Adventures in Aperture Priority

When I teach students about photography, the first habit I want them to break is relying on the Automatic Mode.  Aside from P, the setting I encourage is Aperture Priority (A or Av on cameras).  Aperture Priority is a perfect mode to start expanding technical skills, especially once a student begins to grasp the concept of depth-of-field. 

For me, Aperture Priority is a secondary shooting mode that I will opt for if I think the conditions call for it (I’m more a Manual Mode shooter).  As such, one of those situations arose recently. 

While at the Jersey Shore with my family, we watched a Lifeguard Competition.  Ten teams participated. Since I always bring a camera along, I thought it would be fun and different to shoot.

The competition had a 6pm start time.  A heavy cloud cover loomed and gray abounded.  If the competition went long, any decent light would quickly vanish.  On the plus side - the light was flat.  This aspect basically assured keeping highlights in check.  As I scanned the setting, I realized that depth of field wasn’t going to factor much.  And with the even light, metering wouldn’t be difficult, so I choose to shoot in the Aperture Priority mode.  Dialing in f/8 with an ISO of 400, I instantly saw that I would have no issues shooting fast enough images using a 200mm focal length. 

With my camera set for average metering, I began to make images. 

Aperture Priority helped eliminate the need to concern myself with changing light or tonal qualities of the scene.  When the action commenced, I did my best to follow it.  I also decided, rather than run up and down the whole beach, I’d keep to an area that covered three teams.  This proved the best approach as I was able to capture a number of solid action shots and a few others that revealed a quieter side of the competition.

Given the conditions, I felt Aperture Priority afforded me the freedom I needed to create images I felt would best express the competition.  Had the sun shone more, the lighting a bit trickier, I probably would have paid more attention to highlights.  This aspect would have found me shooting in my more comfortable Manual Mode and spot metering, where I could better assess my conditions and continually make adjustments as needed.

I don’t consistently work in Aperture Priority.  This was a great opportunity to work with the mode and create some images I was happy with.  Everyone’s style of shooting is different.  You have to decide for yourself what exposure mode to shoot in and when.  Understanding your exposure choices is a great tool to have for unleashing your vision. If you are glued into a specific exposure mode, try turning it and try something a little different.  This awakens those creative ideas and in turn, helps bring about new and exciting images.