They say timing is everything. In photography, a split second could be the difference in nailing a shot and missing it. Timing also plays a part in the feelings you evoke in an image. Let’s take some time to explore shutter speed and how to use it in creating your images.
Shutter speed is one of the three key elements for exposure in photography. It is measured in seconds and most cameras range from around 1/4000th of a second all the way to 30 seconds. Seconds on a camera are labeled with the inches sign like this “. So when you think your camera has gone off the deep end and thinks it is a tape measure what it is really trying to tell you is that it is going to take a 15” (second) exposure. If you scroll past 30” you may see that a “B” appears. This “B” stands for BULB. This mode will keep your shutter open for as long as you are holding the button down.
A couple rules of thumb when choosing your shutter speed:
- If you are using a shutter speed slower than 1/60th of a second you should put the camera on a tripod to avoid camera shake resulting in blurry images.
- If you are using a telephoto lens on a full frame camera you typically want a shutter speed equal to the focal length. For example, if you zoom into 200mm then you want a minimum shutter speed of 1/200th of a second. One other thing to take into consideration is if you are using a crop sensor camera then your shutter speed will need to be sped up to account for this. Canon users magic multiplier number is 1.6, Nikon is 1.5, and micro 4/3 cameras are 2. So, using the same example of 200mm a Nikon would need a minimum shutter speed of 1/300th of a second and Micro 4/3 would need 1/400th of a second.
When I ask most beginners what the shutter speed controls I hear something like, “The longer the shutter speed the more light will come on your camera.” I answer, yes, that is exactly right……however, creatively shutter speed controls action in an image. Have you ever seen one of those postcards with a silky smooth waterfall? That’s a slow shutter speed, something like 1” to 30”. What about a magazine ad for some drink where an ice cube is splashing into the drink and all of the individual liquid drops seem to be frozen in time? That’s a fast shutter speed, something like 1/500 to 1/4000 of a second. What about those really cool images of star trails??? One way to create those is with a really long shutter speed, often minutes or even hours long using the BULB mode.
Shutter speed can help you tell the story you want to get across in your images. How does that silky smooth waterfall make you feel? For most people, it’s a soft, peaceful, happy feeling. When people first learn about long shutter speeds and how to make those silky waterfalls I think they often get stuck there because it’s so awesome…..I know I did. What about using the opposite shutter speed on a waterfall? Using a fast shutter speed to freeze the action can really show the power of the water rushing over the falls.
How about photographing your kid’s baseball games? There using a fast shutter speed to freeze the ball and the kids running is what is most often used. This can look really cool, but how about slowing down the shutter just a bit to show the slightest action in the ball coming off the bat or just the slightest movement in their legs. This really gives a sense of action that can bring an image to life. Since our kids don’t play baseball….yet, how about an example from Grand Central Station in New York? This image shows how a slightly slower shutter speed can really create a sense of movement.
These are just a few things to think about when choosing your shutter speed. The great thing is that there is no right answer when making the decision about which shutter speed to use. You have the freedom as the artist to do whatever feels right to you.
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