How To Use Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed Basics

Shutter Speed is one of the most important settings you can master if you're after some stunning visual effects. It's responsible for moth freezing milliseconds in time, and for motion blur. Read on to find out how to use it to your advantage.

If you scroll down there's a video to accompany this article, but you'll learn far more if you both read and watch (plus we tend to put more little golden nuggets in our text articles). Scientific studies have been done on this - really! It's called multi modal learning.

If you have any questions, don't forget to ask in the comments section below!

Shutter speed at a glance

What is shutter speed?

The shutter is simply a barrier that keeps light from getting to the camera’s sensor when you’re not taking a photo. Pressing the button at the top of the camera to take a photo (the shutter release), opens the shutter, and when the shutter is open, an image is captured. When the shutter closes, the camera stops recording.

Shutter speed is the duration of time the shutter has remained open. It is important because this duration of time, “the shutter speed” is responsible for some really stunning creative effects. Which leads us to the next section:

How do I use my shutter speed to my best advantage?

With these basics about shutters covered, it is much easier to understand the purpose of shutter speed and its influence on your photography.

Shutter speed at its simplest

At the simplest level, adjusting the shutter speed on your camera is a factor in determining how much light will be let in to create the “correct exposure”. For example:

  • On a sunny day where there is a lot of natural light, you may choose quick shutter speed to let in less light, whereas
  • On a more overcast day, you may choose a slower shutter speed to let in more light.

There are other ways to let more light into your camera, such as using your aperture, or you could even adjust the sensitivity settings of your sensor via your ISO – but this lesson is about shutter speed.

But you don’t want just any exposure, you want a creative exposure…

Trouble shooting shutter speed

It you use a shutter speed that it too slow you may encounter:

  • Camera shake, where the camera moves while the shutter is still open causing your image to be blurred.
  • Unwanted motion blur – where an object in front of the camera moves while the shutter is open. You saw this in the above video with Bailey.

To prevent this try increasing your shutter speed by increments until the unwanted effect disappears. As a rule of thumb a shutter speed in the region of 1/500s should be enough to prevent unwanted motion blur with the players.

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Creative shutter speed

Shutter speed can also be used in more imaginative ways to create special effects, such as motion blur, and freezing fast action. 

Slow shutter speed and motion blur

Blurring is not necessarily always a bad thing and can be used to add a sense of motion in still photographs – motion blur.

Shutter speed is the key to creating motion blur because it records everything the sensor sees while the shutter is open. With a slow shutter speed an object has the time to move from one side of the frame to the other while the shutter is still open. The sensor will have recorded all this movement as motion blur. Anything that was till while the shutter was open will still be sharp.

Shutter speed is therefore responsible for effects like the image above which used a shutter speed of 1/2s

Fast shutter speed and freezing action

A fast shutter speed can enable you to freeze action in a way that the naked eye would never see. This is because the subject doesn’t have time to move across the frame while the picture is taken. The shutter speed can freeze them in mid air and pin sharp.

A fast shutter speed can give you results like this one. The image above was taken with a shutter speed of 1/3200s, although as we saw in the above video with Bailey a shutter speed of 1/1600s would likely have been enough to freeze the action.

Here's the video we teased...

Here's the video we teased you with, all the way from our YouTube channel.

Would you like to learn more about how to use shutter speed and other really cool effects?

If so we really think you’ll enjoy our online photography course: Photography FUNdamentals, there is something for everyone and you will be able to learn so much about photography. 

We have a whole module dedicated to camera craft which includes a chunk on shutter speed and the cool effects it can give you. It’s an online photography course with a difference. We try and make photography for beginners fun and easy to understand. You’ll find easy to follow graphics, cheat sheets, exercises an online learning community and so much more.

If you would like more information and help with photography for beginners, please click here to buy the course now.

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