Photo by Anna Kumpan on Unsplash
Before we can understand what aperture priority mode is on your camera, we need to understand what aperture itself is. The aperture determines exactly how blurry or detailed your background will appear in a photograph.
As an example, a larger aperture of f/1.4 is going to make your background appear soft. This type of aperture is better for shooting in low-light situations. On the other hand, a small aperture of f/22 is going to capture additional details in the background of your photographs.
Aperture is one of the best ways to experiment with various depths of field. With the right aperture, you can make your photos stand out significantly better than when ignoring the setting. This is why aperture priority mode is so important. It gives you more diversity and options with your photography.
What Is Aperture Priority
Aperture priority is a mode on your camera that allows you to control the aperture, the white balance, and the ISO. However, aperture priority does not involve your shutter speed. Instead, your camera will continue to change the shutter speed depending on the changes in light. In aperture priority, you are absolutely not able to adjust your shutter speed manually.
Why is aperture priority so great? It gives you complete control over the most important setting on your camera. The only other way to have full control over your aperture is to switch into full manual mode. It’s important to have your aperture correct before messing around with any other settings.
Another great advantage is that aperture priority mode is quick to use. Manual mode is a bit more sluggish, taking more time to properly set up for each photograph while the light is changing. When used right, aperture priority mode gives you quick access to optimal settings for your camera faster than manual mode.
To give you a real-world example, let’s say you want to use an aperture of f/5.6. You want to take a bunch of photos using the same aperture but the light is inconsistent. Rather than adjusting all your settings as the light moves in and out, simply switch to your camera’s aperture priority mode, choose f/5.6, then let your camera adjust all other critical settings on its own. Aperture priority literally makes the aperture the priority, maintain your f/5.6 throughout the entire shooting session.
How Do I Use Aperture Priority Mode?
To use aperture priority mode, it’s as easy as turning the dial on your camera. You want to turn your dial to either A or Av. The next step is to enter your aperture manually into the camera. This means the f-stop setting that you’re going to use. Keep in mind that your camera will never change the aperture once you’ve manually set it. You will need to change it yourself each time you require a different depth of field.
Once you have your f-stop manually entered, it’s time to choose the proper exposure compensation. You don’t want to accidentally overexpose the features in your picture. The exposure compensation will normally be between -0.3 or -0.7. The exposure compensation alters the shutter speeds selected by your camera to give you the desired exposure.
The last thing is to choose your ISO. Unless you’re in some kind of unique situation in which you need exceptionally high ISO, it’s recommended that you stick to the base ISO, which is normally 100 on modern cameras.
As you can see, using aperture priority is very easy. It’s also super quick. If you’re working on some landscape photography, it’s easy to pick the proper aperture, a reasonable exposure compensation, and then your base ISO. It takes just a few seconds and you’re ready to start shooting.
Plus, it doesn’t matter what happens with the light. Your settings are optimal even if you end up shooting in and out of shadows or if you get into some trouble with clouds. Your camera is going to work all of that stuff out on its own.
When Should I Use Aperture Priority Mode?
Aperture priority mode is such a flexible and versatile mode to shoot in that you can probably use it at least 95% of the time, regardless of genre. This means you can use aperture priority mode to shoot in just about every situation.
The only time you don’t want to use aperture priority mode is if you’re doing night sky photography or taking pictures of the Milky Way. Automatic exposure in this case will give you the poorest results imaginable. Your images will end up too dark and will be inconsistently exposed. If you’re taking star photos, pictures in extremely dark locations, or if you’re trying to capture an immense panorama, we recommend switching into manual mode.
Also, aperture priority mode will always restrict your shutter speed to a maximum of 30 seconds. If you’re planning to use your camera’s bulb and take long-exposure photographs, you also must switch to manual.
The same can be said for flash photography. Aperture priority will not give you enough control to balance the flash with the ambient light. For example, any kind of macro photography that you’re doing with the flash must be in manual mode.
The rest of the time, aperture priority mode is perfect. If it’s daylight, if you’re shooting sports or wildlife, or if you’re taking portraits – aperture priority mode is ideal.
Aperture Priority & Handheld Mode
You can still use aperture priority mode at night and in dark conditions. It’s not ideal for taking pictures of the night sky or the stars, but you can still use it when it’s darker outside. But there is something you should know about aperture priority and handheld mode when it begins to get dark.
Because aperture priority mode forces your camera to select the shutter speed on its own, your camera is going to automatically choose longer shutter speeds in darker conditions. For example, your camera may choose a shutter speed of up to two seconds when the lights start going out. If you’re shooting in handheld mode, this is going to be a nightmare. A shutter speed of two seconds is too long for you to hold the camera without jerking it at least a little bit.
But there are two fixes for this. You can use a tripod. Aperture priority mode works excellently with a tripod. Another solution is to increase your ISO. Forget your base ISO and push it up to 800 or 1600. This will automatically convince your camera to use a quicker shutter speed to compensate for the higher ISO. Then you can get back to taking pictures without a tripod.
Aperture Priority & Automatic ISO
When you go into auto ISO mode, there are a few more settings that we haven’t talked about yet. Auto ISO comes with a shutter speed limiter. This doesn’t set your shutter speed for each photo. Instead, it simply puts a ceiling on the shutter speed so that you don’t accidentally end up with your shutter at 2 seconds when shooting in aperture priority mode. A safer value would be 1/100. This will prevent your photos from being blurry because of a wild shutter speed.
That said, you might want to bump it down to 1/500 or even 1/1000 if you’re taking action shots. The shutter speed is still being set automatically, only it will be kept within reasonable limits.
Aperture Priority vs. Shutter Priority
At this point, you may be wondering what the difference is between aperture priority and shutter priority. The major difference here is that the aperture priority mode will keep your aperture fixed while automatically changing your shutter speed. This is ideal for anyone who wants a continuous depth of field in their pictures.
But if you’re using shutter priority mode, your shutter is going to be the one at a fixed speed. Everything else changes. This is a better mode to use if you’re doing action photography.
Experimenting With Different Apertures
If you’re a beginner and you feel overwhelmed, there’s a surefire way to master the art of aperture priority mode. The best thing to do is experiment with different apertures. Because when you use aperture priority you don’t need to switch between shutter speeds and ISO values, you can easily change your aperture. Start big and go low, take photographs of the same subject, and figure out for yourself just which aperture works best for what target.
Aperture priority mode is one of the favorite modes of professionals and one of the easiest modes for beginners. For those new to photography, aperture priority is great if you don’t quite understand manual mode yet. It’s a faster way to get optimal settings. Aperture priority also works as a simplifying introduction to the nuances of taking pictures.
That said, aperture priority should not be used as a crutch for those who feel too overwhelmed by the rest of the settings. Be sure that you master your aperture, your exposure, your ISO, and your depth of field by taking a lot of pictures using aperture priority! Then move on to experimenting with full manual mode.
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