Shoot Like a Pro: Tip #2

My camera in time priority mode

Tip # 2 is: Learn to use T or Time mode.

This tip is really an extension of Tip #1, take your camera out of automatic mode. Yesterday I explained the Aperture mode. Today I’ll cover Time mode. In T or Time mode, you control the exposure time and the camera adjusts the aperture for you to get the right exposure.

You will use Time mode when you need to be sure you have a certain shutter speed and the aperture is less important. Examples of this might be shooting sports or wildlife or perhaps even your dog running around. To freeze this motion and prevent blur in your image requires a fast shutter speed. Time mode lets you control the shutter speed and therefore motion blur and worry less about the aperture. Another place where time or shutter speed important is if you’re hand-holding a camera, especially with a long lens, and you want to prevent blur caused by your own motion. A fast shutter speed will help here too.

12 Mile Beach Pool

There will be a number in the viewfinder or on the screen on the back of your camera that indicates the shutter speed and you will be able to adjust this with a wheel or dial on your camera somewhere. On my camera, adjustments to shutter speed and aperture are both made with a wheel just behind the shutter release button. It’s super convenient and you can use it without taking your eye off the viewfinder.

The numbers in the viewfinder will be something ranging from 10 or 15 on up to hundreds or thousands. These numbers are actually the denominator of a fraction. Ten means 1/10th of a second 500 means 1/500th of a second. There are other numbers that represent numbers greater than a second and their designation varies a bit but you might see something like 1’3”, which would mean 1.3 seconds.


Generally speaking, anything under maybe 1/15th of a second is too slow to hold without blurring the image. 1/60th of a second is safer with a normal lens. With a longer lens, you will need shutter speeds approximately one over the focal length or 1/200th for a 200 millimeter lens in order to hand hold the lens. Depending on how fast the action is, you may want speeds faster than this.

Note that you can always see both shutter speed and aperture numbers in your viewfinder. In T mode you are adjusting the shutter speed, but the aperture changes inversely to let enough light strike the sensor for a proper exposure. The same is true for Aperture priority mode. You adjust the aperture and the camera adjusts the shutter speed for a proper exposure.

Rocks and Sand I

So what happens if you want a really fast shutter speed and there’s not a lot of light? Your aperture will open all the way and you won’t get enough light for a proper exposure. The same is true if you want to stop way down on the aperture to get a deep depth of field. The camera will slow down the shutter speed until it can get enough light into the camera for a proper exposure. But maybe now you won’t be able to hand hold the camera without blurring the photo.

That brings us to the third leg of a camera’s exposure equation, which is the ISO setting. We’ll cover that next time.

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