Photography Basics {Shutter Speed} | Photography

what is shutter speed
A couple of months ago I wrote a post called Photography Basics: How does a camera work? and I gave an overview of how it is that a camera actually records and creates an image. I mentioned in that article that there are three basic elements to creating the right environment for your camera to record light and create an image.

Those elements, or settings, are Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO. There are millions of articles out there in webland that explain what these things are and how to use them. Today, I'm going to talk about the first, and possibly the easiest to understand of those elements, Shutter Speed.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is exactly what it sounds like...

Your camera has little doors, called shutters, that open and close when you push the button to take a photo. How fast or how slow those doors open is called the shutter speed. The shutter speed of your camera is measured in seconds and fractions of seconds.

What does Shutter Speed do?

Your shutter speed does two things...

1. it controls how long light is allowed to go in to your camera and plays a part in determining the exposure (lightness or darkness) of your photo, and

2. controls the movement (also known as motion blur) in your photo.

definition of shutter speed
Examples of a fast shutter speed

Shutter Speed and exposure

A fast shutter speed reduces the amount of time light is allowed in to your camera and will create a darker photo. A slow shutter speed increases the amount of time light is allowed in to your camera and creates brighter photos.

FAST shutter speed = LESS TIME for light to enter camera = DARKER photos

SLOW shutter speed = MORE TIME for light to enter the camera = LIGHTER photos

Keep in mind however, that there are two other elements that control the amount of light your camera collects, the aperture setting and ISO setting. So if you're shooting in Manual mode and want to use a particular shutter speed to create a certain effect in your image (movement/motion blur versus no movement/motion blur) but you find it's making your image too dark or too light, you need to then adjust your aperture or ISO to correct your exposure problem so you can keep the same shutter speed.

Shutter Speed and movement

how to change shutter speed
Examples of a slow shutter speed
By adjusting how fast or slow your cameras little doors open and close you can also change the 'movement' in the photo. A fast shutter speed will 'freeze the action', meaning that if you were to take a photo of your child jumping off something, you would be able to capture them looking like they are hanging in mid-air. On the flipside, if you were to use a slower shutter speed, your child will look blurred, which can give the impression of movement.

This is a great article that explains Shutter Speed really well and shows you how to change it on your camera.

Depending on the kind of picture you want to take, you can use your shutter speed to add creativity to your photos through movement. If you are photographing anything that moves and you want to reduce motion blur in your photos, then a good rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed of 1/125 or faster. Some people even recommend not using a shutter speed slower than 1/250 to make sure you don't have motion blur when photographing people.

Experimenting with Shutter Speed.

The best way to understand how shutter speed will effect the movement/motion blur in your photos is to just play around with it. And the best way to do that is to set your dSLR camera* to Shutter Priority mode (Tv on a Canon, S on a Nikon) and start shooting. By using Shutter Priority mode you can adjust your shutter speed to whatever you like, and your camera will automatically adjust your aperture and ISO setting to ensure your exposure is correct. That way you don't have to worry about fiddling around with the other settings until you're ready to, and can just have fun being creative with shutter speed.

Try taking some photos of your kids or pets running and jumping using slower shutter speeds (anything below 1/250) and see how the camera starts to capture motion blur and your photos have a sense of movement. Alternatively, use a faster shutter speed (anything above say 1/640) to see how the camera freezes the action, capturing the moment without any motion blur.
photography basics shutter speed
For this series of photos I had my camera in continuous shot mode and my shutter speed set to 1/125. Because jumping is a fast movement, using 1/125 meant that there would still be motion blur to give a sense of movement, but still fast enough to mostly freeze the moment. A faster shutter speed would have frozen Punky more and eliminated any motion blur.

Like I said earlier, shutter speed is the easiest element of exposure to understand and start using to achieve certain things in your photos. By experimenting with your shutter speed you can really start to get creative with your photos.
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In my next photography basics post we'll look at aperture and how that also affects the exposure of your photo, as well as your photo's depth-of-field.

Have you ever experimented with the shutter speed on your camera? Are you keen to have a play around with the shutter speed on your camera?

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Emma Tustian said…
Love this series, so easy to understand for total beginners
HandbagMafia said…
I do play with it a bit on hubby's DSLR! This series is awesome- very easy to understand!
Mystery Case said…
I really need to find the time to actually just get out and start taking photos. Love this post, you are so generous with your knowledge.
AParentingLife said…
Awesome post. You make it sound so easy for me to get my head around stuff. Thanks for sharing xx
EssentiallyJess said…
So I don't get cameras at all, but I had to write about photos recently, and I couldn't work out why shutter speed was important, and now I get it. Not that I'm in a rush to try it any time soon, but I'm glad to know what it is! Thank you!
These days I just use my iPhone, never understood cameras. But this DOES explain why all the photos I took at my hubster's 40th birthday turned out the way they did - we went to a restaurant and the pics were quite blurred, the lights in the restaurant particularly, we joked it looked like aliens descending! Obviously I'd managed to change it to a slower shutter speed without realising ;-)

Visiting today from #teamIBOT x
It's so easy to do! I remember when I was in my teens with a basic camera and that happened. It baffled me for ages until someone showed me how to fix it!
Thanks, lovely, I hope it helps.
Thank you! Yep, the best way to learn new things is to just take as many pictures as you can!
It's lots of fun, especially on a dSLR when you can use the Shutter Speed setting and not have to worry about changing anything else, makes for lots of fun experimenting!
Thank you! Aperture is lots of fun to play with, and it's a great way to learn the depth of field of your particular lens. It definitely takes a while to get used to switching between them and using them all together, but it's lots of fun learning xxx

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