 100, you may find some models which go below that. To understand Program mode, you will first need to understand ISO.

Shutter Priority Mode (Tv)

Shutter Priority mode is also known as Time Value (Tv) mode and it gives you the freedom to determine the shutter speed required for the shot while the camera figures out the appropriate aperture. Tv mode is mainly used when sharpness and fast movements are involved.

For a moving subject, be a jumping man or a running dog—requires high shutter speed to ensure there’s no motion blur.

On the other hand, you could then use a slower shutter speed to convey movement by creating a blurry trail to express movements. A waterfall with silky smooth water movements? Switch to shutters below 1/4seconds and remember to use a tripod to ensure sharpness to the other stationary objects. When lighting conditions gets too bright, use a Neutral Density (ND) filters to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. 

Aperture Priority Mode (Av)

This Aperture Value (Av) mode puts aperture as your priority, allowing you to decide on the depth-of-field (DOF) required in your images while the camera figures out the shutter speed. This frees up your mind to figure out the shutter speed required while focusing on getting that perfect shot.

When doing a portrait, you could shoot at a wider aperture for that shallow DOF to make your subject stand out. However, when you’re doing landscape photography—you may want to shoot on a narrower aperture to provide you with a deeper depth of field to keep more things in focus for the details in the background as well as the foreground.

However, do take note of your lens’s maximum aperture and the lighting condition when using Av mode as the shutter speed may go below the handheld threshold for sharp images. Adjust your ISO accordingly to maintain a shutter speed that you can comfortably shoot to achieve sharp images. 

Flexible-priority Mode (Fv)

This Flexible Value (Fv) mode was introduced on the EOS R system. As the name suggests, this mode is truly flexible as it allows you to switch between manual or auto for all the exposure adjustment (shutter speed/aperture/ISO) individually as and when you need it with a turn of the dial and a click of a button without lifting your eye off the viewfinder.

The flexibility provides you the freedom to make finer adjustments on the fly because it allows a combination of auto and manual for the exposure adjustments to suit the situation you're shooting in.

Now you’ve learned some basic knowledge of each mode, it’s time to try them out for yourself! 

Want to learn more about shutter speed? Here’s how to choose the right shutter speed for shooting nightscapes.
For more information on Program Mode, click here for Camera Basics # 15: Program AE (P mode)
Get to learn more about Shutter Priority mode by reading Camera Basics # 17: Shutter-priority AE (TV mode)
Interested in what Aperture Priority mode has to offer? Read Camera Basics #16: Aperture-priority AE (AV mode)

Download a copy of the infographic here.