What is shutter speed and how can I use it creatively?
Gulls in Flight
In this image I used a fast shutter speed to freeze the birds in flight. I could have just as easily used a longer shutter speed to capture blurred movement of the birds wings.]
For those who have never really gotten a strong grasp of shutter speed and aperture use, I thought I'd take things back to basics and demystify the process.
The shutter is like a metal curtain that covers the path of light to your film or image sensor.
Your camera’s shutter slides open and closed for a set interval of time chosen by you. It is usually measured in fractions of a second but can be left open to around 30 seconds. If your camera has a Bulb function you can open the shutter for as long as is desired.
In the days of film photography, opening the shutter would allow light to fall onto the unexposed film.
Now that most people use digital cameras, the same concept is used except the shutter opens to allow light to hit the digital imaging sensor.
This is a small computer chip that digitally captures the light and image falling onto it. Although the technology is very different, the outcome is the same. See my articles on DSLR cameras and imaging sensors.
The longer the shutter stays open, the more light that is allowed to hit the sensor, and the brighter your exposure will be.
The shorter the shutter stays open, the less light that is allowed to hit the sensor, and the darker your exposure will be.
Examples of Recommended Shutter Speeds for Common Shooting Scenarios
The other impact a shutter has on your image is the amount of movement that it captures. A very short shutter speed will freeze action or movement.
A longer shutter speed will capture a certain amount of movement. The amount of movement will depend on three things. How fast the subject is moving, how long or short the shutter speed is, and how steady the camera is.
We can use this knowledge to take control over images and produce creative effects.
Waterfall at Different Shutter Speeds
The waterfall images show the results of opening the shutter for 1/200th sec vs 1/3rd sec.
The faster shutter speed freezes the water capturing individual droplets.
The slower shutter speed captures the movement of the water. It appears to be running together smoothly and producing a fine mist at the base.
We can use shutter speeds for really creative effects such as in the example of a pinwheel.
Using Shutter Speed Creatively with a Pinwheel
The fastest shutter speed freezes the movement of the pinwheel making it seem still.
A slower shutter speed starts to show the movement.
Slower again and the movement is captured as a blurred circle of colour.
Each classic stop on the shutter speed dial either doubles or halves the amount of light that is let in, depending on which way you turn the dial. 1/30 lets in double the amount of light of 1/60 sec. 1/15 lets in half the amount of light of 1/30. (Be aware that on some modern digital cameras there are 1/3 or ½ stops in between the classic stops. The following diagrams will outline the classic stops to help you become familiar with them.
It takes experience and practice to get to know which shutter speed to use for capturing different scenes, and how to freeze or capture a desired amount of movement.
Sports photographers are very skilled in the use of shutter speeds. To help you get started the following charts include some examples of approximate shutter speeds for a variety of common situations.
Shutter Speed Scenarios Chart
Next time I will explain using aperture creatively.