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Camera Modes: AV vs. TV and When to Use Each

AV and TV are two modes that you'll often see photographers reaching for, but it can be easy to forget the difference between the two. Let's talk about how AV and TV differ and when you should and shouldn't use each.

Creative Market March 31, 2021 · 5 min read
Good photographers can shoot on full manual all the time, but they also know when certain other camera modes can help out in tricky shooting situations. AV and TV are two modes that you’ll often see photographers reaching for, but it can be easy to forget the difference between the two. Let’s talk about how AV and TV differ and when you should and shouldn’t use each.

AV: Aperture Priority

When your camera mode dial is set on AV (just A on some cameras), your camera is in Aperture Priority Mode (AV technically stands for Aperture Value). In AV, the user manually chooses an aperture setting while the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed for each shot (based on available light) to achieve proper exposure.

When to Use AV

AV is great for situations where there is plenty of light. I use this mode on vacation a lot when I’m wandering around a city during the day time. I still get control over my depth of field, but don’t have to take the time to manually adjust the shutter speed for each and every shot. If, like me, you often snap shots at hazardous moments like crossing the street (a terrible idea by the way), every second counts and you don’t want to be caught fiddling with your shutter speed.
Walking around a city during the day is the perfect time to use AV.

When To Avoid AV

Avoid AV in low light situations without a flash. The camera will choose such a slow shutter speed that you photos will turn out blurry. If the camera thinks it needs a three second exposure to get the photo bright enough, it will take it!
Unless you intentionally want a blurry shot, avoid AV in low light situations.

TV: Shutter Priority

When your camera mode dial is set on AV, your camera is in Shutter Priority Mode (S is used instead of TV on Nikon and many other cameras). In TV, the user manually chooses a shutter speed setting while the camera automatically adjusts the aperture for each shot. So it’s exactly like AV, only the variables are swapped with you controlling shutter speed instead of aperture.

When to Use TV

TV mode is good for situations where you don’t care much about depth of field, but need to make sure you’re hitting a specific shutter speed. For example, at a sporting event, you might want to keep your shutter speed locked in pretty fast to capture motion without blurring, but still want the camera to handle the overall exposure calculations so you can get the shots off really quickly.
Daytime sporting events are a good use case for TV.

Awesome For Shooting Video

TV mode is great when you’re shooting video on your DSLR, and need to adjust quickly to different lighting situations. When you’re shooting video, you want to lock in your shutter speed for a consistent look (read up on how shutter speed affects video), but you don’t want to constantly be fiddling with your settings to get the right exposure. TV mode allows you to set that shutter speed right where you want it (I usually shoot around 1/50) while letting the camera take care of making sure every scene looks perfect.

When To Avoid TV

Avoid TV when your depth of field matters. For instance, if you’re taking a photo of a family in medium to low light, a camera set to TV mode might open up that aperture all the way to help grab extra light. Unfortunately, this will make your depth of field so shallow that some of the people in the photo will be out of focus.
TV isn’t the best option for group photos. TV mode can also be a poor choice if you actually want a shallow depth of field. Lots of photographers these days like to shoot with a wide open aperture as often as possible. Blurry backgrounds can make a photo feel more high end and has the effect of helping your subject stand out against the background. If you’re going for this style, TV mode isn’t your best bet. Your camera might decide that f/11 or f/15 is the ideal aperture, ruining your attempt to show off the bokeh on your Canon L glass.
Avoid TV any time you want to be able to control the depth of field.

Remember: Automatic Modes Are Dumb

Always remember, automatic camera modes are dumb. I don’t mean that you shouldn’t use them, I mean they literally don’t have any intelligence beyond taking educated guesses at proper exposure, and you shouldn’t use them as if they’ll magically take great photos. They do what they were programmed to do and never take factors like motion blur or camera shake into consideration. Automatic modes will screw you over and ruin your photos every time if you aren’t careful. You should definitely make the most of them, just make sure you know what they do and where their limitations lie.
Header image created using Camera by corioes.
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