I hope you’ve been having fun experimenting with aperture! Now we’ll be getting familiar with shutter speed. Most of this is applicable to SLR cameras, but I’ll also clue let you know how it relates to point and shoot cameras too!
Shutter speed works in combination with the aperture and ISO to determine how much light is entering your camera. I like to think of the shutter as a tiny set of sliding doors inside the camera that slide apart and then come together again. Shutter speed is measured in seconds, and in fractions of seconds. If the shutter goes very fast, like 1/2000 of a second, then only a little bit of light has time to enter the camera. If the shutter goes super slow, like 10 seconds, then a whole lot of light is getting in over that long amount of time.
It is much more common for the shutter to only be open for a fraction of a second. On some cameras, the fractions of a second will be displayed as whole number, and the full seconds will be displayed with hash marks. But on others, like the Canon Rebel, it will actually show the fraction.
So why is shutter speed so important? Because it controls how motion appears in your photo. A fast shutter speed will freeze action, and a slow shutter speed will allow for motion blur!
So when taking your pictures, you need to decide whether you want your subject crisp and clear, or if you want to see some blur to convey a sense of motion.
In most cases you will probably want a fast shutter speed. Here are some examples of situations where a fast shutter speed can freeze the action in a photo:
Sometimes I like to allow for just a little bit of blur to convey the feel of motion. I love it and I think it adds more of a sense of motion! You’ll notice that the shutter speed wasn’t quite as fast for this one:
There are some instances where you would want a very slow shutter speed to allow for a lot of motion blur. For these kinds of photos you would need to use a tripod to avoid camera shake. As human beings, we are not able to stay 100% completely still while taking a picture. If your shutter speed goes any slower than 1/125th of a second, you start to see this camera shake motion and your pictures will be blurry.
Here are some examples of the effects you can get if you leave your shutter open for a long time:
In these first images of a ride at the state fair, it is so awesome to see the path of the lights as they twirl! The first image is a 1.6 second exposure and the second image is a 5 second exposure.
In this next image of the waterfall, the flowing water creates a smooth blur as it travels on its path.
Keep in mind that leaving your shutter open for long periods of time will be letting a lot of light into your camera and you may get over-exposed images. You can compensate by closing up your aperture, or by shooting at night when there’s less light.
On an SLR camera you can choose your own shutter speed for your photos, remembering that anything slower than 1/125th of a second will need a tripod (or set the camera on a table, the ground, etc.) to keep it still.
Though I like to shoot completely in manual mode, an easier way to begin experimenting with your shutter speed setting is to use the TV mode (shutter speed priority mode) on your SLR camera dial. In TV mode you can determine your own shutter speed, and then the camera will automatically determine your aperture and ISO for you. Cool!
If you have a point and shoot camera, there is one way to control your shutter speed. To freeze action with a fast shutter speed, set your dial to “sport” mode, which has an icon that looks like a person running. This setting will tell your camera to use the fastest shutter speed possible. Unfortunately, there’s not really a way to get heavy motion blur with a point and shoot. I don’t think there’s a setting to keep the shutter open for that long.