How fast do I want to snap this photo? That is the question you should ask yourself when you are setting your shutter speed in manual mode. How much natural light is available when you are taking the photo has a direct relationship to how fast you want to snap the photo. So if you are in low light you will need to hold your shutter open longer and if it is a bright situation you will need it to open and close quickly.
Shutter Speed = Time
Just think of a door opening and closing to let light in and the longer you have the door open the more light you let in. So your shutter works in the same way. Your f-stop determines how big the opening is on your shutter and the shutter speed is the amount of time you have the shutter open.
The shutter is the layers of “petals” inside your lens that opens to allow light to hit the sensor.
Shutter speeds are measured in fractions of a second so when you see 8, 15, 30, 125 in your camera think of them as 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/125 and that will make more sense to you. So 1/8 is an eighth of a second which seems like a very short amount of time, but in shutter speed time that is actually a long period of time. You will need a tripod if you have your shutter speed this slow. Anything 1/60 or slower is difficult to hand hold without having a blurry photo. A good starting point for sharp photos is 1/125.
If you are not ready to go completely manual set your camera on S (Nikon) or TV (Canon), set your shutter speed and let your camera determine the correct f-stop to give you a good exposure. This is 50% manual which can be very satisfying when you are first starting out.
What are you trying to achieve in your photo? Freeze action or blur motion? To freeze action you need a fast shutter speed and to blur motion to show action you need a slower shutter speed.
Sports is a great example of how shutter speed can change your photo. In the photo above the shutter speed was 1/500 of a second to freeze the action of the club. If I had slowed the shutter speed down this would have been a blurry photo.
Here are two more examples of where I used a fast shutter speed to freeze the action. In the hockey photo I used 1/250 sec and in the baseball one I used 1/400 sec.
In this photo I set my shutter speed on 1/15 sec and focused on my son’s face and moved my camera to follow him to show the action. This technique is called panning. You could use this technique with a car race, horse race, boating, etc.
1/500 sec1/400 sec
Here is another instance where you would want a fast shutter speed so your camera can catch those beautiful little birds visiting your feeders. They don’t stay still for very long so having a fast shutter speed to catch them coming in for a bite to eat is mandatory!
1/2000 sec The shutter speed was fast because there were two factors playing a part in this photo. Firstly, you want to freeze the action of the birds and secondly, it was a bright sunny day so a slower shutter speed would have let too much light in and the photo would have been over exposed and been washed out.
Freezing and blurring water can be done with the shutter speed setting. Do you want the crisp curl of a wave or the soft blur to show the water’s movement towards shore?
1/4 sec with a tripod1/125 sec without a tripod
1/2 sec tripod required
1/60 sec tripod recommended
1/40 sec to show the heavy rain
1/400 sec1/125 sec
In the first photo I used a a faster shutter speed than the second one. Can you see the difference in the water? In the first photo you can see the individual droplets of water and in the second photo it is more like a blanket of water and the droplets are blurred.
To freeze the sparks from the sparkler I used a fast shutter speed, 1/125 sec.
To show the flow or stream of wine I slowed the shutter speed down to 1/30 sec and used a tripod.
The shutter was open for 2.5 sec because it is very dark and you want to show the movement of the fireworks. You definitely need a tripod for a long shutter speed like this one.
Time of day can also play a factor in your shutter speed setting. If the sun is high in the sky you are going to need a faster shutter speed for correct exposure to cut down on too much sunlight getting into the camera. During sunset time you will need to slow your shutter speed down to give the camera more time to let more light in on the camera’s sensor.
These two photos were taken within seconds of each other and all I changed was the shutter speed. The photo on the left was shot at 1/4000 and the one of the right was shot at 1/1000. These were taken straight off of my camera card (SOCC) without any editing done and I wouldn’t say either one of these photos are the perfect, but that is where my editing program becomes by best friend! It is always more efficient to get the settings correct in the camera instead of trying to fix it after though.
Practice is your best way to master these settings and soon they will become stress free and fun! My most favourite activity to is take my camera and create!