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A: Aperture Priority Mode


You wouldn’t know it from its name, but Aperture Priority mode is one of the most useful and popular of all the professional modes. The mode is one of my personal favorites, and I believe that it will quickly become one of yours as well. Aperture Priority mode is deemed a semiautomatic mode because it allows you to control one factor of exposure while the camera adjusts for the other.

Why, you may ask, is this one of my favorite modes? It’s because the aperture of your lens dictates depth of field. Depth of field, along with composition, is a major factor in how you direct attention to what is important in your image. It is the controlling factor of how much area in your image is in focus. If you want to isolate a subject from the background, such as when shooting a portrait, you can use a large aperture to keep the focus on your subject and make both the foreground and background blurry. If you want to keep the entire scene sharply focused, such as with a landscape scene, then using a small aperture will render the greatest depth of field possible.

When to use Aperture Priority (A) mode

  • When shooting portraits or wildlife (Figure 4.7)

    Figure 4.7

    Figure 4.7 A large aperture created a very blurry background so all the emphasis was left on the subject.

    ISO 400 • 1/250 sec. • f/2 • 50mm lens

  • When shooting most landscape photography (Figure 4.8)

    Figure 4.8

    Figure 4.8 The smaller aperture setting brings sharpness to near and far objects.

    ISO 100 • 1/60 sec. • f/11 • 16mm lens

  • When shooting macro, or close-up, photography (Figure 4.9)

    Figure 4.9

    Figure 4.9 A small aperture was used to capture all the detail on the heads of the bees as they emerged from the hive.

    ISO 4000 • 1/320 sec. • f/8 • 400mm lens

  • When shooting architectural photography, which often benefits from a large depth of field (Figure 4.10)

    Figure 4.10

    Figure 4.10 I typically like to use smaller apertures for architectural shots, to keep everything in focus.

    ISO 100 • 1/200 sec. • f/11 • 50mm lens

So we have established that Aperture Priority (A) mode is highly useful in controlling the depth of field in your image. But it’s also pivotal in determining the limits of available light that you can shoot in. Different lenses have different maximum apertures. The larger the maximum aperture, the less light you need in order to achieve an acceptably exposed image. You will recall that, when in Shutter Priority mode, there is a limit at which you can handhold your camera without introducing movement or hand shake, which causes blurriness in the final picture. If your lens has a larger aperture, you can let in more light all at once, which means you can use faster shutter speeds. This is why lenses with large maximum apertures, such as f/1.4, are called “fast” lenses.

On the other hand, bright scenes require the use of a small aperture (such as f/16 or f/22), especially if you want to use a slower shutter speed (Figure 4.11). That small opening reduces the amount of incoming light, and this reduction of light requires that the shutter stay open longer.

Figure 4.11

Figure 4.11 A small aperture created the need for a long shutter speed, which helped add fluidity to the flowing water.

ISO 800 • 1/4 sec. • f/22 • 60mm lens

Setting up and shooting in Aperture Priority mode

  1. Turn your camera on, and then turn the Mode dial to align the A with the indicator line.
  2. Select your ISO by pressing the i button on the lower-left portion of the back of the camera (if the camera’s info screen is not visible, press the i button to turn it on, and then press it again).
  3. Highlight the ISO option, and then select OK.
  4. Use the Multi-selector to select the desired ISO setting, and then press OK to lock in the change.
  5. Point the camera at your subject, and then activate the camera meter by depressing the shutter button halfway.
  6. View the exposure information in the bottom area of the viewfinder or by looking at the rear display panel.
  7. While the meter is activated, use your thumb to roll the Command dial left and right to see the changed exposure values. Roll the dial to the right for a smaller aperture (higher f-stop number) and to the left for a larger aperture (smaller f-stop number).
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