Tv (or S) stands for “Shutter Priority Mode”
Have you ever wanted to capture a colorful bird mid-fight, or perhaps blur the water of a stream while it rushes over a mess of jumbled boulders? “Tv” on your Canon, Pentax, or Leica (or “S” on Nikon, Minolta, Konica Minolta, Sony, Olympus or Sigma) stands for Shutter Priority Mode and it’s most useful when you’re dealing with the movement of subjects through or within the frame.
Tv is a “priority” mode that lets you specify a shutter speed and leaves the camera to figure out everything else (aperture, ISO/ASA). Choose Tv mode when you want to control motion in your shot (often in order to either “freeze” or “blur” it).
When You Need To Set Your Camera to Shutter Priority Mode
Setting your camera to Tv or S on the mode dial is ideal when the main consideration of portraying the scene is movement, because how a camera “sees” movement depends on how long the sensor is exposed to it, or how long the shutter is open. Tv actually stands for Time Value (or S for Shutter), and that’s an easy way to remember what it’s doing because the shutter on your camera is what physically controls the time of an exposure.
The sound your camera makes (if it makes a mechanical sound when you shoot) is the sound of the shutter opening and closing. Click clack!
To Blur Motion = Use a Slow Shutter Speed (a long time)
To Freeze Motion = Use a Fast Shutter Speed (a short time)
To freeze things trying shooting in shutter priority mode with a blazing fast shutter speed, like 1/2000 of a second. To blur them, slow it waaay down, like 1/2 (half a second) or 2″ (two seconds). How fast or how slow your shutter speed needs to be in order to accomplish a desired effect depends on how fast or slow a subject is moving.
What You Can Get by Using Shutter Priority Mode On Your Camera
The “ghosted” water effect seen in the two shots above were made by setting shutter speeds – using Shutter Priority Mode – slow enough for the water to move during the exposure. The top one used a shutter speed of 30 seconds, while the bottom used a two second shutter speed. The amount of blurring you get will depend on how much the water moves during your exposure. Don’t forget your tripod! Locations: Rock Islands, Palau (top) and the Andes, Argentina (bottom).
The “freezing” of the subjects in these two shots was made by setting shutter speeds – using Shutter Priority Mode – fast enough so that they each moved very little during the exposure. The top one used a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second, while the bottom used 1/500th of a second. As things move more quickly, the faster a shutter speed you’ll need to freeze them. Locations: Sedona, Arizona (top) and Flagstaff, Arizona (bottom).
I hope you get the idea! But yeah, consider using Tv or S mode to ensure that your camera shoots a (fast or slow) shutter speed of your choice when you’re chasing these kinds of shots:
- Blurred or “ghosted” water tumbling over the rocky bed of your favorite river (slow shutter speed)
- Light “dragged” by the tail lights of a passing car on a dirt road through the mountains (slow shutter speed)
- The form of your buddy mid-air, moments after launching his 29er off the lip of a root (fast shutter speed)
- The perfect curl of a breaking wave that you’ve snuck your way into you lucky devil you (fast shutter speed)
Your ability to blur or freeze motion is one of your primary creative considerations when you’re out and about in this world, doing fun stuff and aiming for images that will make people look twice. Mastering the Tv setting will come in handy.
Remember that because of the laws of light (controlled by shutter speed, aperture, and film speed), you’ll typically need lots of light to shoot a very fast shutter speed, and low levels of light to shoot a very slow shutter speed.
Will My Camera Need To Be On a Tripod?
If you are going to use a slow shutter speed to intentionally blur all or part of your image (let’s call that good blur), then you are likely to be in need a tripod. Or some other “creative” solution that keeps your camera perfectly stationary.
The problem with physically holding your camera at slower shutter speeds is that it moves a little bit. Or more appropriately, you move (no matter how hard you try to stop breathing… don’t stop breathing… for too long).
Without a tripod or other support, your movement becomes an issue once you get below a shutter speed of about 1/60th of a second (and this does depend a bit on the focal length of your lens, and whether or not you’re leaning against something, etc). You run the risk of slightly (or fantastically) blurring your pictures (in a undesirable way) because you moved the camera while taking the shot. But Tv mode can also help you here, when you need a relatively slow shutter speed but can’t afford to go too slow because you’re shooting handheld…
Use Tv or S Mode to Set and Hold a Shutter Speed When Shooting Handheld
Shutter Priority mode can also be used to combat bad blur (where the whole image goes blurry due to camera movement). In situations where you know you’re going to hold the camera (especially in low or fading light) but aren’t trying to blur anything, throw your camera on Tv mode, scroll to 1/60 and try it out. The camera will shoot at that shutter speed and adjust aperture and ISO/ASA to achieve correct exposure, if possible.
1/60th is a decent choice for shooting on the move because it’s about as slow as you can go, handheld, without introducing unwanted blurring from camera movement. This will maximize your depth of field and film speed (like in the above shot which used a shutter speed of 1/60th, an aperture of f/14, and ISO of 100 with a 17 mm lens). But beware, because at 1/60th you still need to consider if your subject is going to move much at all, and make a real effort to hold perfectly still otherwise you’ll end up with a soft shot! Location: Rock Islands, Palau.
Double check that you know where to read the shutter speed values on your camera. They usually appear as fractions of a second (1/125, for example) and that gives them away, unless they’re greater than a second in which case they look like 15″ (that’d be a fifeteen second exposure).
Here’s a list of “full stop” shutter speeds from slow (full seconds) to fast (fractions of a second). Your camera will probably have some intermediate shutter speeds on it as well, but most will fall within this range. The vast majority of shots taken in this world probably fall between 1/30th to 1/1000 of a second, so get out there and push the limits!
SLOW SHUTTER SPEED 30″ 15″ 8″ 4″ 2″ 1″ 1/2 1/4 1/8 1/15 1/30 1/60 1/125 1/250 1/500 1/1000 1/2000 FAST SHUTTER SPEED
Need a more thorough review of what exactly shutter speed is, and how it relates to other photography concepts? Sometimes it helps to start with the big picture. Check out this popular book by Bryan Peterson on understanding exposure from Amazon:
Now that you’ve got Tv Mode down, check out What’s the Av setting for?
All photographs by Jesse Stephen.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in June 2013 and was updated in 2015 for accuracy and comprehesiveness (and a few more pretty pictures).