Photographic Equipment

Shutter Speed Basics Tips

Learn more about photography shutter speed.

Sutter Speed Dial picture

Shutter Speed for Beginners

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I’m sure you know that one of the most important key elements to getting beautifully clear photos is not only shutter speed but also knowing and having a sense of the artistic. But the artistic imagination of the photographer is different from other arts; since you have to think in split-second increments. You can’t study a photo you haven’t taken yet like a painting, working on it gradually.

Shutter speed is one of the first things in digital photography that you must understand if you want to advance your skills. It can make you or break you as a digital photographer.

First, the shutter speed number refers to the speed of the rotation of the shutter inside the lens, measured in rotations per second (RPS). With photography, shutter speed is the time during which the shutter is open during the photo event to allow light to hit the film or image sensor in a digital camera. So, in combination with adjustments of the lens aperture (which is just controlling how wide the lens is), the shutter speed controls how much light the camera will record.

The basic rule is that a fast shutter speed demands a larger aperture to avoid under-exposure, while a slow shutter speed is offset by a very small aperture to avoid over-exposure. Slow shutter speeds are often used in low light conditions. Fast shutter speeds also give clarity to a moving image, and the fastest can freeze motion in mid-second.

Say you’re snapping a moving car. This example I’m talking about here involves a car on a regular street, going at a reasonable speed. To freeze the motion of the car as it passes you, you will need a shutter speed of about 1/2000. That means that the shutter has opened and closed so fast that you can’t imagine – one two-thousandth of a second. This is done a lot in sports photography, but even a simple subject like kids playing or your pet (who isn’t too good at staying perfectly still, unless they’re asleep).

But sometimes you want blur. You might want to capture the motion of a Ferris wheel, the flow of traffic in an intersection, or a subject with a surreal, dreamy, or action-oriented look. In that case, a shutter speed of less than 1/500 would be what you want. An old trick which many novice photographers use is to use ultra-slow shutter speeds to capture lightning. Go to a high space during a lightning storm at night, far away from city lights, and set up a camera with the shutter open and wait for a flash. Now close the shutter – the job is done for you by nature instead of your camera!

If possible, getting a single-lens reflex digital camera is the ideal. This will allow you to control the shutter speed alone without affecting the adjustment of the aperture.

Shutter speeds are a built-in invitation to experiment. It helps if you take several shots of your subject with different settings, noting each one on a notepad, then using your notes to compare the relative effects that each setting had.

Amy Renfrey

Did you know that you can get instant access to more similar camera technical knowledge at Digital Photography Success.