time priority – control time settings on your camera

Time priority mode in photography

learn to control your camera settings – lesson no 5

In this tutorial we are going to learn the time priority mode on your camera. Starting with this instance we are going to take one small step at the time and play with only one setting until you are able to understand it and control it. We are going to see few samples and reach a conclusion on what is time priority, how it works, why we should use it and when.

Time priority mode definition:

Time priority is the the setting of your camera when we can tell the camera how long to expose and let the camera choose the other 2 settings of the triangle of exposure  ISO and Aperture. The ISO settings can be also locked and the only one variable will be the Aperture. You can switch to time priority mode by dialling the settings controls on your camera on Tv symbol. Depending on your camera it might be slightly different but I am sure you will find it in your camera manual if not already obvious.

Why choose time priority mode:

Telling the camera how long to expose is useful in the following situations:

freeze the action either for action shots or moving objects. You might be in the situation where the camera moves or the subject moves. You need to make sure you have the shortest exposure in order to see the movement stopped and have a sharp image. The faster the action goes, the shorter the time you need to let the light in the camera. The general rule of thumb is to choose 1/1000-1/500 of a second for very fast moving objects. For normal moving people somewhere in between 1/250-1/125 will do the job just fine. Times slower than 1/90 seconds will start to show the blur as the sensor will receive moving light on the sensor.

long exposure in low light and night photography. There are many situations where there is not enough light and you need to expose for longer to allow the sensor to get some light. Also night photography the long exposures are a must in order to pick up the movement leaving long light trails.

Just word of advice, times longer then 1/90 of a second will require a tripod as you will never the be able to have a steady camera, even if I keep hearing other photographers they shoot 1/90 – 1/60 with the camera in their hands.

What time settings you can choose

Most of the cameras allow you to choose in various increments such as: 1/800o, 1/6000, 1/4000, 1/3000, 1/2000, 1/1500, 1/1000, 1/750, 1/500,1/350, 1/250, 1/180, 1/125/ , 1/100, 1/90, 1/60, 1/45, 1/30, 1/20, 1/15, 1/10, 1/8, 1/6, 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, 1/1.5, 1 second, 1.5″, 2″, 3″, 4″, 6″, 8″, 10″, 15″, 20″, 30″ seconds. For more than 30 seconds you will need to switch to the BULB mode and keep the time as long as you want manually.

time priority exercise for action during the day – 1

The best easiest and fastest way to learn how your camera is to gradually test each setting. In the following example all the above settings have been tested until the limitations of the camera are reached. This is taken in full sunlight , midday, and it shows a normal garden hose with a strong water jet. The shorter the time setting , the more clear you can see the drops.

The camera settings are:

Time priority mode, ISO automatic, and camera will choose the Aperture by itself

We have started with 1/8000 of a second. You can see individual drops, and because we had a very strong water stream, there are still not cristal clear. This is just to prove our point. You can try this on a natural spring or a water fall.


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1/500 – the drops falling freely separate than the water stream have a lower speed and they are clear and sharp.

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1/125 – AS we can observe in the image below, the drops falling separately from the jstream are starting to become blurry. They do not have the same speed like those in the main stream and they are just falling with normal shower speed. This tells us that 1/125 is about the longest time setting you need for a normal situation – please note again that the water stream is quite strong just for illustration purposes. Also as you can note, the water stream is loosing the clarity becoming more and more blurry.

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1/90 – start

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1/6. you will start noticing the image getting lighter. The camera has reached its limitations in selecting the fastest ISO (100) the the smallest aperture 22 in order to compensate the exposure for the long time. From this moment images will turn out overexposed

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0.3 seconds

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0.5 seconds

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0.7 seconds

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1 seconds

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1.5 seconds

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As you can see above, we took the every time setting to test it in a normal day light. In conclusion, the shorter the time, the more clear you can see the drops hence, the shortest the time, the better you can freeze motion.

 Time priority exercise at night 2

Let’s explore the low light during night time for a different approach

The images below were shot on a bridge during night time towards the street.

1/8000 – obviously the image is very dark as the camera is limited

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1/1500 – of course is a nice dream to use such short exposures during the night

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1/350 – we are starting to pick up some details

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1/125 – the image is starting to appear. aperture is the largest, the ISO is the highest. whatever the detail appear is sharp enough for a decent image

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1/90 the visible details are ok as long as the camera is on tripod , but cars in motion and their lights are getting slightly blurry

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1/30 – the exposure is starting to be correct as the time is reaching the normal relation withe the exposure and ISO. From now on, the image will be correctly exposed to reflect the real lighting

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1/20 – the trail are becoming visible. the blurr is resulting of the long exposure

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1/4 – light trails are becoming obvious

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1/3 – the light trails are getting longer and longer and the cars are starting to disappear

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1/2 – the cars are disappearing and the light trials are showing the distance of travel during the exposure

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0.7 . longer trails. They show the trip of the car within 1/7 seconds

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1 second

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4 seconds

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5 seconds

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8 seconds

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15 seconds

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20 seconds

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30 seconds

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As you can see above all the images have the correct exposure due to the fact the camera compensates the ISO and the aperture for the long exposure. Obviously the night photography is all about long exposure. In the time priority mode, the limit is 30 seconds and that is why for longer exposures like 30 minutes or hours, the BULB mode will be the correct choice but that is the subject of another article


As observed in the exercises below, the time priority mode is the choice when you need action freeze , or on the contrary the night long exposure. As a professional photographer, I choose to use time priority for daylight photography, within decent levels of light, in between 1/500 and 1/125. Slower exposures than 1/90 will require a tripod


we are proposing you do 3 similar exercises as per above, one in medium light, one in full sun light and one in low light and test your camera in time priority mode, with ISO on automatic. Do not worry about anything else but the time setting and go form the shortest to the longest that your camera allows you to. Take for each one of the tests a full set and compare.

Practicing by yourself is the best and the fastest way of learning and understanding your camera. This method will get you results you will be happy with, and help you understand what you have done. If you come up with great images, feel free the share them with us. After the 3 sets of exercises, you should know what time settings will be suitable for each lighting condition.




About Christian Tudor

professional photographer, main editor at Academy of Photography and