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 amount of time or exposure time that your camera records an image for.
It does this through the use of the camera shutter. The camera’s shutter is what allows the light to hit the film plane or digital sensor.
As a general rule of thumb, a shutter speed value under your lenses’ focal length with cause camera shake. For example, a 300 mm lens (without image stabilization) will need a minimum of 1/500th. Similarly, a 50 mm lens will need anything above 1/60th of a second.
Anything slower than this will require a tripod. Or, as most telephoto lenses will have, image stabilization.
More often than not you’ll want to take your photo within a fraction of a second, such as 1/1000th of a second. This will help freeze the movement of the 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.
Shutter speed photography uses ‘stops’ in the same way as aperture does. But it’s a lot easier to wrap your head around.
Working out half of an exposure is a lot simpler for shutter speed than aperture. Why would you need to know half of an exposure? Well, a stop up is halving the amount of light, and a step down is doubling the amount of light.
Consider this. You are shooting a scene at 1/500th of a second. Changing the shutter speed down to 1/250th of a second will increase the exposure x2. Changing it from 1/500th to 1/1000th will reduce the exposure by half.
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 slow shutter speed or panning the camera to follow a subject.
If you are looking to add blur into your image, there are many ways to do so. One way is to use the focal length of a lens to create a selective focus.
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 a rule of thumb, you can take a sharp, blur-free image by setting the shutter speed to the same as the focal length.
For example, to take a photo at 50 mm in manual mode you would set the shutter speed to 1/60 of a second. There isn’t a 1/50th camera shutter speed available unless you use 1/3 stops.
Any slower and motion blur is likely to occur. It’s worth noting that this rule is only relevant to full frame cameras.
For a crop image sensor, due to its magnifying effect, you would be better off choosing a shutter speed of 1/125 of a second. The rise in number comes from the equivalence factor.
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’ll 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
When using a telephoto lens, it’s important to use fast shutter speed photography (1/500 or faster). To avoid camera shake, I used a tripod and remote release for the camera’s shutter.
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.
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.
Long exposure photography is only possible with a tripod or somewhere flat to lay the camera.
This next photo requires a long shutter speed 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 re-adjustments to my camera settings. To the slow shutter speed, the position of the camera, and the point at which I took the photo.
I eventually accomplished my final image.
Before you go, check out this cool video on creative shutter speed.