There is a misconception that once you go manual, you never go back. I am talking, of course, about the shooting mode on your camera. There’s a karma around the idea of using any of the automated modes, and I think some photographers unfairly look down their noses at those who choose to use anything except full manual. Those photographers are actually few and far between, thankfully. They also listen only to records, pipe their guitars only through tube amps and they consider digital cameras a trend that will soon pass. But I digress. In actuality, most skilled photographers, professionals included, still use some of the automation built into their cameras. I doubt there are many skilled photographers shooting in full automatic, but there are two modes that I guarantee they all shoot in regularly: Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority, or as I like to call them, the Brother’s Priority. They’re a powerful pair, and their specialized skill sets will help you with most of your preferred setups.
Lets explore each a little deeper…
Aperture Priority: The Picky Brother
Aperture Priority, AP for short, is the picky brother. He’d like to focus his attention on the subject, and he’s willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the subject is the center of attention, even if that means the rest of the photo suffers from a condition known as bokeh. AP yields the power of the aperture to the photographer. It will allow the photographer to make the depth of field as deep or as shallow as is possible with the mounted lens, and it will do it’s best to accommodate. As you, the photographer, change the aperture, AP will fix the shutter speed so that exposure does not suffer. So go ahead and pick that deep depth of field and Brother Aperture Priority will take care of the shutter speed to produce the best photograph possible.
AP is ideal for piece work, portraits and landscapes (except when speed is a factor). It’s especially well suited when you’re working with a tripod and the length of the exposure has little or no importance in the outcome of your photograph. On the other hand, you want to use AP when you want to introduce some blur behind or in front of the primary subject, or if you want everything tack sharp.
For you pocket camera shooters, or even for those of you shooting on basic SLRs, there are a few modes (at least) that behave like AP. “Landscape” mode, for example, operates with a narrow aperture to yield a deep depth of field. “Portrait” mode operates to deliver a moderate to shallow depth of field, and so on. While these modes certainly make things easier, after shooting in and getting used to AP, these modes all become moot and possible even more complicated than tweaking a jog wheel.
So when the depth of field is the item you would like to have control over, Brother Aperture Priority is the one that will help you out.
Shutter Priority: The Fastest Kid On The Team
Shutter Priority, also known as SP, has the nickname Speedy. Depth of field and the blurred backgrounds aren’t a concern to him – both are merely a side-effect from his perspective. SP is going to put every effort into making sure the shutter speed you desire is met. That means you would select a shutter speed that is appropriate, and he does all the work to make sure the photo exposes well. If you were to change the shutter speed with SP in charge, he’ll change the aperture to accommodate.
SP is ideal for movement. If you want to freeze a subject, you will need a fast shutter speed, one at least faster than the speed of the subject. Perhaps it’s motion blur you’d like, then you’ll select a slower shutter speed. Accordingly, SP will alter the aperture so that the exposure is acceptable. Many cameras have a “Sports” mode which is great for freezing subjects. But if you really want to get that motion blur, you’ll have no choice but to use Brother Shutter Priority’s expertise. In my opinion, you might as well use SP all the time in such situation, because the Sports mode takes away all control, and it’s not like SP is all that complicated.
When motion is to be frozen or captured in all it’s blurry goodness, Brother Aperture Priority is the man for the job.
So now that you’ve met the brothers, I would encourage you to use them regularly. Between them, you’ll be able to capture about 80% (my estimate) of the shots you will ever want to accomplish. And while you’ll need to go full manual for the other 20%, Brother Aperture Priority and Brother Shutter Priority are skilled and simple enough to use as your default shooting modes. They offer the best balance between simplicity and control. So give them both a try. You’ll thank me for it.