Back to Basics – Shutter Speed

July 8, 2010 · 13 comments

in Featured,Tutorials

Definition: Shutter speed is the amount of time the camera shutter is open, allowing the sensor (or film) to be exposed to light. Therefore, the longer the shutter is open for, the more light will be let in.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds (and in most cases, fractions of seconds). Short exposures times are referred to as fast shutter speeds, while long exposures are referred to as slow shutter speeds.

The shutter speeds on your camera usually double with each setting, for example:
1/15th, 1/30th, 1/60th, 1/125th, 1/250th, 1/500th, 1/1000th and so on – the larger the denominator, the faster the shutter speed.

By adjusting the shutter speed, you can control amount of movement of the subject. A fast shutter speed will freeze the action, and a slow shutter speed will make it look blurred as the subject moves.

Camera Shake

In most cases, you should be using a shutter speed of 1/60th or faster. Slower shutter speeds (1/30th and slower) are difficult to use without getting camera shake, which can often ruin an otherwise good photo. You can prevent camera shake with slow shutter speeds by using a tripod, or use this simple rule of thumb:

The minimum shutter speed you should use hand-held is 1/focal length of lens.

This sounds complicated, but it isn’t really. Basically, if you’re using a 50mm lens, use a shutter speed of 1/60th or faster, and if you’re using a 200mm lens, use a shutter speed of 1/250th or faster. See – easy peasy.

Motion Blur

Motion blur is captured when an aspect of the scene you are photographing moves while the camera shutter is open. The moving element is blurred while the stationary objects remain sharp. Typically, a shutter speed of 1/15th or slower will give motion blur, however this largely depends on how fast the subject is moving.

Motion blur can be used to create a variety of artistic results, such as painting with light, star trails and silky smooth waterfalls to name a few.

Frozen Action

Now on the other hand, if you want to freeze action, you will need to set your shutter on a faster speed, typically 1/500th or faster. Bear in mind that when using a fast shutter speed, the camera shutter is open for a shorter period, meaning less light is reaching your sensor (or film), so you need to be shooting in brighter conditions, or adjust your ISO &/or aperture.

Therefore, in essence, shutter speed is really simple with just two main things to consider:
1.    Is my shutter speed fast enough to prevent camera shake?
2.    Do I want to freeze the action, or accentuate it with motion blur?

But remember now, shutter speed doesn’t work in isolation! For example, if you increase your shutter speed one stop from 1/60th to 1/125th, you are effectively letting half as much light into your camera. To compensate for this, you need to increase your aperture one stop, or choose a faster ISO.

Stay tuned for the next lesson on Aperture

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