Shutter speed controls how long your camera’s shutter will remain open when you click the shutter button. It is the length of time that the camera’s sensor is exposed to light. So the longer the shutter is open, the more light will come in. The shorter it is open, the less light will enter. There are a few times when you will need to use shutter priority.
Faster shutter speeds will freeze the action. This is useful for shooting sports, dance, children playing or anything where there is a lot of movement. In these circumstances, you may need to use a shutter speed such as 1/200th of a second or faster, in order to freeze the action.
Slower shutter speeds will show motion in the photo. There are plenty of circumstances where you’d choose a slower shutter speed. Subjects like flowing water, the sea or waterfalls, where you may wish to convey that sense of movement. Slower shutter speeds may also be used for creative purposes.
To accomplish this you’d use a shutter speed like 1 second, 1/30th of a second or even longer. Use in conjunction with a small aperture (higher F numbers like F16 – F32) to prevent overexposing the photograph.
You may require a slower shutter speed when shooting in low light conditions, such as when shooting Astro images or if you want motion blur for artistic purposes.
Put your camera in shutter priority by selecting S on a Nikon/Sony or Tv (Time Value) on Canon. This mode puts you in control of two settings, this time it is the ISO and shutter speed. The camera will automatically select the aperture for a correct exposure.
Shutter Speed Limits
A slow shutter speed is one of a few reasons we get blurred images. The way you stand, the way you hold the camera, even your breathing can all cause blurred images.
The slowest shutter speed you can shoot at while hand holding the camera depends on a few things. Typically, it is anywhere between 1/80th and 1/ 50th of a second. Some people have a steadier hand and can shoot handheld at 1/50th and still retain sharpness. Others need to shoot at 1/80th or 1/100th of a second.
However, there is a limit to how slow a shutter speed you can use when hand holding the camera. I would advise against shooting at a shutter speed below 1/60th of a second, and if you have to do so, make sure you are using a tripod.
If your lens has Image Stabilisation/Vibration Reduction, then you may be able to shoot handheld a little slower. This feature will be clearly indicated on your lens.
A good rule of thumb is to always shoot at, or above the focal length you are using. If you are shooting at a focal length of 70mm, then try not to shoot slower than 1/ 70th of a second. If you are shooting at a focal length of 200mm, then try not to shoot less than 1/200th of a second.
Again, if your camera has VR/Stabilisation, you may be able to shoot at a slower speed.
You can check anytime to see what focal length you are at. The focal range of your lens is printed around the barrel of it. If you have a 24mm to 70mm lens, you will see these numbers printed on it. Zooming in and out will change the focal length and this will be indicated by a small white mark on the lens.
If you see this small white mark pointing to the number 70 then you are shooting at 70mm. You should then ensure you are shooting at 1/70th of a second or faster.
ISO and Shutter Speed
If you find your photos are still too dark (underexposed) and you cannot shoot at a slower speed, there are a few things you can do to get a proper exposure. While using Shutter priority, you still have control over the ISO.
Generally, it is better to keep the ISO as low as possible. However, if you are shooting in poor light, you may need to bump it up to 400 or higher. This will make your camera sensor more sensitive to light. You can use high ISO for shooting indoors, such as in a church or concert hall, or where flash might not be appropriate.
You need to be aware that higher ISO settings may lead to grain or digital noise in your photos.
You can also set the ISO on some cameras to Auto ISO. With this, your camera will choose the ISO automatically. This will free you from having to figure out the correct ISO for a particular scene. Generally, it works well but there may be some occasions where it uses a very high ISO setting and this may lead to unwanted digital noise in your images. Some cameras contain a setting to limit how high Auto ISO goes up too.
Generally, I don’t recommend this setting without first testing to see how well it works in your camera.
Aperture and Shutter Speed
To get more light into your camera, you can also use a bigger aperture. Remember, the bigger the aperture (small F numbers like F3.5) the more light gets into the camera. The smaller the aperture (numbers like F16, etc) the less light gets into the camera.
If you cannot use a bigger aperture or use a higher ISO, then you should mount your camera on a tripod. This will allow you to use a much longer shutter speed, allowing more light into the camera.
When using a tripod, you can also set the camera to take a shot using the timer function. This will further help to get a sharp shot.
Shutter Speed Exercise
Go to a location that has a waterfall or a fast flowing river – wherever there is some moving water. Set up your camera on a tripod, and turn the main dial to “S” or “Tv” to select shutter priority. Set your ISO to the lowest ISO setting.
Frame your subject and start with 1/200th of a second shutter speed. Move to 1/100th of a second and take another shot. Continue to dial down the shutter speed until you get as slow as 1 second.
Don’t worry too much about the composition in these shots. Just focus on using shutter priority and manually adjusting the shutter speeds yourself. You should notice how the fast shutter speeds freeze the movement of the water and the slow shutter speeds blur it. The idea here is to show the various creative effects you can achieve using different shutter speeds.
Experimenting with shutter speeds like this will help you to decide what speed to use when confronted with different scenes where there are movement and action. When you learn how to manually control the shutter speeds of your camera, you can get more creative with action photography.
You can also try this experiment with shutter speeds at home using water from a running tap.
Later on, you could progress to shooting some long exposure photography or astrophotography. This is The Milky Way and was taken at Beltra lake, Glenisland in November 2015. This photo was shot using a slow shutter speed as well as adjusting the ISO and aperture.
The aperture was F2.8. Exposure time was 21 seconds and the ISO was 3200. These settings allowed more light to enter the camera and picked up detail that would otherwise be invisible to the naked eye.This is another instance where you might want to use a slower shutter speed.
The camera was mounted on a tripod and I shot 4/5 shots that were joined together in Photoshop to create this panorama. Find a dark location and pick a night when there is no moon. This is not advanced photography – this is just knowing the right setting to use.
If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below.
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