Photography Tutorials and Articles

Shutter Speed

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The many roles of Shutter speed 

Part 1

In photography, Exposure is the main key for good pictures. If the exposure is not correct, then the photo is not useful and you need to try again. Exposure is controlled by a) Shutter Speed, b) Aperture, and c) ISO.

If the exposure is not set properly you will have either an overexposed image (too light) or an underexposed photo (too dark).

Correct Exposure

Correct Exposure

Over Exposed

Over Exposed

Under Exposed

Under Exposed

In this series of articles I am going to discuss the roles of shutter speed, how to understand it and what the creative uses of shutter speed are.

Let’s start with a basic definition from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

In photography, shutter speed or exposure time is the length of time a camera’s shutter is open when taking a photograph.[1] The amount of light that reaches the film or image sensor is proportional to the exposure time. 

The following list provides an overview of common photographic guidelines and uses for standard shutter speeds.

1- Shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds. The bigger the denominator the faster the speed (for instance 1/1000 is much faster than 1/30).

Fast Shutter Speed. Photo by Shawn Hamilton

Fast shutter speed. (Photo by Shawn Hamilton)

Slow Shutter

Slow Shutter. (Photo by Bruce Warren)

2- In most cases you will probably use shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second or faster. This is because anything slower than 1/60th of a second can be difficult to use without getting camera shake. Camera shake is when your camera is moving while the shutter is open and results in blur in your photos.  Even a slight movement can blur your shots!

Slow Shutter speed and camera shake

Slow Shutter speed and camera shake

3- If you’re using a slow shutter speed (anything slower than 1/60) you will need to use a tripod, monopod, or some type of image stabilization.

Slow Shutter speed using tripod

Slow Shutter speed using tripod

4- Most cameras also give you the option for very slow shutter speeds that are not fractions of seconds but are measured in seconds (for example 1 second, 10 seconds, 30 seconds etc). These are used in very low light situations, when you want to create motion blur, or when you are going after special effects and/or when you’re trying to capture a lot of movement in a shot.

Omnilargess Night Time Photography Classes

Long exposure usine tripod. Photo by Margaret Bouwman

5- Some cameras also give you the option to shoot in ‘B’ (or ‘Bulb’) mode. Bulb mode lets you keep the shutter open for as long as you hold it down.

Slow Shutter at 20 seconds

Slow Shutter at 20 seconds. I was walking around the statue and light painting, but you can not see me. (Photo by Natalie Stephenson)

6- When considering which shutter speed to use in an image, you should always ask yourself whether anything in your scene is moving and how you’d like to capture that movement. If there is movement in your scene you have the choice of either freezing the movement (so it looks still) or letting the moving object intentionally blur (giving it a sense of movement).

Fast and Slow shutter speed comparison

Fast and Slow shutter speed comparison

7- To freeze movement in an image (like in the shot below) you’ll want to choose a faster shutter speed and to let the movement blur you’ll want to choose a slower shutter speed. The actual speeds you choose will vary depending upon the speed of the subject in your shot and how much you want it to be blurred.

Fast Shutter Speed

Fast Shutter 1/1600s to freeze the movement.

Slow Shutter

15 seconds exposure time to show blur on water

That is all for now. Stay tuned for our next article in this series: “Some rules of thumb for shutter speed”.

Ted and the Omnilargess Team

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