Aperture Priority Mode (Control Depth)

Aperture Priority Mode is a widely used camera setting that offers photographers greater control over their images’ depth of field.

This mode allows you to adjust the aperture size while the camera takes care of the remaining settings such as shutter speed and ISO, resulting in properly exposed images with a desired depth of field.

When using Aperture Priority Mode, you need to keep in mind that the aperture size directly impacts the depth of field.

A larger aperture (smaller f-stop number) will create a shallow depth of field, perfect for portrait photography or isolating subjects from their background.

On the other hand, a smaller aperture (larger f-stop number) will produce a deep depth of field, ideal for landscape photography where you want everything in focus.

Depth of Field Explained

When would you use aperture priority mode?

Depth of field refers to the range of distance in a photo that appears acceptably sharp or in focus.

A shallow depth of field is when a small portion of the image is in focus while the background is blurred out; this is often used in portrait photography.

Conversely, a deep depth of field keeps both the foreground and background in focus, which is typically used in landscape photography.

The aperture is the opening in the camera lens that lets light in and is expressed in f-stop numbers.

A lower f-stop number, such as f/2.8, will result in a larger aperture and a shallower depth of field, while a higher f-stop number like f/16 will create a smaller aperture and a deeper depth of field.

Here are some key points to remember when using Aperture Priority Mode:

  • Lower f-stop number correlates to a larger aperture and shallower depth of field
  • Higher f-stop number correlates to a smaller aperture and deeper depth of field
  • Aperture Priority Mode is suitable for controlling the depth of field and maintaining correct exposure

Using Aperture Priority Mode

Setting Your Camera to Aperture Priority

To begin using aperture priority mode, you will first need to set your camera to this mode.

Look for the letter “A” or “Av” on your camera’s mode dial, typically found on the top of a DSLR or advanced point-and-shoot camera.

Rotate the mode dial to the “A” or “Av” position to enable aperture priority mode.

How to Control Aperture

The aperture is adjusted by rotating the command dial, and the camera will automatically set an appropriate shutter speed based on your selected aperture value.

Here are some tips for controlling the aperture in aperture priority mode:

  • Aperture scale: The aperture is measured in f-numbers (f-stop). A smaller f-number indicates a larger aperture (more light entering the camera), while a larger f-number represents a smaller aperture (less light entering the camera).
  • Depth of field: A larger aperture (lower f-number) results in a shallow depth of field, creating a blurred background and isolating the subject. A smaller aperture (higher f-number) provides a larger depth of field, keeping more of the scene in focus.
  • Low light conditions: In low light situations, using a larger aperture (lower f-number) can help you capture well-exposed images with less noise.
  • ISO adjustments: You can also adjust the ISO settings for better exposure in challenging lighting conditions. Increasing the ISO allows the camera to be more sensitive to light but may result in increased noise in the image.

Understanding Focus and Aperture

Focus and aperture in Aperture Priority Mode work together to create different depths of field in your photographs.

What is the aperture priority mode setting?

F-Stop and Focal Length

Aperture is measured in stops indicated with f numbers, and a smaller f-stop number gives you a larger aperture to let in more light.

  • Large aperture (small f-stop number) = shallow depth of field
  • Small aperture (large f-stop number) = deeper depth of field

Focal length is another essential factor to consider, as it determines the angle of view and amount of the scene you can capture.

It is measured in millimeters (mm) and affects the depth of field as follows:

  • Long focal length (e.g., 200mm) = shallow depth of field
  • Short focal length (e.g., 35mm) = deeper depth of field

Shutter Speed and Motion Blur

While Aperture Priority Mode is mainly concerned with aperture and depth of field, it’s important to consider shutter speed as well.

Shutter speed determines how long the camera sensor is exposed to light and has a strong influence on capturing motion in your images.

Here’s how shutter speed affects motion blur:

  • Fast shutter speed (e.g., 1/1000s) = minimal motion blur, freeze action
  • Slow shutter speed (e.g., 1/30s) = more motion blur, blurring movement

Aperture Priority in Different Situations

Aperture priority mode can be used effectively in different situations like landscape photography, macro photography, and low light photography.

Landscape Photography

When it comes to landscape photography, the goal is often to capture sharp and detailed images of vast scenes.

Aperture priority mode offers an easy way to control the depth of field and ensure everything in the frame is in focus.

Generally, you would use a smaller aperture (higher f-stop number) such as f/8 or f/11, which increases the depth of field and keeps the entire image sharp.

Since aperture priority mode automatically adjusts the shutter speed, you won’t have to worry about correct exposure while adjusting the aperture. Just remember to:

  • Select a small aperture (higher f-stop)
  • Use a tripod if the shutter speed decreases too much (to avoid camera shake)
  • Monitor the overall exposure using the camera’s exposure meter

Macro Photography

In macro photography, where you are capturing close-up images of tiny subjects, controlling the depth of field becomes crucial.

Aperture priority mode helps to achieve the desired level of blur or sharpness in your images.

Shooting at wide apertures (lower f-stop number) like f/2.8 will create a shallow depth of field, allowing you to isolate your subject from its background.

On the other hand, using a smaller aperture (higher f-stop number) will give you more detail in both the subject and the background. Key points for macro photography:

  • Determine required depth of field (shallow or deep)
  • Select aperture accordingly (low f-stop for shallow depth, high f-stop for deep depth)
  • Use a macro lens or extension tubes for close-up photography

Low Light Photography

Aperture priority mode is also helpful in low light situations.

To capture more light and maintain a faster shutter speed to avoid camera shake, use a larger aperture (lower f-stop number) like f/1.8 or f/2.

By letting in more light, your camera can select a faster shutter speed while still achieving proper exposure.

If you still struggle with camera shake, consider using a tripod, or increase your ISO (Note: this may introduce more noise into your image).

In low light photography:

  • Use a larger aperture (lower f-stop number) to let in more light
  • Increase ISO if necessary (be aware of image noise)
  • Use a tripod or other stabilizing techniques for extra stability

Advanced Techniques and Settings

There are advanced techniques and settings that will help you get the most out of aperture priority mode, including exposure compensation and auto ISO, and the use of minimum shutter speed and shutter priority.

Do pros use aperture priority?

Exposure Compensation and Auto ISO

Exposure compensation is a useful feature when using aperture priority mode, as it allows you to adjust the exposure level, making your images brighter or darker depending on the scene.

In most cameras, exposure compensation can be adjusted using a dial or through the camera menu.

Here’s a general guideline for using exposure compensation:

  • Increase exposure compensation (+) for brighter images. This is helpful in situations where the camera is underexposing the scene, such as backlit subjects or snowy landscapes.
  • Decrease exposure compensation (-) for darker images. This can be useful in situations where the camera is overexposing the scene, such as a subject against a very bright sky or in harsh sunlight.

Auto ISO is a helpful feature that adjusts the ISO automatically based on the lighting conditions.

When using aperture priority mode, you can set the aperture and let the camera choose the appropriate shutter speed, while the camera also adjusts the ISO to maintain proper exposure.

This is particularly useful when shooting in changing light conditions, as you won’t have to manually adjust the ISO each time the lighting condition changes.

Minimum Shutter Speed and Shutter Priority

While aperture priority mode gives you control over depth of field by allowing you to adjust the aperture, there are times when you also need control over shutter speed to avoid camera shake or motion blur.

This is where the minimum shutter speed setting comes in handy.

The minimum shutter speed setting allows you to specify a threshold below which the camera will not drop the shutter speed.

For example, setting a minimum shutter speed of 1/200th of a second ensures that the camera will not use a slower shutter speed than that, regardless of the chosen aperture.

This helps in situations where you need to freeze fast-moving subjects or avoid camera shake due to hand-holding at slower speeds.

In some cases, you might want to switch from aperture priority mode to shutter priority mode.

Shutter priority mode allows you to manually set the shutter speed while the camera automatically adjusts the aperture for proper exposure.

This is beneficial when capturing action shots, where you need control over the shutter speed to freeze or blur motion.

To use shutter priority mode, simply switch from aperture priority mode using the mode dial on your camera or through the menu.

Tips and Tricks for Better Images

Using a Tripod and Remote Control

A tripod is a valuable asset when looking to improve the stability and overall quality of your photos.

By using a tripod, you can significantly reduce camera shake which may occur when using slower shutter speeds in Aperture Priority Mode.

Remote controls or timers can also be helpful in further minimizing any camera movement during the capturing process.

  • Make sure your tripod has a stable base.
  • Use a remote control or timer for taking the shot.
  • Lock the mirror up if your camera has this feature.

Mastering Composition

Good composition is key to capturing visually appealing images.

In Aperture Priority Mode, you can control the depth of field (DoF) by selecting the right aperture value (f/number).

Here are some aspects of composition to keep in mind:

  • Rule of Thirds: Divide your frame into a 3×3 grid, and place the main subject at one of the grid intersections.
  • Leading lines: Use lines to guide the viewer’s eyes through the image.
  • Foreground, middle ground and background: Consider these three elements while composing the shot to give it depth and perspective.


Lighting could have a significant impact on the quality of your images.

Here are some ways to achieve better lighting:

  • Shoot during the Golden Hour (early morning or late afternoon) for softer, warmer and more diffused light.
  • Use a reflector or external flash to provide fill light or add more light to specific areas in the shot.
  • In complex lighting scenarios, consider using manual mode instead of Aperture Priority Mode for more control over the exposure settings.

Popular Camera Brands’ Aperture Priority

Aperture Priority Mode is a camera setting that allows photographers to control depth of field by manually adjusting the aperture while the camera automatically selects the appropriate shutter speed for a well-balanced exposure.

This semi-automatic mode is helpful for both beginners and experienced photographers.

Canon’s Av Mode

In Canon cameras, Aperture Priority mode is also known as Av (Aperture value) mode. To enable Av mode, rotate the mode dial to the ‘Av’ setting.

Once in Av mode, you can adjust the aperture by rotating the command dial, and the camera will automatically compensate for the shutter speed.

Some notable features of Canon’s Av mode are:

  • Easy to use, allowing you to experiment with depth of field
  • ISO sensitivity can be manually selected or set to Auto ISO
  • Works with various lenses, including prime and zoom lenses

Nikon’s A Mode

Nikon camera users will find Aperture Priority mode labeled as ‘A’ on the mode dial.

Enable it by rotating the dial to ‘A’, and then adjust the aperture by rotating the command dial.

As with Canon’s Av mode, the camera will automatically adjust the shutter speed for the best exposure.

Nikon’s A mode shares similar features with Canon’s Av mode, such as:

  • User-friendly, perfect for experimenting with depth of field
  • Option to set ISO sensitivity manually or use Auto ISO
  • Compatible with a wide range of Nikon lenses

Additional Resources

Do pros use aperture priority?

If you’re looking to dive deeper into Aperture Priority Mode and learn how to effectively control depth of field in your photography, there are several resources available that can help.

Websites such as Shotkit and Photography Life offer comprehensive guides on using Aperture Priority Mode, covering everything from the basics to advanced techniques.

These resources are excellent for those who prefer to read articles and follow along with written instructions.

For more visual learners, online platforms such as Adobe and Digital Camera World provide informative articles, accompanied by videos or images that explain the principles of Aperture Priority Mode and depth of field.

Aside from articles, there are numerous YouTube channels that offer video tutorials on Aperture Priority Mode, demonstrating various techniques in real-time.

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