Aperture Priority Mode: Beginner’s Guide

Aperture Priority mode, the common abbreviations of which are “A” or “Av”, enables a photographer to fine-tune the aperture and ISO, while a shutter speed is set automatically by a device.

This camera mode is not fully automated providing overall control over some camera parameters while forbidding you to tweak other important configurations like ISO, for example.

aperture priority mode nikon canon

It is easy to define whether a camera supports this mode by checking whether there is a letter “A” on its body. You can usually find it on the Nikon, Fujifilm, Sony, Panasonic, Pentax, and Olympus cameras, whereas the manufacturers of Canon cameras denote this mode with the letters “Av.”

Praised for flexibility and speed, Aperture Priority photography brings the focus on the subject and composition, letting a photographer save time and effort in finding the most optimal exposure.

When to Use Aperture Priority Mode?

when to use aperture priority mode

If you are a newcomer who does not know well how to fine-tune your equipment and has no idea what is an exposure triangle in photography, Aperture Priority mode is a real lifesaver. There is no need to worry about the appropriate exposure, and optimal shutter speed, as these parameters, will be defined by the system automatically.

At the same time, a photographer is free to tinker with various apertures to see how they affect the images. Note that this mode is also popular among pro-level shooters who switch it on in various shooting scenarios to control the depth of field. Here are several examples:

aperture priority mode portraits

  • Portrait photography: If you need a narrow depth of field, the Aperture Priority mode will come in handy. With it, bringing a focus on the main subject and isolating it from the background is a worry-free procedure.
    As for camera settings for portraits, an f/2.8 aperture is the most optimal value to start with. However, if your shooting equipment is capable of wider maximum apertures like an f/1.8 or f/1, do not hesitate to use them.
  • Macro photography: This mode is also indispensable here, as it lets a shooter achieve a small depth of field. Switch it on and your close-up shot of flowers or insects will look amazing
  • Urban photography: A narrow aperture like f/8 is great for capturing the whole scene and bringing the focus to all its details

aperture priority mode landscape

  • Landscape photography: In this genre, it is crucial to take the complete scene in focus including both foreground and background details. Depending on your lens’ sharpest aperture, choose any value between f/7 and f/16.
  • Event photography: When the illumination is not stable, Aperture Priority mode is all-important, as it corrects the aperture value compensating for the continuously changing light.

When to Avoid Aperture Priority Mode?

when to avoid aperture priority mode

Most photographers cannot do without Aperture Priority mode, but sometimes this setting can deteriorate the quality of shots. Precise control over the depth of field is only possible in manual mode, which allows defining the opening of the lens' diaphragm on your own.

By tweaking this parameter, getting the depth of field required to produce the desired photos is a no-brainer. Check the examples below:

  • High speed photography: If you often take pics of very fast phenomena, shutter priority mode is what you need. It allows choosing a faster shutter speed to catch every move with extreme precision. Besides, you won’t have trouble calibrating the correct exposure, as the camera will do this job for you.
  • Night photography: Aperture Priority mode performs badly in low light, so it is impossible to achieve the correct exposure using it. All the efforts to deliver the desired shot results either in a slow shutter speed or a high ISO value.
    Switching on a manual mode to fine-tune the required parameters on your own is the most reasonable decision. In this way, you'll be able to achieve the needed exposure.
  • Bracketing photography: If you want HDR, manual mode is what you need, as it allows adjusting such bracketing settings as aperture or the ISO yourself. This provides you with overall control over the amount of light that hits the photo-sensitive element in a camera for each pic on the bracketed composition.
  • Flash photography: Shooting in Av mode, with flash activated, is a bad idea. Switch on manual mode to level the light from the flash and surrounding light.

Pro Tip:

Shutter speed can reach up to half a minute when photographing in Aperture Priority mode. If your shooting scenario needs more than 30 seconds, set the required time in manual mode 

How to Use Aperture Priority Mode?

1. One spin of the PSAM dial to “A” (or “Av” position) is what you need to activate Aperture Priority mode. Note that some Fuji and Leica cameras do not come with this function, so the owners of these devices should switch to Auto shutter speed mode.

aperture priority mode

2. Then, select your aperture and depth of field manually, deciding on the f-stop, with which you are going to shoot. Remember that Aperture Priority mode does not allow altering the selected aperture. So, setting this parameter correctly to get the required depth of field and other specifications is paramount.

3. Pick the right ISO in photography. If you are shooting unmoving subjects installing your camera on a tripod, you should adhere to the standard ISO, which is usually 100.

4. Release the shutter button to take the photo. Taking into account the selected aperture value, your camera system will define the most optimal shutter speed automatically to attain the right exposure. To check if the exposure is correct, look through a viewfinder.

If the picture you see does not satisfy you, calibrate the aperture or benefit from exposure compensation to override exposure settings picked by a camera automatically.


  • • Is Aperture Priority mode completely automated?

No, it is semi-automated, meaning that a photographer can control the exposure manually by configuring the aperture and ISO limits.

  • • Is the Av technique popular among professional photographers?

Yes, many pro-level shooters use Aperture Priority mode to eliminate the undesired stress when trying to take great photos. The only settings they need to fine-tune in this case are aperture and ISO. For example, portrait and wedding photographers prefer Aperture Priority photography as it lets them control depth of field easier.

  • • At what aperture settings can I get the sharpest pic?

Most lenses are sharpest at two or three stops from wide open. So, generally, photographers use ƒ/8 or ƒ/11 and the result is always satisfactory.

  • • What aperture allows focusing on the whole scene?

Shooting at f/22 aperture lets a photographer take the whole scene with both close and distant objects in focus. Known as a wide depth of field, this technique is opposite to the one that only highlights the main object blurring the background.

  • • How can I set Av mode to my camera?

If you enquire how to put my camera on aperture priority mode, find PASM dial on your equipment and turn it to “A” or “Av” position depending on your camera model. For example, Nikon photography cameras are fitted with a Mode button, which is specifically designed with this aim.

Some models with outdated designs (like Fuji and Leica) allow switching on this mode by spinning the shutter speed dial to Auto and setting the aperture manually on the camera lens.