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Shutter Speed Photography Tips

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Today we are sharing all our shutter speed tips and how to give your photos an artistic blur, or make them super crisp!

Looking for more ways to take your photography to the next level? Here are a few tips you might find helpful – Focussing Techniques, Shooting in Raw vs. Jpeg, and All About Lenses.

Slow shutter speed, fast shutter speed, what is shutter speed and MORE! Today we’ll be getting familiar with shutter speed functions of your camera.  Most of this is applicable to SLR cameras, but I’ll also let you know how it relates to point and shoot cameras too!

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed works in combination with the ISO and aperture 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.

Why is Shutter Speed Important?

The shutter controls how motion appears in your photo.

  • A fast shutter speed will freeze action
  • A slow shutter speed will allow for motion blur

Take a look at the images below –

how to set your shutter speed

Both images are great, but the one on the left was shot with a fast shutter and it captured the water falling so you can almost see the droplets. The picture on the right was shot with a slow shutter, so because the shutter was open longer, the water dropping is blurred. Again, both good photos, just different effects.

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.

Fast Shutter Speed

In most cases, you will probably want a fast shutter speed.  Here are some examples of situations where a fast shutter can freeze the action in a photo:

fact shutter speed for kids sports

This little soccer player was obviously in motion, but the fast shutter froze his position and produced a sharp image with him nice and crisp.

fast shutter speed with girl on swings

A fast shutter kept this subject in focus, even while swinging fast and being both high and low in the frame.

You’ll notice that the shutter wasn’t quite as fast for this one:

fast shutter speed to catch someone jumping

Sometimes I like to allow for just a little bit of blur to convey the feel of motion.  I love the look, and I think it adds more of a sense of motion!

Slow Shutter Speed

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!

how to use a low shutter speed at night

In this waterfall image, the flowing water creates a smooth blur as it travels on its path.

slow shutter speed blur effect

ISO – Aperture – Shutter Speed

Helpful Tips:

  • 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.  Remember 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.  To freeze action with a fast shutter, 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 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.

Hope you find these tips helpful!

what is shutter speed

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica is the talented Arizona photographer and owner of Jessica Downey Photo. She was a member of the Somewhat Simple Creative team in 2011. As you embark on your lens hunt, feel free to email Jessica (info@jessicadowneyphoto.com). Or you can contact her via Facebook with any questions you may have!

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