The Joy of Aperture Priority

When I learnt to use a camera, it was with a fully manual SLR. It had a meter built in with a little stick on the side that moved up and down as you adjusted your aperture and shutter speed, balancing the two to get the image wanted with the exposure you needed.

These new fangled cameras, they can do it all for you, and many people think you need to be shooting in their manual mode to have full creative control. Not so!

I find aperture is what I want most control over in my image. Unless I’m doing a long exposure, I want to control the aperture and along with it the depth of field and sharpness of an image. Shutter speed is about making sure there’s no blur (unless wanted!) from moving parts of the image, or from me hand holding.

Back with my old manual camera, I’d set my aperture, then adjust my shutter speed until the little stick indicated that the metering was correct and then I’d take my shot. If the shutter speed was too low to hand hold I’d put it on a tripod. Of course, with my digital I have the option to increase the ISO as well. If I was shooting in manual mode with my digital, I’d still be relying on the cameras built in meter to tell me when it is correctly exposed. Only now the meter is a lot more accurate then the clunky old thing in my Fujica. So really, why not use aperture priority and let the camera speed up that process by setting the shutter speed for me?

Of course, in the end, the camera is just a machine and it doesn’t know if I want to purposefully overexpose or underexpose for a certain effect, and as clever as the metering is, sometimes it just isn’t right. What then?
Well, you could change to manual mode in these situations and do it the old fashioned way. But the alternative is exposure compensation. Most dSLR cameras will have this function. It’s often represented by a split black and white square with a + and – sign on it. (But consult your manual, I shoot Nikon and I’m not sure what every other maker does)
Hold this down and you can under or over expose your image to your hearts content. I’ve used a custom function on my camera to set my rear dial to be the exposure compensation control when in aperture priority mode so there’s no need to take the camera away from your eye, find the button and adjust the exposure, it’s as easy as spinning the dial with your thumb.

This allows the ease and speed of automation with the flexibility of full control when needed without switching modes.

I still use manual mode on occasion, but certainly not as often as I used to!

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