Do you know what the [Tv] or [S] mode on your DSLR camera will do to improve your photography? If not, learn how to use those modes today!
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Learn When to Use Your DSLR’s [Tv] or [S] Mode
“I hear it tooting!” I exclaimed in a whisper to the birder standing next to me. “They said the nest is one of those holes in that tree, so keep your eyes peeled.”
We waited in silence as a Northern Pygmy Owl, a tiny owl smaller than a robin, glided to a branch high above us.
“He has a lizard,” my companion exclaimed.
The owl tooted again and looked at his surroundings. Probably wondering why a dozen people stood under the trees pointing large objects at him. The click and whirr of multiple cameras shooting as fast as they could filled the air. Before I got too carried away in the moment, I checked the last shot I’d taken and quickly adjusted my settings to [Tv] (shutter priority), and took a few more shots.
With one final toot, the Northern Pygmy Owl flitted to a small hole in a neighboring tree and thrust the lizard inside. We could hear his mate’s response as he disappeared inside.
“How did your photo turn out?” a fellow birder asked me. “With a long lens like that you probably got some good shots.”
“Let me check.” I previewed the photos and felt a surge of excitement. For the first time ever, I’d managed to take a good photo in bad lighting. “Not too badly,” I told her, and held out my camera so she could see.
“Nice! Lucky you,” she said. “It looks like I’ll need to mess with the exposure on the computer to make mine look any good.”
Welcome to [Tv] or Shutter Priority—the Second Semi-Automatic Setting
Yesterday I explained the [Av] or Aperture Value settings and explained how this setting will help you take more creative photos by allowing you to change your depth of field. Today I’ll explain the second element of exposure—shutter speed.
Canon cameras call this mode ‘Time Value’ and the little dial on your DSLR camera will say [Tv]. Nikon calls it ‘Shutter Speed’ and will display an [S] on the mode dial. When you use this setting, you tell the camera how fast to open and close the shutter, and the camera changes the aperture to create a good photo.
Photographers call [Tv] mode or [S] mode, as well as [Av] and [A] mode a ‘semi-automatic’ feature because the photographer controls one element while the camera controls the other.
Many photographers set their camera to aperture value [Av] and never venture further, including me. But in some situations, such as backlit birds, I could never get a decent shot. Why? Because although I chose how much light entered the lens by changing the aperture, the camera was choosing the speed the shutter opened and closed based on the overall light available in the scene.
When to Use the [Tv] or [S] Mode
1. Use the [Tv] mode when the lighting is tricky.
In the case of a backlit object such as a small bird, the camera would choose a fast shutter speed to let in the ‘right’ amount of light based on the aperture value I had chosen. Only the ‘right’ amount of light wasn’t enough to get a well-lit shot of a little bird against a bright background.
By moving the mode dial to [Tv], I could control how quickly the camera shutter opened and closed. This allowed enough light to bring out details of the northern pygmy owl without changing my ISO (don’t worry, we’ll get into an explanation of ISO another day) and creating a ‘noisy’ photo (aka, a grainy photo).
The background appears much lighter than it actually was, but I’d rather have a great shot of an owl than a perfectly blue sky that matches my memory.
2. To freeze action.
If you want to make sure you capture the perfect action shot, you can still move off [auto] and set the camera’s shutter speed yourself. Start with 1/500th of a second. Your camera will automatically adjust the aperture to accommodate for your choice.
3. Use the [Tv] or [S] mode in low-light or too-much light situations.
If your photos look underexposed (mostly dark), you can use the [Tv] mode to change the shutter speed and allow more light into the sensor. Conversely, if your photos look washed out (overexposed), you can use [Tv] mode to allow less light into the photo.
4. You want to show movement.
Photographers often use the [Tv] or [S] mode to keep one object in focus and show the movement of surrounding objects. If you want to take a photo of star trails, for example.
5. Photographing people outside.
If you want even lighting on your subject’s face, you can have them stand with their back to the sun and set your shutter speed to something slower. This will enable you to take great shots of their faces without all the harsh shadows.
Your Assignment for the Day
Find an object and photograph it multiple times, experimenting with your shutter speed settings.
- Move that mode dial to [Tv] or [S].
- Check your camera’s ISO. It should be set on 100.
- Find a backlit object (trust me, you don’t want to practice on birds). Set your camera to the slowest shutter speed possible. On my camera, it’s 30 seconds. Your photo should look blurry and washed out.
- Now change the shutter speed to the fastest speed possible. On my camera, it’s 1/4000 of a second. Take a photo of the same backlit object. What differences do you notice?
- Continuing changing the shutter speed and experimenting. The [Tv] or [S] mode takes getting used to.
- Load the photos on your camera so you can take a deep look at how they turned out and compare them side by side.
Point and Shoot:
This time you’ll want to start by moving the mode dial to [action] (usually an icon of someone running). Find a backlit object and take a photo of it multiple times. After each shot, change the mode dial each time to see which one works best (start with [action] and use [landscape], [portrait], etc.
On newer iPhones (iPhone 8 and above), you can still try this exercise. Start by just taking a photo of the object. Next, click on the object but DON’T hold your finger down as you did for yesterday’s assignment. Just clicking on the object once will tell your phone to meter the light from that area and the camera will adjust accordingly.
Come Back Tomorrow
Tomorrow I’ll explain what ISO is and why you should understand it.