Shutter Speed Basics

I’m sure you know that one of the most important key elements to getting beautifully clear and artistic photos is firstly knowing and having a sense of the artistic. This is a very important aspect you need in order to refine your digital photography. The secret really is, combining your natural artistic flare with some precise technical knowledge…explained in layman’s terms. So I’m going to start you off with some good, solid tips about shutter speed, aperture, exposure, how blur can work well (not the accidental type!) and what camera you can use to get goods results in your digital photography.

Shutter speed is one of the first things in digital photography that you must know if you want to excel your skills and get beautiful digital photos. Your shutter speed controls the amount of light coming in to the digital sensor. The speed at with you get your light exposure can really make or break your digital photography.

In basic terms, to help you understand, shutter speed controls light exposure. Think of it like a door opening and closing fast or slow. How fast or slow it opens and shuts has impact on your light exposure onto the digital sensor. The shutter controls the amount of light coming in to the camera via its speed. The shutter can then make your pictures brighter or darker. Shutter speed can also impact the clarity of a moving object for example. You can create shutter speeds that are fast, giving a ‘suspended in mid air’ kind of look. Think of the motion of a fast moving object that’s been suspended in “midair” such as a water droplet for example. Shots like this have a fast shutter speed.

So what sort of shutter speeds do you need for a look like this? A good “freeze motion” shot where something looks suspended in time, may be at a shutter speed of 1/2000 just as an example. That means the shutter has opened and closed so fast that you can’t replicate it in sound or description. The shutter has clicked in 2000th of a second. That’s how a lot of sports photography is done. Many subjects that move very fast can look really good with a fast shutter speed.

Shutter speeds of babies and kids for example have to be taken pretty fast….unless they’re asleep of course. You need a pretty high shutter speed of babies and kids because in photographic terms they move around so fast! I’ve never been more tired after a day of shooting photos of kids and babies. You have to be on your toes because a potentially great photo is gone in an instant of a second, so you have to watch them like a hawk.

On the other hand you can get blurry images using shutter speed effects manipulation. Shutter speeds and artistic blur can work quite nicely together. For example if you want to create that artistic blurred look, (not the accidental smudge look) then some gentle blur in your photos can look beautiful. This involves some adjusting of the shutter speed to get the right look for your shot. I would call it a smudging effect if you want to get technical. You may take the same photo of the kids running, but set the shutter speed exposure to something around the 1/250 or less for example. This range of f stops may create a really nice, soft blur with these shutter speed effects.

Aperture on the other hand is described as F stops. The higher the number f stop, the smaller the opening of the lens and the less light falls on the image. For example, you may find that a dusk sunset shot is rather beautiful and you want to capture the colours as you see them. You may decide to manually change the aperture, or f stop, and open up the lens and let more light in. You may find that on auto your camera has chosen an f stop of F8. You look at the scene on the viewfinder and you find it’s just a little dark for your liking. You then switch the camera to a manual mode and change it to F4, which you find lets more light in and gives you the shot you want. Remember, the higher the F stop number, the less light comes in. The lower the number, the more light comes in.

Shutter speed and aperture in your digital photography must work together closely to create the right blend of effect in your photo. So just try it. Play around with moving objects on different shutter speeds and you’ll see what I mean about the different types of effects you can get.

So what digital cameras can you have complete shutter speed and aperture control over?

Digital Slr’s are by far better as far as controlling the amount of light that comes onto your sensor. It’s a little hard to get this control with an ordinary pointand shoot digital camera because you can’t control the shutter speed or aperture independently. On a pro-sumer camera it’s bit better because you can change the exposure value, but still, you can’t change the shutter speed alone.

Although on a pro-sumer, you may have a reading called “e/v” which stands for “exposure value”. An “e/v number” is really a measurement of the cameras combination between aperture and shutter speed. I don’t have time to go into great explanation now but if you can change the exposure value or “e/v” you have a little more scope than the point and shoot digital camera. You can still experiment pretty well if you have one of these digital cameras. However a single lens reflex digital camera is the ideal. It allows you to control the shutter speed alone, independently, without affecting the adjustment of the aperture.

To summarise, you can get beautifully artistic shots by having a sense of what works intuitively, then couple that with a good sense of photographic technical knowledge and you are well on your way! So start with trying out different shutter speeds first and then move on to aperture, then try both.

Happy shooting!

Amy Renfrey

351322_water_fightbycharlie-lawrence.jpg An example of fast shutter speed. Picture by Charlie Lawrence.

698602_horsemans_spurs_2.jpg An example of slow shutter speed.


5 comments on “Shutter Speed Basics

  1. You talk as specially important to manage shutter-speed and aperture in relation to digital photography, in what is it different from traditional film photography?

  2. kewl , i only got back into photography after almost 20 years , i forgot about shutter speed to aperture , as i was hiking mt barney and was trying to capture the water flowing at the upper portals as a blur , and i coundn’t remember as the last time i used a camera was when it was a slr not digital .
    thanks glad someone is helping the average joe.

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