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S: Shutter Priority Mode

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S mode is what we photographers commonly refer to as Shutter Priority mode. Just as the name implies, it is the mode that prioritizes or places major emphasis on the shutter speed above all other camera settings (Figure 4.6).

Figure 4.6

Figure 4.6 Shutter Priority mode is great for freezing or showing motion. Use this mode when your shutter speed is of utmost importance.

ISO 200 • 1/1250 sec. • f/2.8 • 200mm lens

Just as with Programmed Auto mode, Shutter Priority mode gives us more freedom to control certain aspects of our photography. In this case, we are talking about shutter speed. The selected shutter speed determines just how long you expose your camera’s sensor to light. The longer it remains open, the more time your sensor has to gather light.

The shutter speed also, to a large degree, determines how sharp your photographs are. Even though an image may appear sharply in focus, any movement by the subject or the camera while the shutter is open can blur the image. If you think about it, when you are trying to show motion, you sometimes want a slower shutter speed because it blurs the image. When you want to freeze the action, you want a faster shutter speed.

A good rule of thumb for avoiding blurry images as a result of camera movement is to always use a shutter speed as fast as or faster than your focal length. For instance, if I’m out photographing my daughter with an 80mm lens, then I’ll want to make sure my shutter speed is at least 1/125 of a second, taking into account that the camera is not full frame, so the actual focal length is greater than the focal length of the lens. Anything less than that might cause camera shake (even if you’re equipped with biceps as big as Popeye’s). The D7200 has a 1.5x magnification, so if your focal length is 100mm, you hypothetically shouldn’t shoot less than 1/150 of a second.

When to use Shutter Priority (S) mode

  • When working with fast-moving subjects and you want to freeze the action (Figure 4.7); much more on this in Chapter 5

    Figure 4.7

    Figure 4.7 Freezing motion is a result of a very fast shutter speed.

    ISO 100 • 1/1250 sec. • f/2.8 • 160mm lens

  • When you want to emphasize movement in your subject with motion blur (Figure 4.8)

    Figure 4.8

    Figure 4.8 Emphasizing motion can be creatively achieved by using relatively slow shutter speeds. This technique, known as panning, is successful when the background is laterally blurred and most of the subject remains in focus.

    ISO 100 • 1/160 sec. • f/8 • 400mm lens

  • When you want to use a long exposure to gather light over a long period of time (Figure 4.9)

    Figure 4.9

    Figure 4.9 To capture the red glow of the Texas Tech logo on the barn, I needed to expose it against a darker sky after sunset. The 15-second exposure necessitated the use of a tripod and shutter release.

    ISO 100 • 15 sec. • f/14 • 17mm lens

  • When you want to create that smooth-looking water in a waterfall or rapids in a creek or river (Figure 4.10)

    Figure 4.10

    Figure 4.10 Flowing water is always fun to shoot. I used a tripod and shutter release to ensure that my own movement would not blur the image at this motion-emphasizing shutter speed.

    ISO 100 • 5 sec. • f/22 • 24mm lens

As you can see, the subject of your photo usually determines whether or not you will use Shutter Priority mode. It is important that you be able to previsualize the result of using a particular shutter speed. The great thing about shooting with digital cameras is that you get instant feedback by viewing your shot on the LCD. But what if your subject won’t give you a do-over? Such is often the case when shooting sporting events. It’s not like you can go ask your daughter to score another goal in her soccer game because your photograph was blurry from a slow shutter speed. This is why it’s important to know what those speeds represent in terms of their capabilities to stop the action and deliver a blur-free shot.

First, let’s examine just how much control you have over the shutter speeds. The D7200 has a shutter speed range from 1/8000 of a second all the way down to 30 seconds. With that much latitude, you should have enough control to capture almost any subject. The other thing to think about is that Shutter Priority mode is considered a semiautomatic mode. That means that you are taking control over one aspect of the total exposure while the camera handles the other. In this instance, you are controlling the shutter speed and the camera is controlling the aperture. This is important, because there will be times that you want to use a particular shutter speed but your lens won’t be able to accommodate your request.

For example, you might encounter this problem when shooting in low-light situations: If you are shooting a fast-moving subject that will blur at a shutter speed slower than 1/125 of a second but your lens’s largest aperture is f/3.5, you might find that your aperture display in your viewfinder and the rear LCD panel will blink. This is your warning that there won’t be enough light available for the shot—due to the limitations of the lens—so your picture will be underexposed. Your only remedy is to increase your ISO to accommodate the shutter speed needed.

Another case where you might run into this situation is when you are shooting moving water. To get that look of smooth, flowing water, it’s usually necessary to use a shutter speed at least as slow as 1/15 of a second. If your waterfall is in full sunlight, the aperture value might blink again because the lens you are using only stops down to f/22 at its smallest opening. In this instance, your camera is warning you that you will be overexposing your image. There are workarounds for these problems, which we will discuss later, but it is important to know that there can be limitations when using Shutter Priority mode.

Setting up and shooting in Shutter Priority mode

  1. Turn your camera on, and then turn the Mode dial to align the S with the indicator line.
  2. Select your ISO by pressing and holding the ISO button on the back left of the camera while rotating the main Command dial with your thumb.
  3. The ISO will appear on the top display. Choose your desired ISO, and release the ISO button on the left to lock in the change.
  4. Point the camera at your subject, and then activate the camera meter by depressing the shutter button halfway.
  5. View the exposure information in the bottom area of the viewfinder or by looking at the top display panel.
  6. While the meter is activated, use your thumb to roll the main Command dial left and right to see the changed exposure values. Roll the dial to the right for faster shutter speeds and to the left for slower speeds.
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