A photo of a dog running through water, taken using a high shutter speed with shutter priority.


Control time with shutter priority mode.

Learn how shutter speed can freeze or blur time for fantastic images.

Shutter speed and time

To understand shutter priority mode, you have to understand shutter speed. A fast shutter speed can crisply capture a fraction of a second and long shutter speed can show movement over time with artistic blur. With shutter priority mode, you can designate a speed and let your camera choose the other settings.

What is shutter priority mode?

Shutter speed priority, also known as shutter priority mode, is when a photographer manually designates a shutter speed for a given exposure and the camera automatically chooses an appropriate aperture and ISO setting to go with that shutter speed. Shutter Priority is usually labelled as “S” or “tv” for “time value” on most digital camera mode dials.

A photo of a person doing parkour, taken using a high shutter speed with shutter priority.

Put time first with shutter priority mode.

Use shutter priority mode to think first and foremost about time and speed without worrying about aperture or ISO settings. If you’re photographing a sporting event and want to get the athletes looking as crisp as possible, use a higher shutter speed with shutter priority and let the camera do the rest.


In general, a faster shutter speed requires a wider aperture, a more sensitive ISO or some combination of both. Exposures need light and it has to come from somewhere. If the camera is open only for a short length of time, it can make up for that by letting in a greater amount of light via a wider aperture or a higher ISO number (which makes the camera more sensitive to light). 

An action photo of a football player kicking a ball.

The shutter’s role in photography.

Photographers play with time. An image can show a fraction of an instant, like the exact moment when a bat collides with a baseball. Or a photograph can make the moment-to-moment flow of a waterfall look like dancing bolts of silk or velvet.


Shutter speed is the key tool photographers use to control time, one of the fundamental parts of photography’s exposure triangle. Exposure is a foundational principle of photography. It’s the amount and quantity of light that reaches a camera’s sensor, forming an image. The exposure triangle includes the following three elements:


  • Shutter speed is how long a camera’s shutter stays open for each capture. Shutter speeds vary widely, from 1/8000th of a second to several minutes.
  • Aperture controls the size of the lens opening. Also known as the f-stop, aperture value is measured in what’s known as an “f-number.” The lower the f-number, the wider the aperture.
  • ISO is how sensitive camera sensors are to light. ISO initially just measured film sensitivity. In digital photography, it measures how sensitive a camera’s sensors are when taking a given image.

When to use a fast shutter speed.

To freeze a fast-moving subject, you’ll want a fast shutter speed. If you’re photographing a sprinter and want to capture the exact moment that they cross the finish line, you’ll want a fast shutter speed to capture them without any motion blur, showing off their movement as if it’s frozen in time.

When to use slow shutter speeds.

A slower shutter speed helps illustrate the passage of time with motion blur showing a trail of movement. “Slow shutter speed is a way to imply motion,” says videographer Joshua Martin. “You’re not freezing time. You’re letting time pass in front of the camera. You feel the movement in the image.”


Shutter speeds can be very long indeed. With certain types of landscape photography or long exposure photography, a photographer will leave the shutter open for prolonged periods and capture slow, gradual motion. With long shutter speeds, headlights form trails of light across dark roads and dancers in motion are accentuated by dramatic blur.

A long exposure photo of a river.
A long exposure photo of a waterfall.

If you’re using slow shutter speed to keep the shutter open for a longer period of time, like in landscape photography, make sure that you stabilise your camera. A long exposure can show camera shake if you don’t mount your camera on a tripod or other support.

Get to know other shooting modes.

Mastering the exposure triangle can take practice. One of the best ways to familiarise yourself with what shutter speed or aperture does for an image is to use camera modes where you manually control one setting and let the camera automatically choose the others.

Aperture priority

In aperture priority mode, a photographer selects the aperture or f-stop for an image and the camera chooses the shutter speed and ISO. This is used often in portraiture, when you want the background to have a softer focus compared to the subject. 

Programme mode

This mode allows you to set a variable such as the ISO and the camera will choose an aperture and shutter speed based on those inputs.

Auto mode

Auto mode is exactly what it sounds like: You point the camera at your subject and it allows you to concentrate on image composition as the camera selects every variable.


In manual mode, the photographer adjusts every variable on their camera, leaving nothing up to automation. Photographers who want total control over every setting tend to shoot in manual.


“If you’re not ready to move from automatic everything to manual everything, shutter priority is a great stepping stone,” says George Fox University photographer Chris Low.


Once you know your camera, know the modes and know how speed, light and sensors work together to form an image, you have room to create. Eventually modes become less abstract and turn into familiar tools you can use to make images look how you want them.


“Try not to let any setting be a crutch,” says Low. “It’s a tool. Get your camera out of the way of your creativity.” When you know how to shoot in full manual, you’ll be able to imagine images first and then translate your vision into the language of a camera. “You make your decisions on your settings,” says Low, “based on what you visualise the photo to be.”

Exposure, Shadows and Saturation sliders superimposed on a close-up photo of a bee.

Perfect your photos with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

Shutter priority and other camera modes are only the beginning of making your photos look just right. After the shutter clicks and the sensor records an image, you can still adjust light, shadow and colour in Lightroom with presets crafted by and for photographers.


Take advantage of presets specifically designed for landscape and nature photography, accentuate the crispness of your subject with Clarity and Dehaze sliders or automatically select the background of an image to make localised adjustments. Control and edit everything about your images to realise your unique vision.

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Do more with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.