Function Basics: Shutter Speed

Welcome to part three of my series of function basic photography posts. This blog is going to deal with the third and final main pilla...


Welcome to part three of my series of function basic photography posts. This blog is going to deal with the third and final main pillar you should understand to help you take some awesome photos. So lets jump in.

Shutter speed, sometimes also called exposure time, is basically the length of time the shutter on your camera is open.

The shutter on a camera acts like a type of curtain that sits in front of the sensor on your lens. This curtain stays closed until you hit the shutter button on your camera to take a picture. When you do, the curtain opens up, lets in light for the sensor to collect, and then closes.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of a second. So a shutter speed of 1/4 is a quarter of a second, while a shutter speed of 1/250 is two hundred and fiftieth of a second or four milliseconds.

The average modern day DSLR will generally be able to go up to around 1/4000th of a second, though some higher end DSLR's can sometimes reach 1/8000th of a second. In cases where you're using an external remote trigger, you could possibly even use slower shutter speeds than this. The shutter speed settings on your camera typically double with each setting (1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8).

Shutter speed is mainly important when you're dealing with moving objects, because depending on the shutter speed you pick, the moving object will either be blurred (motion blur) or seem frozen in time.

If you set your camera on a faster shutter speed, than you will be able to make objects in motion freeze. At a slower shutter speed, motion blur will occur. Generally, the option that you would call the slowest shutter speed on your camera is the slowest one you can use without introducing camera shake. These days some lens have 'vibration reduction' technologies built into them, which allows you to use slower shutter speeds while actually holding your camera and not having any camera shake. If you have a tripod handy then you can usually use shutter speeds that are above 1 second, and this can produce some pretty cool shots.

Motion blur may sound like something you want to avoid, but in some situations it can create interesting, artistic effects. For example, when you're out taking pictures of waterfalls you may choose a lower shutter speed. This will blur the water to show it is moving, while keeping everything else around it in focus. You'll notice that motion blur also tends to be used in advertisements for cars and other vehicles where the wheels of the vehicle might be blurred to convey speed.

If you're looking to freeze moving objects, generally if you set your shutter speed to 1/500th of a second or above, that will do the trick. If however you're shooting something that is particularly fast, such as a bird, or you really want to capture every little detail, you may need to bump it up to 1/1000th of a second or more.

As with all the other functions, shutter speed is really something you need to play with and figure out once you've got your subject in front of you, but those are some ball park figures to start working with.


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