In photography, shutter speed is the length of time a camera's shutter is open when taking a photo...

Every time you take a photo, you press the shutter button to open the shutter and let light in. You can change your shutter speed to decide how long you want your shutter to stay open. The longer you leave the shutter open, the more light you'll be letting in through your lens aperture to reach your camera sensor.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds, or more commonly, fractions of seconds. Try to think of it like this:

  • Big denominator (the bottom number of the fraction) =  fast shutter speed, less light can enter. 

  • Small denominator = slow shutter speed, more light can enter.

Now, can you answer these questions?  ***See the bottom of this post for the answers***

                    1. Is 1/1000 faster or slower than 1/30?
                    2. Is 1/30 faster or slower than 1/60?
                    3. Which is faster 1/200 or 1/1000?
                    4. Which is slower 1/30 or 1/15

As explained in my beginner's guide to understanding exposure which you can read here, you need to balance your shutter speed with your aperture and ISO settings. As well as simply balancing your shutter speed with your other settings, you can also use it to be creative.

How can you use shutter speed creatively?

Shutter speed affects the motion in your photo in two ways:

          1. Fast shutter speeds freeze action.

          2. Slow shutter speeds show motion blur.

When deciding what shutter speed to use, try to get into the habit of asking yourself whether anything in your frame is moving and how you’d like to capture that movement.

To see what I mean, take a look at the fountains in Trafalgar square.

Freezing Action

A fast shutter speed is really just whatever it takes to freeze action. I would consider a fast shutter speed to be over 1/500 but if I'm shooting something really fast moving like one of those lovely green parakeets you see down in Tooting then you might need something more along the lines of 1/1000.

f2.5     1/2500     ISO: 400

To freeze these water droplets I chose a fast shutter speed of 1/2500.

For this photo, my shutter speed was fast enough that I didn't have to worry about camera shake and my photo coming out blurry. Camera shake is when your camera is moving while the shutter is open. With a fast shutter speed of 1/2500, camera shake wasn't a problem for this shot.

Most of the time, you’ll probably want to stay above shutter speeds of 1/60. Anything slower than that is tricky to use without getting the dreaded camera shake.

Motion Blur

A slow shutter speed allows you to show movement or motion blur in your photo. Once you start experimenting with slow shutter speeds, you'll quickly come to realise that hand-holding your camera is no longer possible.

If you want to show motion blur but not a blurry photo, you'll need to set your camera down on something (like the top of a wall or a ledge) and take your photo from there. Alternatively, if you love the idea of long exposure photography, it might be time to invest in a tripod. I love my Manfrotto tripod, wind and unstable ground are no match for this bad boy.

f22     1/6     ISO: 100

For this photo I didn't use a tripod, I simply popped my camera on the ledge of the fountain and set my shutter speed slow enough to show the flow of the water rather than freeze the droplets.

Pro tip: Camera shake can happen simply by pressing the shutter button, so for long exposures (slow shutter speed shots), consider investing in a remote shutter release or if you're on a budget, simply set your camera to take your photo on the timer. This is what I do and it works pretty well!

Practice Makes Perfect!

If, like me, you need to actually DO things to understand them properly, have a go at this:


           1.  Use a fast shutter speed to photograph someone on a Boris Bike. Make sure your shutter
                speed is fast enough to freeze the cyclist.

           2. Use a slow shutter speed to photograph a London bus. Make sure your shutter speed is slow
               enough to show the movement of bus and use a tripod or set your camera down somewhere
               to avoid camera shake.

Once you've had some fun experimenting with your shutter speed, why not click here to upload them to the Shoot Manual LDN community and join me next week for: Understanding ISO on the London Underground. Until then, happy shooting!

What else could you photograph in LDN to show motion? Leave your suggestions for our readers in the comments section below. 

***Answers to the above***
1) Faster
2) Slower
3) 1/1000
4) 1/15

1 comment:

  1. When photographing at slow shutter speeds, you can emphasize speed, showing blurred or object, or background to achieve very nice effects.. and some progs http://besthdrsoftwaremac.com/ can help you with editing