Take your photography skills to the next level by experimenting with different shutter speeds

October 5, 2019

Taking a picture is just like painting, and you paint with light in photography.

 

Sometimes, photography looks like a complicated subject because it involves so many numbers, and you feel like the math is killing your creativity.

 

I totally get it! Today we will talk about the concept of time and photography.

 

Light enters your camera in THREE different ways:

 

1.  ISO -- the sensitivity of the camera towards the light, we will discuss ISO in another article.

2. Aperture -- the quantity of light, we will come to aperture and f-stops in the future.

3. Shutter Speed -- the duration of light and this is today's focus!

 

Ok, you pick up your camera and randomly take a test shot in the manual mode. Oh boy, the photo turns out to be too bright! 

 

Don't worry, even professionals have to take a test shot, the point is you have to know how to fix it.

 

A picture that is too bright means there is too much light. There are 3 ways to cut off the light: to change the ISO/ aperture/ shutter speed, and it's that easy! However, you have to be aware that each of the variables will result a "secondary effect".

 

Shutter speed controls the duration of light that enters the camera, this time frame is measured in seconds. For instance 1/200s means the camera shutter opens up for two hundredth of a second and then closes, allowing light to enter during this period of time.

 

When your picture is too bright, you can increase your shutter speed in the next shot to "cut off" excessive light. Increasing the shutter speed means increasing the denominator of the fraction. When you increase shutter speed from 1/200s to a faster one, say 1/500s or 1/1000s, your photo will be darker as the camera shutter now opens just for a shorter period of time. 

 

Yes, you get it! The quickest way to make sense of the effect of shutter speed on the brightness of the photo is to remember, your photo gets darker when the denominator is becoming a larger number.

 

Perfect.

 

As I've mentioned earlier, the three variables -- ISO, aperture and shutter speed changes the brightness of the photo, at the same time each variable will result a "secondary effect".

 

The essence of photography is to embrace these "secondary effects" which allow you to capture limitless amount of stunning images! This is where your creativity seamlessly synchronize with the "math" of photography!

 

Remember, your job is not only to get a well exposed photo, but to create a piece of art with the “secondary effects”.

 

The secondary effect of shutter speed is the sense of motion. You will use different shutter speeds (slow, moderate, or fast) to capture the motion of moving subjects, say a dog who's catching his treat in the air, Steph Curry shooting a 3-pointer, or the flow of waterfall when you go hiking.

 

So, the question is, how fast is a fast shutter speed, how slow is a slow or long shutter speed, and what is baseline? And is there a suitable shutter speed for a particular subject?

 

If your subject is not moving, I'll recommend you to shoot at 1/200s to avoid shaky pictures. Your arm is sending vibrations to the camera, and to avoid getting shaky and blurry pictures, you should shoot at 1/200s. I will call this a "safe" or "moderate" shutter speed. If you shoot at slower than 1/200s, say 1/100s, your arms need to be very still and this can only be achieved with lots of practice. If you shoot below 1/100s, chances are you might get a lot of blurry photos.

 

A high or fast shutter speed is anywhere higher than 1/500s. Examples: 1/500s, 1/1000s, 1/2000s, 1/4000s (the highest shutter speed that most cameras can go)

 

A slow or long shutter speed is anywhere longer than 1/30s. Examples: 1/30s, 1/20s, 1/10s, 1s (one second), 10s (10 seconds) and etc.

 

Long exposure just means "very long" shutter speeds. As long as your shutter speed is longer than 15 seconds, you are doing long exposure photography. Long exposure can be as long as 90 seconds! 90 seconds is widely used night photography, I'll show you some examples in the latter paragraphs.

 

In the manual mode, the longest shutter speed that you can dial to is 30 seconds for most cameras. If you need to exposure for longer than 30 seconds, you have to switch to the "Bulb" mode which allows you open and close the shutter manually. Yes, you get it, you need a remote control to avoid shaking the camera.

 

Ok, I've discussed enough theories about the shutter speed. Let me give you some real life examples.

 

The fast shutter speed world: 1/500s, 1/1000s or higher

 

1/1000s for fast-moving subjects

E.g Freezing the motion of the splashing wave

 

(Photosprouts Landscape Photography Workshop) 

 

 

1/500s for freezing the motion of an active puppy (well, unless it's a super puppy, otherwise you don't need to go faster than 1/500s)

 

 

1/320s for freezing the motion of everyone in the family and capture candid shots

 

 

Great tip: You don't want to shoot at very high shutter speed (say 1/500s) for family photo sessions because high shutter speed will also darken the photo, which means you need to compensate the effect by bumping up the ISO (more noise) or widen the aperture (shallower depth of field, the risk is not getting every family member in focus). Thus, you should nail it at 1/320s and ask the clients to move or walk SLOWER. At the same time, you should use a moderate aperture size (F4, F5.6) to make sure everyone is in focus. In summary, ISO, aperture and shutter speed is a holistic concept for professional photographers, and communicating with clients is very important to make these numbers work.

 

 

1/200s "Safe" shutter speed for non-moving subjects. 

 

 (Photosprouts Portrait Lighting & Posing Workshop)

 

Another great tip: "Safe" shutter speed is actually 1/focal length of the lens. Let's just not make the matter too complicated, 1/200s is what you should go for a sharp picture of a non-moving subject.

 

The long shutter speed world: 1/30s, 1/20s, or longer

 

1/30s, 1/20s are great for creative action photography (this technique is called "panning") and getting "ghostly effect" of bart riders

 

(Photosprouts Beginner 102 Workshop;

Photosprouts Street Photography Workshop

 

1/10s is for creative street photography

 

(Photosprouts Street Photography Workshop) 

 

 

1/5s or 1s for moving water

 

(Photosprouts Landscape Photography Workshop

 

Great tip again: press the shutter as the water is coming towards or moving away from you, so you can get clearer and directional water streaks. When shutter speed is longer than 1 or 2 seconds, you'll probably lose the water streaks and can only see a blurred water surface.

 

 

15 or 30 seconds for night photography in general (entry level)

 

 

60 to 90 seconds

Night photography involving multiple exposures, say light trails

 

(Photosprouts Night Photography Workshop)

 

 In summary:

 

1. Shutter speed is the time that the camera shutter opens and closes.

2. Shutter speed is measured in seconds and mostly expressed in fractions.

3. The longer the shutter speed, the brighter the photo and vice versa.

4. The secondary effect of shutter speed is the sense of motion.

5. Fast shutter speeds are for freezing the motion of fast-moving subjects; long shutter speeds are for creating motion blur.

6. ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed controls how much light can come into the camera but in different ways. Each of them will result a secondary effect. Balancing ISO, aperture and shutter speed and be creative with their secondary effects is the way to advanced level photography.

 

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