Monday, June 4, 2012

Photography Basics: Understanding Shutter Speed

This is part two of my Photography Basics series.  The first covered ISO  If you haven't read it go check it out! Understanding ISO

    This part will cover shutter speed.  Do you have your coffee ready?  Are your camera and your manual sitting beside you?  Okay, we are ready to go!


    Shutter Speed: The Technical Version

    Shutter speed is the amount of time your shutter stays open.  It's measured in seconds or fractions of a second and can range from 1/8000th  of a second to 30 seconds depending on the camera.


    Shutter Speed: Sandra's Version

    Imagine a tiny eye in your camera.   The shutter is the lid covering the eye.  Shutter speed is how fast that eye blinks.  If it blinks very quickly only a small amount of light gets in.  If it blinks slowly more light comes in.


    I'm sure you've noticed that ISO and shutter speed seem to be all about light.  That's because photography is all about light  All of the adjustments and technical talk relate to getting the right amount of light to perfectly expose an image.  Too little light and an image will be dark.  Too much light and an image will be to bright.  ISO helps us control light by allowing us to adjust our camera's sensitivity to light.  Shutter speed helps us control light by allowing us to adjust how much light our camera sees.

    Take a moment to read the section in your camera's manual about adjusting shutter speed.  I'm going to snap some images that will help you see shutter speed in action.


    The following series of images shows a progression in shutter speed from 1/250th (blinking fast) of a second to 1/15th (blinking slow) of a second.  The ISO was set to 100, the aperture was 2.0, and the focal length was 85mm in all of the images.  Only natural light from a window to the left was used.  Don't you just love my little Mary Poppins?





    You notice that in the first few images only a small amount of light is captured making some parts of the image dark, but as the images progress more light is let in making the image brighter. You may also notice that the last few images are blurry. When you are photographing you should always shoot at a shutter speed faster than the focal length of the lens you are using.  These were taken with an 85mm lens so everything after 1/85th of a second is blurry.  If you must shoot slower than the length of your lens invest in a tripod.

    Shutter speed plays an important role when it comes to freezing and capturing motion.  To freeze motion use a faster shutter speed.  To capture motion use a slower shutter speed.  Let me show you some examples of stopping and capturing motion.

    This image of a gumball was taken at 1/180th of a second.  My daughter rolled it across the table while I took the picture.  The settings were ISO 200, f 1.8, and 85mm focal length.

    This image was taken at 1/4th of a second with my daughter again rolling the gumball across the table.  The settings were ISO 400, f 13, and 85mm focal length.


    So a faster shutter speed lets in less light and freezes motion while a slower shutter speed lets in more light and captures motion.  If you think about my tiny eye example it all makes sense.  If you blink quickly motion freezes and there is little light. If you blink slowly you see all the motion and you have much more light.

    Now, go practice! Post links to what you create in the comments.  For some extra fun try capturing the motion of water or panning an image.

    Next week we'll talk about aperture, my favorite part of the magic triangle!
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