Friday, April 3, 2009

Friday's Photo Tip - Understanding Shutter Speed

Friday's Photo Tip - Understanding Shutter Speed

splashing water fountain

flowinging water fountain

One of my readers writes: "I am having a great deal of difficulty understanding shutter speed. I would love to know when I should be at 200 or if I should go up to 1600. I am completely lost in this area."

Jackie, over at The Painted Veil left me a comment last week, and I hope I can help explain it a bit better.

I try to think of shutter speed in relation to the action of my subject and how I want to it to come out in the end.

If I am shooting a still life, with absolutely no movement of the subject, then a slow shutter speed is fine. I usually concentrate more on the depth of field in this case, and the aperture setting is more important to me than the shutter speed setting.

If I am shooting a moving object, and I want to freeze the action of my subject, then I am going to need a faster, or higher number, shutter speed.

On the other hand, if I want that moving object to have some "blur" to show the action, than I am going to want a slower, or lower number, shutter speed.

Take a look at the images above. You will probably have to click on them to get to my website where you can view them at a larger size.

Check out the action of the water in the first image. The water seems "frozen" in the air. I used a shutter speed of 1/80 for this image. It stopped the action of the water. If I had used a faster, or higher number, shutter speed, then it would be even more "frozen".

On the second image, see how the water has a "flowing", almost silky look to it? The shutter speed for this image is 1/20. It didn't stop the water as quickly as in the first image as it was a slower shutter speed.

The smaller the number, the longer the shutter stays open to capture the image.

If you are using an SLR camera, take off the lens, and try setting the shutter speed to 1 or 2. Trip the shutter. See how slow the mirror went up to expose the area where the film would be?

Try setting it on "B". This is a "bulb" setting, and as long as you hold your finger on the shutter button, it will stay open, exposing the film and "taking" the picture.

Try experimenting with the higher settings too - watch and listen to how fast it goes.

I am not sure how DSLR's handle working without a lens. If yours can, then you should be able to do these experiments with your camera.

One word of caution when using slow shutter speeds though - any camera movement at all will make your image unfocused.

As a rule of thumb, anything under 1/30 shutter speed should be on a tripod.

The DSLRs of today and many of the more expensive lenses have anti-shake or stabilization technology in them which allows you to push that 1/30 down to 1/20 with good results - as long as you are holding your breath.

Just don't pass out from not breathing as you are using the 1/20 without a tripod and are taking too long to focus.


  1. Thanks for explaining that so well!

  2. Thank you Kathy. I will try to grab some time this weekend and experiment. I did click to see the larger images and it is clear in their differences.

    Now all I need to work on is getting over my tripod!!!

    As I focus a great deal on nature shots the tripod is not used very much.

    I am usually walking, hiding, crouching, and yes even some times lying down to get the shot.

    Thanks for taking the time to better help me understand this.

    If no one else has requested for next about a study of depth of field and aperture?


  3. Hi Jackie,

    Hope it helps, and of course, experimenting is the best way to learn it.

    I've got a whole list of topics, and I have added your requests to it.

    If you have any more questions about the shutter speeds, just let me know.

    Have a great weekend!


  4. Cool Kathy, I sometimes through rocks in a pond then snap an image at high speed and see the water droplets, like frozen in time, very cool.

  5. I have been playing around with shutter speed lately and I'm finally getting it. I am hoping to get out and experiment more with the nicer weather.

  6. When your reader used the numbers 200 and 1600, it made me think that they are confusing shutter speed and ISO.

    You wrote a great tutorial! I write for Blissfully Domestic on their photo bliss channel. You should go check it out. I think you'd really like it. I'm not going to put the url here bcus that may chuck my comment into your spam queue, but it's at www dot blissfully domestic dot com.

  7. very cool, I am hoping to get out and experiment more with the nicer weather.AMAZING pictures.


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