Shutter Speed Basics

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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 laymen’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 is opens and shuts again 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 speeds 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 “mid-air” such as a water droplet for example. Shots like this have a fast shutter speed.

The best shutter speed for sports photography

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 imager. 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 SLRs 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 point-and shoot- digital camera because you can’t control the shutter speed or aperture independently. On a prosumer 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 prosumer, you may have a reading called “E/V”. 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.

About the Author

Amy is an multi-award winning photographer from Australia. She teaches enthusiast photographers how to take beautiful, professional photos in easy, plain English. She has a monthly photography emagazine and ebooks to help you create stunning images every time.

Comments (27)

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  1. Karl says:

    Digital cameras have exploded in popularity in recent years. The convenience that they have brought to the market with the ability to review your pictures instantly and correct any imperfections by retaking the picture and the ability to store, edit, and email them from your own personal computer has fueled this growth.

    It is now no longer a matter of if you need a digital camera, but rather which one do I choose?

    First decide how you are going to use the camera. If simplicity is your goal, a simple point and shoot digital camera will do. If you wan the flexibility to be able to grow with the camera as you gain experience get a point and shoot that offers manual controls, this way you will have the best of both worlds infinite options for creativity and the ease of an automatic mode.

    The next item on your agenda should be megapixels. To keep it simple, the more megapixels the better the picture will be. So, how many megapixels do you need?
    If all you are doing is printing or emailing photos, a 3 or 4 megapixel digital camera will work. If you are going to use it for more professional work and enlarging photos, go with one with 5 or 6 megapixels.

    If you want uncompromising clarity go with a 7 megapixel or above. Just remember the higher the megapixels the higher the price!

    How much zoom do you need? You have two types of zoom with digital cameras, digital and optical. Optical is the more important because it brings your object closer without losing quality. The digital zoom will bring the object in closer, but you sacrifice the quality of the picture. If all you do is take everyday pics a 1x to 4x optical zoom will do. If you take pics like sporting events, get one with a 5x optical zoom or higher. For really intense professional work choose a 10x or better optical zoom.

    Digital cameras have evolved now to the point where you can get a great fully featured camera that will fit comfortably in your shirt pocket so dont think you have to get a large one to get good quality. If you are using it for more professional use with large optical zoom and such expect to have to buy a larger one however.

  2. Bob Johnson says:

    A great piece – thank you so much for posting it. I would definitely recommend thet every one else should have a look at it.

  3. Finally, an issue that I am passionate about. I have looked for information of this caliber for the last several hours. Your site is greatly appreciated.

  4. This article was extremely interesting, especially since I was searching for thoughts on this subject last Thursday.

  5. refi plus says:

    Wow! what an idea ! What a concept ! Beautiful .. Amazing …

  6. Jackie says:

    thanks good post

  7. Larry says:

    When are you going to post again? You really inform a lot of people!

  8. Raffie says:

    Greetings from all the way here in the Philippines. it is fun watching your videos and reading articles because you really make photography a lot easier to understand for me and my friends. Thanks for being so kind with giving us your knowledge. i’ve recommending your site to other budding photographers as well. i still have a long way to go and still so eager to learn more. i do hope i’d be lucky enough to really pursue photography as a profession, but for now i get my fix with just taking pictures of friends and random things i see. everyone has to start somewhere right? thanks again and im looking forward more.

  9. Dave says:

    A cool blog post there mate . Thanks for it !

  10. Helen Hanson says:

    Do you think we can master shutter speed by practise or by reading? I find both are equally as good.

  11. Larry says:

    Your blog site is so educational … keep up the great work! Also, is your wp theme a free one? and if so..can i have it? :)

  12. Geoff Nelson says:

    Amy you write great stuff. I purchased your books today and have started reading them. Wow, you’ve done an awesome job, I’m already understanding things in just minutes, that I’ve been struggling for years with.

  13. Manni says:

    The design of this website looks awesome, great content.

  14. Mark Taylor says:

    Excellent photos.

  15. Hesulah says:

    I was looking for stuff on shutter speed basics and could’t find anything nearly as good as this. Well done!

  16. Cecil says:

    Shutter speed and aperture the same thing? I don’t get it.

  17. Lesley says:

    Great website!

  18. Guido says:

    Wow, this was very interesting to read. Have you ever considered submitting articles to magazines?

  19. Derrick says:

    This is the best description os shutter speed I’ve ever come accross.

  20. mutuelle says:

    WONDERFUL Post.thanks for share..more wait .. ;)…

  21. Whitney says:

    This is one of my favorite apple blogs out there :) Great stuff

  22. Douglas says:

    I liked your info Amy. I will frequently consult your blog for getting better results in my photography. thanks

  23. Mark Peters says:

    Thanks for your info. It was a great help.

  24. Mike says:

    It is nice to find an article that explains advanced photography in simple and understandable terms, with appropriate examples. Most people (who aren’t otherwise really “into photography”) would like to take better pictures, but the guides you find are often aimed at those having it as a passionate hobby.

  25. ROY 0 says:

    Very nicely put Amy thanks again………

  26. Robert Reese says:

    I think Cecil must be an idiot or he didn’t read the article. He really should not have a camera in is hands except maybe a Brownie.

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