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Friday, September 14, 2012

Photography 101 {Shutter Speed}

The Exposure Triangle. Remember that? These are the 3 things (ISO, aperture, and shutter speed) that control exposure.
We talked about aperture, and ISO, so let's discuss the last component in the exposure triangle, shutter speed. Shutter speed is the one of the 3 ways that you can control how much light comes into your camera.

Shutter---the device in the middle of the lens that opens and closes and creates the hole that the light passes through. There are little thin blades/flappy things that slide over one another and make an opening.
See that pentagon hole in the middle? 
The device that opens and closes this hole (the aperture) is the shutter. 

Shutter Speed---how quickly or slowly the shutter stays open. During slower shutter speeds the shutter stays open longer and during faster shutter speed the hole stays open for a shorter period of time. 

In auto mode your camera will guess the the best shutter seed for best exposure.
In shutter priority (Tv for Canon and S for Nikon) the user sets the shutter speed and the camera guesses the other setting for best exposure.  Shooting in shutter priority is a great way to experiment with different shutter speeds and see what they do!
On a Canon DSLR-
See the "Tv" mode?  That's shutter priority, where you can set the shutter speed and the camera will set the other settings.  The green box (as well as all the "creative auto" modes, those are the ones with the little images like the flower, runner and mountain...) are full automatic modes where the camera will guess the shutter speed for you. 
The longer a shutter stays open, the more action it captures.  The shorter it stays open, the more motion it will "freeze."  Also, the shorter your shutter remains open, the less light it allows in and thus your photo may be underexposed or dark if the shutter speed is too fast.  Contrastingly, if your shutter stays open longer it lets more light in and your photo may get over exposed or too light.
An example of "frozen" action.  With this fast shutter speed, not only is Jude "frozen" but so is the water being splashed.  The shutter speed for this photo was 1/1250.
Shutter speed is usually measured in fractions of a second.  For example a shutter speed of 1/125 means that the shutter is open for 1/125th of 1 second.  This shutter speed might also be referred to simply as 125th.  Longer shutter speeds can extend beyond a fraction of a second and the shutter can even be open for several seconds to hours. 

Camera shake is when no matter how still you hold your camera and how still your subject is (let's say it's a piece of fruit just sitting there) you can never be perfectly still.  So the image may come out blurry if your shutter speed is too slow.  As a general rule of thumb, your shutter speed should be no lower than the focal length of your lens.  So an 85mm lens should have a shutter speed no lower than 1/85th of a second.  And a 70-200 zoom should have a shutter speed no lower than 1/200th of a second.

Motion blur happens when the subject is moving.  If you use a slow shutter speed your running toddler might move across the frame as the shutter stays open, creating blur.  With a faster shutter speed (the shutter staying open for less time) your photo will appear to freeze the action.  Thus increasing your shutter speed will help eliminate motion blur.  As a very general rule of thumb, I generally try not to shoot kiddos with a shutter speed less than 1/125th.  If they are moving very fast or I'm trying to capture a running dog or car I bump up to 1/250th or even higher.
PS-Seeing blur in a photo isn't always a bad thing.  Sometimes it's a great way to show action and movement! 
An example of motion blur.  The kiddos were dancing and I wanted to capture the action of their movement. leaving the shutter open for a longer time, in this case 1.0 seconds, captured their motion.
This is a very rough guide for shutter speeds.
This is a very rough, 40-grit, guide to shutter speeds just to give you an idea of how fast a shutter speed you'll need to capture a particular situation.  There are many other factors to take into consideration when determining your shutter speed, including available light, ISO, aperture, lens and distance to your subject, but hopefully this can give you a place to start.  You can always shoot with faster shutter speeds (higher numbers)

So I hope that's making sense.  As always, please feel free to ask questions and ask for clarifications.  We can use the comments section more easily since there is now a reply feature.  Wooo hoooo!   (Ya, I'm a little too excited about the new reply option!)

And there's a new poll over there on the right sidebar for the next Photography 101 post.  You can select more than one answer and I think you can even vote each day if you want.

As always, I love your topic suggestions too!

Photography 101


  1. Love your posts on photography! Keep them coming. I'm learning a lot.

  2. That shutter speed poster is very handy. I writing that down now. Thanks so much!

    Stopping by from local sugar. Love for you to stop by and return the follow when you can ;)

    Enjoy your weekend!
    Julie @ Naptime Review

  3. LOVE IT! Now all I need is the camera. ha, ha! This post is going in the favorites. Thank you.


  4. Nice work Nancy - maybe some follow up comments on focal length of lens to shutter speed for zoom lenses in a coming post? ;)

    hugs - aus and co.

  5. Thanks so much for your comments on my blog! I'm so glad to have found you. I especially will be reading your photography sections! My hubby bought me a Canon 60D... I've had it for a year and still leave it on auto because I just can't wrap my brain around all the technical stuff. Looking forward to learning more!

  6. Just found your awesome photography 101 on Pinterest today. I got a camera for Christmas yesterday and am trying to figure out to use it. This whole series is awesome. I have one question. Sure ill have more but for now, when I adjust my shutter speed it get really dark.So I tried changing the iso and it gets grainy. What am I doing wrong?


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