Learn about Shutter speed. Why does it matter? What does it do?

What is Shutter speed? how does shutter speed work
  1. Last week, I spoke about Aperture and how it can help you in getting Auto Mode out of your mind.

In today’s edition of “Let’s Talk Photography”, we’ll be discussing Shutter Speed, and how you may use it to enhance your Photography skills.

Shutter speed is responsible for two particular things: changing the brightness in your photo and creating dramatic effects by either freezing action or blurring motion.

What is a Camera Shutter?

Shutter speed exists because of something called as a camera shutter – which, simply put, is a curtain in front of the camera sensor that stays closed until the camera fires. When the camera fires, the shutter opens and fully exposes the camera sensor to the light that has passed through your lens.

What is Shutter speed? how does shutter speed work

After the sensor is done collecting the light, the shutter closes immediately, stopping the light from hitting the sensor. The button that fires the camera is also called “shutter” or “shutter button,” because it triggers the shutter to open and close.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is the length of time your camera shutter is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor. Essentially, it’s how long your camera spends taking a photo. This has a few important effects on how your images will appear.

When you use a long shutter speed, you end up exposing your sensor for a significant period of time. The first big effect of shutter speed is motion blur. If your shutter speed is long, moving subjects in your photo will appear blurred along the direction of motion. This effect is used quite often in advertisements of cars and motorbikes, where a sense of speed and motion is communicated to the viewer by intentionally blurring the moving wheels.

What is Shutter speed? how does shutter speed work

Slow shutter speeds are also used to photograph the Milky Way or other objects at night, or in dim environments, preferably with a tripod. Landscape photographers may intentionally use long shutter speeds to create a sense of motion on rivers and waterfalls while keeping everything else completely sharp.

On the other hand, shutter speed can also be used to do just the opposite – freeze motion. If you use an especially fast shutter speed, you can eliminate motion even from fast-moving objects, like birds in flight, or cars driving past. If you use a fast shutter speed while taking pictures of a water, each droplet will hang in the air completely sharp, which might not even be visible to our own eyes.

All of the above is achieved by simply controlling the shutter speed. In summary, quick shutter speeds freeze action, while long shutter speeds create an effect of motion when you photograph moving objects.

How is Shutter Speed measured?

Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second when they are under a second. For example, 1/4 means a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means one-two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second (or four milliseconds).

What is Shutter speed? how does shutter speed work

Most modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can handle shutter speeds of up to 1/4000th of a second, while some can handle much quicker speeds of 1/8000th of a second and faster. On the other hand, the longest available shutter speed on most DSLRs or mirrorless cameras is typically 30 seconds. You can use a longer shutter speed by using external remote triggers, if necessary.

Fast, Slow and Long Shutter Speeds

A fast shutter speed is typically whatever it takes to freeze action. If you are photographing birds, that may be 1/1000th second or faster. However, for general photography of slower-moving subjects, you might be able to take pictures at 1/200th second, 1/100th second, or even longer without introducing motion blur.

What is Shutter speed? how does shutter speed work

Long shutter speeds are typically above 1 second – at which point, you will need to use a tripod to get sharp images. You would use long shutter speeds for certain types of low-light/night photography, or to capture movement intentionally. If anything in your scene is moving when you use long shutter speeds, it will appear very blurry.

In between, shutter speeds from 1/100th second to 1 second are still considered relatively slow. You may not be able to handle them without introducing camera shake from your hands, especially close to the one-second mark. Also, this strongly depends upon your lens.

How to Set Shutter Speed

Most cameras handle shutter speeds automatically by default. When the camera is set to “Auto” mode, the shutter speed is selected by the camera without your input. However, you can still set shutter speed manually if necessary:

  •  By setting the camera to “Shutter Priority” mode, you choose the shutter speed, and the camera automatically selects the aperture.
  •  ‎By setting the camera to “Manual” mode, you choose both shutter speed and aperture manually.

Within both of these modes, you can choose to set ISO manually or automatically.

Now that you know about the shutter speed, I’d expect you to go out and take some high-speed shots! And also, the long exposure ones.

I’ll catch up with you guys next week and we’ll talk about ISO. Until then, clickity clickity click!

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