Shutter Speed – The Big Three of Photography Part 2

This is part of a series of posts about How to Shoot in Manual Mode. Follow the links to read the other posts about WHY I USE MANUAL MODE, APERTURE, ISO, HOW I PUT THEM ALL TOGETHER, and WHERE TO BEGIN CHOOSING YOUR SETTINGS! You can also download a helpful Manual Mode Cheat Sheet here.
Okay, so today, it is all about shutter speed.

BUT, let’s just take a moment to review a little of our last photography post. First, photography is all about the light-capturing images with light to be specific. Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO are what control how much light is recorded by your camera. Aperture is the circular opening in the camera lens that can be opened up or closed down depending on how much light you want to enter your camera in much the same way that the pupil of the eye opens and closes to let in the right amount of light. Aperture also controls the depth of field–or how much of the photo is in focus.

Shutter speed is the second of The Big Three of Photography. I think shutter speed is a little more straight forward and easy to understand than aperture. The shutter is what “clicks” when you press the button to take a picture. Basically, it is a little curtain in the camera body that opens to allow light in and then closes to stop the camera from recording more light. The speed that it opens and closes is what determines how much light the camera records.

The opening and closing of a curtain sound like a slow operation but don’t be fooled. Cameras record shutter speeds in seconds, or more accurately, fractions of a second. To me, a slow shutter speed would be anything below 1/60th of a second (ex. 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, and 1 second=slow shutter speeds.)

A fast shutter speed anything faster than that (1/125, 1/250, 1/500 and 1/1000 of a second=fast shutter speeds.) It is helpful to know that your camera typically shortens these numbers in the viewfinder. For example, your camera would show 1/100th of a second by just displaying 100 in the viewfinder. A shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second would display as 1600.

Shutter speed is used to control the amount of motion in a photograph. Slow shutter speed is often selected to suggest movement since a slow shutter speed and a moving object will allow for some blur. Fast shutter speeds are used to “freeze” motion.

I used a fast shutter speed of 1/1250 to freeze motion in these sledding pictures.

In this picture, the shutter speed of 1/1600 even froze the water droplets in place. My relatively slow shutter speed of 1/60 of a second created some blur in these swinging photos to show movement.

So, to sum up, a slow shutter speed means the shutter remains open for a longer amount of time allowing more light in, but also allowing more movement/blur of fast-moving objects. Fast shutter speed means the shutter stays open for a shorter amount of time thus letting in less light but allowing a motion to be frozen in time.

One more quick bit of info to keep in mind that relates to shutter speed. Our bodies are constantly moving. Even when we think we are holding still, we are still moving some. When holding a camera and taking a picture, just pushing the shutter release moves the camera a bit. As a rule of thumb, when I am hand holding a camera and taking a picture I don’t let my shutter speed fall below 1/60 of a second. If I am using a zoom lens to get closer to my subject, I try not to let my shutter speed fall below the amount I am zoomed out. So, for example, if I am using a zoom lens and am zoomed out to 200mm I don’t let my shutter speed fall below 1/200 of a second. Clear as mud?

I hope these explanations are making sense, but please feel free to ask any questions in the comments. Next, we’ll conquer ISO!!Jessica StierFebruary 26, 2010 at 11:11 amHi Gayle. Great post in this great series you are working on!

I was wondering about the last photo of the girl on the swing. Were you moving your camera as you were snapping her photo? Does that make sense? I mean I assume you were in the middle of the swing, near the pole. The swing is going around and I am thinking you had to be moving in order to keep her in focus or else both she and the background would be blurry. Or wait! Were you on one of the swings?
I really love the light and movement in this photo. It gives a real sense of carefree fun. Great shot!

Mom and Camera February 26, 2010 at 11:31 amI am in one of the swings so I was moving also. I have never been great at panning but since I was moving at the same rate as the swing I was able to keep her in focus (mostly) and have the background have lots of motion. Just a little FYI, spinning in a swing with your eye through the viewfinder of your camera the whole time is not for the faint of heart/stomach 🙂 !!