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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Newhall

Aperture Priority, Shutter Speed Priority, and Manual. Which Setting Should I Use?

Updated: Jan 10

What's the difference between aperture priority, shutter speed priority, and manual? Which should I use and why? Frankly, I use manual all the time. I prefer it that way. But, unless you're using a mechanical film camera, it's not necessarily mandatory to do it that way. What is, in my opinion, very important, is that we get you off automatic! So here's how (and why) you should get off auto.


Aperture, alongside shutter speed, is probably one of the most important things to learn about in photography. The aperture is about how wide the lens is going to be when you open it (by clicking on the shutter). The lower the number the wider the aperture. The important thing to know (at least at first), is to know that the lower the aperture, the blurrier the background is going to be. That is why a low aperture is best used for more close up photos where the background is not important. The aperture will also increase (or decrease) the brightness of the image. I'll post about exposure later.

In the "Aperture Priority" setting of your camera, you will see that you can only control the aperture. The shutter speed, on the other hand, is automatic. I find this to be best for when you are doing close up photos or landscape photos. In other words, mostly photos of inanimate objects. Photos where "catching the moment" doesn't matter. It is really good to get used to one aspect of the camera by focusing on it before moving to manual. Trust me, it is much harder to take photos when you have to think about all the dials and settings!

Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is different from the aperture. The shutter speed is (unlike aperture) more literally named. Shutter speed is the amount of time the camera is open after you click the shutter button. In digital cameras you can go for very short time periods. Mine can go past .00125 of a second! Film cameras, particularly mechanical ones, can't always go that fast, but they still go pretty fast too!

stock photo of a long distance running team with a fast shutter speed
The faster the shutter speed, the more the image freezes

In your camera, the number for the shutter speed indicates what fraction of a second the shutter will open for. So, if the monitor says 125, that most likely means that the shutter will open for 1/125 of a second. The higher the number, the faster the shutter will be.

Now, on the other side of the coin, the shutter can be open for a full second or longer as well. In my camera that is indicated by ". So, 4" means that it will open for four seconds. In this case, the higher the number, the longer the shutter will be open for. This means that the camera will take in more information for longer. This can cause several effects, including making trails of light.

When you set the camera on "Shutter Speed Priority", this means that the main setting you control is the shutter speed. The camera controls the aperture, mainly determined the amount of light it will take in with a certain shutter speed. This can be extremely helpful when taking pictures where a lot of action is going on. Things like street photography or sport photography.

Another thing to know about shutter speed. the longer the shutter speed, the brighter the final image will be. More about "brightness" (aka exposure), will come in a later post. If you want to read some more on shutter speed there are other posts on the website.


Finally, we have the manual setting. I like to use this one with both my film and digital camera. With the film camera I have to, but with the digital one I choose to. I didn't originally though! When I originally started, I used a small camera with either shutter speed priority, or aperture priority. I used one or the other depending on what I needed. I later moved to manual, because I like having absolute control. But I don't suggest starting with manual. It can be very difficult if you don't know what you're doing.

With the Manual setting, you control both the aperture and the shutter speed. This has it's perks if you are looking to make a particularly strange photo (much like the ones in this post). However, if you are doing something like sports photography, you won't be able to change both the shutter speed and the aperture "in the moment". Unless you have super speed of course. Then you might be able to do it. However, without super powers, you'll have to make sacrifices.

Despite the challenge it presents, learning how to use Manual settings can be helpful; if only to give you a good challenge and learning opportunity. If, like me, you like having absolute control, and are willing to be frustrated from time to time, then Manual might be for you.


Well, now you know some of the settings you need for what type of photo! There is, of course, much more to this, but I can't possibly put everything into one blog post! I hope you enjoyed, and good luck in your photographic adventures!

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