Tips For You #2 - Shutter Speed Basics

As I mentioned in the previous tutorial - ISO Basics, I had a friend ask me how I decide on which settings to use when setting up a photograph.  Today we are continuing with more basics about how specific settings will affect your shot before I actually answer that question.  The focus for today is on shutter speed.

Shutter speed is one of the easier concepts for people to comprehend mainly because the name is pretty self explanatory unlike ISO and F/stop.

As you might guess......the shutter speed is how fast the shutter opens and closes.  The shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of a second.  The number represents how long the shutter is actually open.  Cameras will display the numbers differently, but they mean the same thing.  You may see 1/80 or 80 which means one eightieth of a second.  And 1/500 or 500 is one five-hundredth of a second.  When you get to the actual full seconds the numbers are usually displayed like this: 1" which means 1 second or 5" for 5 seconds and so on.

How does shutter speed affect my image?

The longer your shutter is open the more motion will be captured.  If you are wanting to show movement, you'll want a slower shutter speed and if you are wanting to freeze motion, you'll need a faster shutter speed.

You may be wondering just how fast/slow your shutter should be.  I've made you a little chart for generally what your shutter speeds should be in certain situations. 
Fast shutter speed
For the image below I had to use a fast shutter speed (around 1/1000) in order to freeze their motion.  If I had used a slower shutter speed, they would have been blurred.
 This image was taken with a shutter speed of 1/640 so I could freeze the water in motion.
When dealing with dancers on stage, you need to use a faster shutter speed if you want to completely freeze the motion.  The shutter speed in this picture is 1/400.  You can see that her bottom foot is actually a bit blurred and that's because I probably should have gone up to 1/500, but I just couldn't push my ISO or aperture anymore so I was stuck at 1/400.  
Slow shutter speed
I took the shot below using a tripod with a shutter speed of 1/6.  Because of the slow shutter speed, my model had to hold veeery still while I took the picture.  I decided to use a slow shutter speed so I could show the movement of the merry-go-round and the people walking rather than freezing everything.
Night time photography is where you will usually use your exposures that are more than 1".    

Photographing Children
When taking pictures of children, I try to never go below 1/200.  If I absolutely have to I will go down to 1/160.  Honestly 1/250 (or faster if the child is on the move or waving their arms around like crazy) is the best.  The image below was taken at 1/250.

Comparing different shutter speeds
The three pictures below show how shutter speed affects the amount of motion captured in a picture.  In the first image, the pinwheel is very blurred and showing a lot of motion because it is shot at a low shutter speed.  The second picture shows a little bit of motion, but the pinwheel isn't totally frozen.  In the last image the pinwheel is totally frozen and not showing any movement.  Are any of the images right or wrong?  No, it just depends on what kind of feel I'm wanting to portray in my picture.  I personally don't love having the pinwheel completely frozen because the image lacks the real "feel" of what was happening.  However, that's just my personal opinion.

Shutter speed also affects the exposure of your image (Exposure = ISO + Shutter speed + Aperture). The amount of time your shutter is open also determines how much light is being let into your camera.  The faster your shutter speed (the higher the number on the bottom of your fraction), the less will be hitting your sensor.  

Imagine opening and closing curtains in a dark room in the morning to check the weather outside, but not wanting to wake your spouse.  The faster you open and close the curtains the smaller the amount of light will enter the room and the better chance you have of not waking them up.  Now imagine opening the curtains in your child's room when they have slept past their alarm and you WANT to wake them up.  Opening and closing the curtains really fast just won't do the trick so you'll keep them open longer to let in MORE light which will wake them up - and hopefully teach them not to sleep through their alarm :)  

I hope this tutorial helped you better understand just what shutter speed is and how it will affect your image.  If you have any questions let me know!


Anonymous said...

Thanks Madelyn, that was super helpful!!- Jessica Mortimer (Sorry, anonymous is easier at the mome.)

Dana J. said...

I love this mini-lessons!! Please keep them coming :) Love all your work.