Shutter speed is the most obvious contributing factor to an exposure. It has one of the biggest effects on your photos.
With a poor knowledge of how to use the correct shutter speed, you’ll end up with blurred results.
This article will teach you the right shutter speed for the right situation. As well as how to use shutter speed creatively for artistic results.
4. What Is Shutter Speed?
We won’t go into unnecessary detail as to what a shutter speed definition is. But let’s summarise it.
The shutter speed is the exact time of exposure: the time that your camera records an image for.
It uses a shutter mechanism, that opens up for that given amount of time. The camera’s shutter is what allows the light to hit the film plane or digital sensor.
The thing we most commonly associate with shutter speed is camera shake. The longer the shutter is open, the more chance your hands’ vibration has to cause visible blurring on the shot.
As a general rule of thumb, a shutter speed value under your lenses’ focal length with cause camera shake. For example, a 300mm lens (without image stabilization) will need a minimum of 1/320th. Similarly, a 50mm lens will need anything above 1/50th of a second.
Anything slower than this will require a tripod. Or, image stabilization, which most telephoto lenses have built-in.
More often than not you’ll want to take your photo at a comfortably shorter speed than that, such as 1/500th of a second (in case of a standard lens). This will help freeze the movement of your subject. But, this largely depends on the speed of your subject and how close you are to it.
In most situations, slow shutter speed results in blurred images.
Similarly to aperture and ISO, we use stops to indicate changes in shutter speed. But it’s a lot easier to wrap your head around than in the case of f-stops in the aperture.
A stop up in shutter speed (eg. from 1/100 to 1/50) is doubling the amount of light, and a step down (from 1/50 to 1/100) is halving the amount of light.
3. Motion Blur and Freezing
Controlling your shutter speed is a great way to show movement in a still scene. You can create it using a relatively slow shutter speed and panning the camera to follow a subject.
If you are looking to add blur into your image, there are many ways to do so.
Telephoto lenses need a faster shutter speed to capture an image without blur. These lenses pick up and magnify even the slightest movement of the camera. A wide angle lens requires a slower shutter speed as the details in the image are a lot smaller.
This means you can create a blurred image easier with a longer focal length lens.
As I mentioned earlier, the reciprocal rule is a good guideline to give you a speed above which your hands won’t cause blur.
Any slower and motion blur is likely to occur.
It’s worth noting that this rule is only relevant to full-frame cameras. In the case of crop sensor cameras, use the crop factor to get the effective focal length of your lens, and calculate with that.
There are always exceptions to the rule. Image stabilization in your lens allows you to get away with slower shutter speeds.
As you become more experienced with your digital camera, you gradually improve on vital skills. These include holding your DSLR cameras in a way that suits you best. Holding your camera with a correct posture will allow you to increase (among other things) your stability if you do this.
Freezing your subject requires a fast shutter speed. It occurs when you take a photo at such a high shutter speed (1/500 and above) that there’s no motion blur. I don’t like shooting at these speeds as the images produced tend to appear flat.
The faster the subject is moving, the faster the shutter speed needs to be. For example, a jet plane will require a 1/2000th of a second or higher. A person riding a bike might only need 1/500th of a second.
When shooting a fast moving object, I like to include a small amount of motion. Otherwise, it may as well have been sitting still.
2. The Right Shutter Speed for the Right Situation
Fast Shutter Speed to Capture a Telephoto Image
This allows the camera to sit still, preventing movement when taking a photo and having sharp images as a result.
There are times when you want to focus on selective focusing or a shallow depth of field. Here, it is best to use the aperture priority mode setting. This will keep the aperture the same, changing the shutter speed to account for the light setting.
If your scene has moving subjects, a shutter speed priority is best. This way, it keeps your shutter speed, fast or slow, the same. But, your aperture will change according to the ambient light in the scene.
Capturing a Fast-Moving Object in a Low Light Situation
In event photography, the artist you’re shooting is likely to be moving around on stage. You have the problem of both low light and a moving subject.
You can usually counter this with a wide aperture and a very high ISO. It’s a compromise, but it does allow you to capture the image without blur.
1. Creative Uses for Different Shutter Speed
To create creative blur, you will need a few items. You need a remote trigger and a tripod to hold the camera steady. Then you can play around with the shutter speed settings.
This can create interesting images in which the blur is the main point of interest. For inspiration, try a fairground carousel.
Creative Blur With Flash
Adding flash to a photo with blur will freeze motion in the frame.
Choose a longer shutter speed. Start with around 1/40, and experiment. Your flash will still only light your subjects momentarily, creating a sharp outline.
In the remaining time of exposure, you can then move the camera around to capture the light and blur for artistic effect. This will create a ghosting effect.
Panning is where you move your camera to complement a moving subject. It results in an image where the background is blurred but the subject is sharp.
This shot was taken from a sidewalk, panning the camera while using slow shutter speed photography. The sense of movement is obvious because of this technique.
For light painting, all you need is a long exposure and a light source. The photo below was taken on a 30-second shutter, which is a slow shutter speed setting.
During the exposure, I set off flashes of light onto the beach huts.
This fills in the light exactly where you want it and is great for shooting at night.
A long exposure coupled with a moving, constant light source allows you to add ‘graffiti’ to an image.
Long Exposures for Low Light Situations
Because this photo was taken at night, I used slow shutter speed photography to gain an even exposure.
This next photo requires a long shutter speed but for a different reason. The creator of this image had to wait for a passing car to come into the frame and the timing can be very difficult.
It can take some time to figure out the exact settings, because only a specific shutter speed will make the blur precisely as long in the image as you wish.
Before you go, check out this cool video on creative shutter speed.