Tip of the week: Photography basics - Shutter speed

Tip of the week: Photography basics - Shutter speed

After explaining aperture in my last tip of the week, we are moving to the next important thing - shutter speed. Once again, I recommend reading the first part of the photography basics series as an introduction which you can find on this link:

Photography basics - Exposure

What is shutter speed?

Shutter Speed Dial

Although the name implies differently, shutter speed is the time of exposing the sensor to the incoming light. Inside the camera there is a shutter mechanism which consists of curtains, which slide across the sensor uncovering it for the incoming light. The curtains are covering the sensor completely until you press the shutter button. Then they move, uncovering the sensor and they stay opened for the amount of time which equals the shutter speed value you have set on your camera. When they close, the camera stops “taking” the image. Said above is valid only for dSLR cameras. Mirrorless and some new dSLR cameras also have electronic shutter. In that case curtains are not covering the sensor, but the sensor readout is started and/or stopped electronically. Electronic shutter has some benefits, such as completely silent shooting. Silent shutter also removes the unwanted camera shake due to the curtains movement, when shooting with long exposure. Electronic shutter is not good if used with very fast (short) shutter speeds since rolling shutter effect can happen. Some cameras can automatically adjust depending of the shutter speed and choose if to use the mechanical or electronic shutter.

Shutter speed values are mostly given as fractions of a second, but the camera leaves the fraction out, so instead of displaying 1/60 seconds, camera only displays 60. This notation goes up until the 1 second value. From 1 second and longer, the camera will display it with a quotation mark. So for example, 10 second exposure will be displayed as 10” on the camera.

Close up of DSLR camera

Shutter speed can be adjusted either in manual mode or in shutter priority mode which you choose on the mode dial, or in the camera menu. It is usually marked with letter “S”, but if you are a Canon or Pentax user, it is marked as “Tv” as Time value.

In terms of exposure, shutter speed is very easy to get along. If you shorten the shutter speed 2 times, you have also reduced the amount of light 2 times. For example if you change the shutter speed value from 1/250 seconds to 1/500 seconds, you have exposed the sensor 2 times shorter and your exposure has increased 2 times. Very simple indeed.

How to use it?

Shutter speed is a very important setting which can either improve the visual storytelling of your photo, but can also lead to unwanted blurs if not used correctly. First thing you should always keep in mind is the maximum shutter speed value you need to set, not to get the blurry photo if you are shooting handheld. Focal length of your lens is determining the value you need to use. Most commonly used rule (which is applied if your lens or camera does not have optical stabilisation) is that if the focal length of your lens is 50mm, then you shutter speed should be around 1/50 seconds, or the closest value available which is 1/60 seconds. Longer (slower) shutter speeds might bring blurry photos if you shoot handheld. You can shoot handheld with longer shutter speeds if you use optical stabilised lenses and cameras, or if your hand is very steady.

Waves and Rocks at Sozopol Town

Creativity about, longer (slower) shutter speeds are used to create motion blurs, milky water movement or even create ghost town effect where moving people in the streets are not captured at all, or are completely blurred in the image. It is mandatory to shoot on a tripod in these cases. Shorter (faster) shutter speeds are used if you want to freeze the action and motion. Usually used in sports and wildlife photography. 
There are several techniques which involve correct setting of shutter speed, such as: panning, creative blur (with or without flash), light painting… which require a bit of practice, but you can achieve really good and interesting results if you master them.

Krushunski Waterfalls

Photo credits: Blackay, Dvmsimages, Milan Ljubisavljević.

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November 06, 2019


Great article. Thanx for sharing.

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