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Why you Should Know what the Shutter Speed does to your Photos

Shutter speed is the most obvious of the 3 factors contributing towards an exposure and it has the biggest effect on your photos. With a poor knowledge of how shutter speed affects photos, you’ll end up with blurred results. This post teaches you the right speed for the right situation as well as how to use shutter speed creatively for artistic results.

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Section 1 – What exactly is shutter speed?

Without going into unnecessary detail as to how shutter speed works, it can be summarized as the exact amount of time that your camera records an image for.

More often than not you’ll want to take your photo within a fraction of a second as any longer results in a blurred image in most situations. Shutter speed uses ‘stops’ in the same way as aperture but it’s a lot more straightforward.

Working out half of an exposure is a lot simpler for shutter speed than aperture: just take the current speed e.g. 1/200, and halve it which, for this example, would give 1/400. All that you need to remember is that the second number has to be doubled to halve the value e.g. for 1/200, the ‘200’ is doubled to ‘400’ to give half the value.

Section 2 – Motion blur and freezing.

 

Blur
Provided you’re not doing it for creative effect, you will want to choose a shutter speed fast enough to prevent motion blur. Motion blur is also effected heavily by the focal length of a lens.

Telephoto lenses require a fast shutter speed to capture an image without blur as even the slightest movement of the camera will be magnified by the lens. A wide angle lens requires a slower shutter as the details in the image are a lot smaller.

As a rule of thumb, you can take a sharp, blur-free image by setting the shutter speed to a fraction of a focal length.

For example, to take a photo at 30mm you would set the shutter speed to 1/30 of a second; any slower and motion blur is likely to occur. It’s worth noting however, that this rule is only relevant to full frame cameras.

For a crop sensor, due to it’s magnifying effect, you would be better off choosing a speed of 1/45 of a second.

There are always exceptions to the rule such as image stabilization in your lens which allows you to use a slower shutter speed. As you become more experienced with your camera you’ll gradually improve on vital skills such as holding your camera in the way that suits you best, increasing (among other things) your stability.

Here is an example of creative motion blur.

Freezing
Freezing is much less of a worry when taking photos.

Freezing occurs when a photo is taken at such a high shutter speed (1/500 and above) that the exact moment at which the photo is taken is captured without any movement blur. I personally don’t like shooting at these speeds as the images produced tend to look flat.

Instead, when shooting a fast moving object, I like to include a small amount of motion as otherwise it may as well have been sitting still. As I have demonstrated in the photo below, this can work: the subject is clearly moving through the air.


Section 3 – The right speed for the right situation

Fast speeds to capture a telephoto image
Because this image was taken using a telephoto lens, it’s important to have a fast shutter speed (1/500). The way I managed to avoid camera shake was by using a tripod and remote release for the camera. This allows the camera sit still, preventing movement when taking a photo.

Capturing a fast moving object in a low light situation
When doing event photography, the artist you’re shooting is likely to be moving around on the stage; you have the problem of both low light and a fast shutter. This can usually be counteracted by a wide aperture and a very high ISO; a compromise really, but it does allow you to capture the image without any unsightly blur.

Section 4 – Creative uses for different shutter speeds

Creative blur
With a remote trigger for the camera and a tripod to hold it steady, you can play around with speeds to create interesting images with the blur being the main point of interest in the photo.

Creative blur with flash
Adding flash to a photo with blur results in the subject being frozen in the frame, meaning that you can then move the camera around to capture the light and blur for artistic effect.

Panning
Panning is where you move your camera to compliment the movements of the subject, resulting in an image where the background is blurred, but the subject is not. This shot was taken from a car moving at the same speed as the train.

Light painting
For light painting, all you need is a long exposure and a light source. The photo below was taken on a 30 second shutter, during which I set off the strobes onto the beach huts. This fills in the light exactly where you want it and is great for shooting at night.

Light graffiti
A long exposure coupled with a moving, constant light source allows you to add ‘graffiti’ to the image.

Long exposures for low light situations
Because this photo was taken at night, I used a slow shutter speed to gain an even exposure, which can only be made possible with a tripod or somewhere flat to lay the camera.

This photo requires a long shutter, but for a different reason; I had to wait for a passing car to come into the frame and the timing can be very difficult. It took me approximately half an hour of constant readjustments to the shutter speed, position of the camera, and the point at which I took the photo before I eventually accomplished my final image.

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4 Steps to Understanding Shutter Speed and its Creative Uses

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Josh

I'm a self taught photographer from Brighton, England. I take a lot of photos and enjoy teaching my methods to anyone willing to learn- this is my blog, check out my video training & Google.

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