Shutter Speed

Ok- so you learned in the last lesson that aperture is related to how wide the lens opening is… this week we will concentrate on the speed of that opening.

Controlling the speed of your shutter (or how long you leave the aperture open), has a dramatic effect on your photographs.  Let me break this down in the simplest way that I can.

Achieving Proper Exposure with Appropriate Shutter

Here is a list of shutter speeds:

Each number represents a fraction of second that the shutter remains open. Opening the shutter determines how long the light passes through the lens.

1= 1/1 or one second

2= ½ of a second

4= ¼ of a second

8= 1/8 of a second

15= 1/15 of a second

30= 1/30 of a second

60= 1/60 of a second

125= 1/125 of a second

250= 1/250 of a second

500= 1/500 of a second

1000= 1/1000 of a second


Notice that each time you change your shutter, you essentially doubling the amount of light or halving the amount of light to your picture.

1= Lets in the most light because the shutter is open for a whole second.










1000= Lets in just a small tiny fraction of a second of light because the shutter is open for a fast fraction of a second.

So now let’s apply this concept to shooting:

When you are in a very bright situation, you don’t need the extra light. Too much light will overexpose your image.

Since you already have a lot of light, you only want to let a small amount pass through your lens, so you are going to use one of the higher numbers like 1/400 (well, smaller number when you consider that it is a fraction.)

When you have a dimly lit situation, you will need a slower shutter speed (like 1/30) to let in some extra light. Not enought light, and you will underexpose your image.

CAUTION: Be aware of your shutter speed dipping too low when you are hand-holding your camera.  I would suggest not shooting with a shutter under 1/30th or 1/25th.  If you do shoot with a very slow shutter speed, it can result in something called camera shake (visible shake from your hand in your photo.)  Camera shake is something you always battle when trying to achieve the sharpest image possible, and the slower the shutter, the more likely it is to capture motion in even the tiniest movement.  Instead, grab a tripod or rest your camera on something steady like a table.  (There are other ways to get more light into your pictures which we will discuss later.)

Creative Control:  Motion Blur and Freeze Frame

Technically speaking, there are many combinations (of aperture, shutter speed, and -something we have not talked about yet- ISO) that will give you proper exposure.  The wider your aperture (2.8), the faster your shutter speed (1/80), and the more narrow your aperture (f22) the lower your shutter speed (1/15).

Knowing this will help you get to the next level of control: creative control.

Creatively speaking, a slow shutter speed will give something we call motion blur.  This can be used to show motion or movement.

This was taken at f4 and a shutter speed of 1 second.  I wanted to capture the light of the sparklers so I wanted the motion blur of the sparks.

Here I wanted to capture the motion of the train while keeping the couple in focus.  I kicked my camera into shutter-priority mode (which lets me choose the shutter while the camera chooses the aperture for the correct exposure.)  I used a shutter of 1/13 and the camera chose an aperture of f10. Unfortunately, the train came unexpectedly so I did not have use of a tripod.  So I had to handhold the camera.  Because of camera shake, I was not able to get a perfectly crisp picture.. but you get the idea!! 🙂

And a fast shutter speed will give that “frozen-in-time” look.

This is shot with an f2.8 with a shutter speed of 400 (or 1/400th of a second.) It was because of the fast shutter that I was able to capture the girls in midair.

And here is another example of that frozen motion look.  I have captured the water droplets as they are being splashed on the dog.  This is shot with an f4 and 1/8000.

Homework Time

Ok.  Here is your assignment for this week:  Experiment with your camera’s Shutter Priority shooting mode.  (I suggest shooting outside if possible so you have enough light in your photo. IF you are going to do this inside, at least do it during the day or in a very bright lit area so lighting is not an issue.)

Shoot one photo to show motion blur.  Use a slow shutter speed.  I suggest something 1/30 or under. Make sure you brace your arm, use a tripod, or rest your camera on something to steady it and avoid camera shake.

Next, shoot one photo to show a moving object frozen in time.  Use a fast shutter speed. Try using a shutter speed of 1/100th or higher. (If you are shooting inside, bump up your ISO to 800 or higher to get that extra bit of light.)

Make sure when you post your photo…include the shooting settings.

Here are a couple of examples to get you started:

Notice how with the slow shutter speed you see the movement of the hand and the pages.


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