Explaining Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is one of the three key elements of exposure, along with aperture and ISO.  These three elements are called the exposure triangle.

Shutter speed controls the amount of time that the camera’s sensor is exposed to light, and it plays a crucial role in capturing sharp, well-exposed images.

In this tutorial, we’ll cover everything you need to know about shutter speed, including how it works, how to measure it, and how to use it to create different effects in your photos.

Understanding Shutter Speed:

First, let’s take a closer look at what shutter speed is and how it works.

The shutter is a mechanical curtain that sits in front of the camera’s sensor.

When you press the shutter button, the shutter opens for a brief moment, allowing light to hit the sensor and create an image.

The amount of time that the shutter stays open is known as the shutter speed.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second, with common values ranging from 1 second to 1/8000 of a second. A slow shutter speed, such as 1 second, means that the shutter stays open for a longer period of time, while a fast shutter speed, such as 1/1000 of a second, means that the shutter stays open for a shorter period of time.

It’s important to note that shutter speed is closely related to aperture and ISO. Aperture controls the amount of light that enters the lens, while ISO controls the sensitivity of the camera’s sensor to light. Together, these three elements work together to determine the overall exposure of the image.

Measuring Shutter Speed:

Now that you understand what shutter speed is, let’s talk about how to measure it.

On most cameras, the shutter speed is displayed on the camera’s LCD screen or in the viewfinder. It is often represented by a fraction, such as 1/1000 or 1/30. The denominator of the fraction represents the shutter speed, with larger denominators indicating faster shutter speeds. For example, 1/1000 is a faster shutter speed than 1/30.

Adjusting the shutter speed is typically done by using the camera’s manual mode or shutter priority mode. In manual mode, you have full control over the shutter speed, aperture and ISO, while in shutter priority mode, you can adjust the shutter speed while the camera automatically sets the aperture and ISO.

Shutter Speed Techniques:

Now that you know how to measure and adjust the shutter speed, let’s talk about how to use it to create different effects in your photos. One of the most important things to keep in mind when using shutter speed is the “rule of thumb” for hand-held photography, which is to use a shutter speed that is at least as fast as the reciprocal of the focal length.

For example, if you are using a 50mm lens, a safe shutter speed would be 1/50th of a second or faster.

Slow Shutter and Blur is not always bad:

Using a slow shutter speed can create motion blur, which can be used to create a sense of movement or motion in a photo.

There are two ways to do this.

  1. You can keep your camera still and locked onto a scene while a subject such as a car travels through the frame.  A slow shutter speed will cause the car to blur while the rest of the scene is in focus.  In creative photography in low light or at night when cars have lights switched on this setup creates light trails.
  2. You can follow your subject, such as a car at a slower shutter speed which is still fast enough to capture a good photo of the car, but slow enough for the everything else to blur.  This is called dragging the shutter.

It’s also important to note that when using slow shutter speeds, it’s highly recommended to use a tripod to prevent camera shake.

Fast Shutter and Freezing Motion:

Using a fast shutter speed can freeze motion if set fast enough, which is useful for capturing fast-moving subjects such as fast moving cars, athletes or wildlife. For example, if you are taking a photo of a bird in flight, you can use a fast shutter speed to freeze the motion of the bird’s wings.

A fast shutter speed can be used to reduce the amount of light in a high-contrast scene, such as a landscape with a bright sky and dark foreground. This can help to prevent the sky from being overexposed and the foreground from being underexposed, resulting in a more balanced exposure.

Advanced Shutter Speed Techniques:

Flash sync speed:

Flash sync speed is the fastest shutter speed at which a camera’s flash can be used effectively. When using a flash, the shutter speed should be set to the flash sync speed or slower to ensure that the entire image is properly exposed. For example, if the flash sync speed is 1/250th of a second, you can use a shutter speed of 1/250th or slower to ensure that the entire image is properly exposed when using a flash. This technique can be used to add fill light to a scene, or to freeze motion in low light situations.

Using slow shutter speeds for light painting:

Light painting is a technique where the camera’s shutter is left open for a period of time while a light source is moved around the scene. This can create interesting effects, such as streaks of light or trails of light. Slow shutter speeds are typically used for light painting, as they allow more light to be captured by the camera. For example, a shutter speed of 30 seconds would be used to capture a light trail created by moving a flashlight around a room.  You would need to set your aperture to a desired setting to allow the light to be capture at your desired depth of field and an ISO value to your desired exposure.  You would also need to set a focus manually to a point in the image where you capture everything in focus.

Combining shutter speed with other techniques:

Combining shutter speed with other techniques can create unique and dynamic images. One example is the zoom burst technique, where you zoom the lens while the shutter is open, creating a burst of light that radiates outward from the centre of the image. To achieve this effect, you would typically use a slow shutter speed and a wide aperture. This can be used to create a sense of motion, energy, and dynamism in the image.  This may take some practice but creates interesting effects.  This can also be combined with flashes in first curtain or second curtain mode where each will create a different look.  It is important to keep the camera as still as possible during the zoom, so a tripod or monopod is recommended.

In conclusion

Experimenting with different shutter speeds can lead to a wide range of creative and dynamic images. Whether you’re trying to freeze fast-moving subjects, reduce the amount of light in a scene, or create a sense of motion and energy, there’s a shutter speed that can help you achieve the effect you’re looking for. I encourage you to take your camera out and experiment with different shutter speeds, and to share your results with me on email. I would love to see the unique and creative images that you’re able to capture.

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