What does the shutter speed do on your camera? And why should you care?
Shutter speed is the time the shutter is open to let light through to your film plane or sensor. Part of the exposure triangle you’ll want to use and understand once you get past the auto settings on your camera. “But Bob, I get good pictures with the auto setting, why would I want to change?”
Auto settings get a ‘good exposure’ meaning there’s a readable image when you press the button. Creative images emerge when you control specific settings on your camera.
We have to poke around in three settings to get a usable shot. Which settings? The combination of ISO, aperture and shutter speed allows a certain amount of light to be captured. The aperture is the opening in the lens. ISO is the sensitivity. The larger the aperture opening, the faster the light can enter. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive to light the film or sensor becomes. The shutter speed determines how long the light can enter.
Change one of these three settings and another will have to be changed in order to capture the ‘right’ amount of light. For example, if you increase the aperture by half from f/5.6 to f/8, you would need to double the amount of time the shutter is open to achieve the same exposure while keeping the ISO the same.
Let’s be creative
The total control over the shutter speed allows for a lot of creative control. Look at your control Mode button. When you choose S on most cameras, or TV (meaning time value) on Canon, shutter speed becomes the priority and the other settings work around it.
Let’s look at some examples of using shutter speed for our vision. Faster shutter speeds relative to the amount of movement of our subject will produce sharp results. Shooting at a fast shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second or faster will freeze the wings of large birds in flight. 1/125th second with flash ensures no camera shake when shooting people.
Slower shutter speeds of less than 1/30th of a second can result in blurred images if the camera is not mounted on a tripod. If you change the shutter speed to 1/15th of a second and follow the same bird in flight, you get an artistic rendering with some blur and some with a slight focus.
A slow shutter speed can produce beautiful images with intentional camera shake, also known as ICM. When trying ICM, it helps to have the camera moving before pressing the shutter. There is a lot of experimentation with subjects, shutter speed and speed with which you move the camera.
Break with the automatic settings on your camera. Open up huge possibilities for creativity in your photos. Using shutter priority is just one option. Once you’ve figured out how to use shutter priority, it’s time to try aperture priority and manual settings as well.
Yours in creative photography, Bob