One of the three essential components of photography is camera shutter speed. It combines with the two other pillars – Aperture and ISO – to complete the exposure triangle.
Shutter speed is a fundamental concept and is responsible for two essential things: to change the brightness of the image and to create dramatic effects such as blurring motion or freezing action. In this article, we will go in-depth about this basic photography concept.
We will explain everything in simple language, from introduction and definition to how it works and connects with other concepts. We will cover every aspect so that you can master it.
The Camera Shutter
It is due to the camera’s shutter, the shutter speed exists. The camera shutter is a curtain that stands in front of the camera sensor and remains closed until the camera is fired.
So if the camera is fired, this shutter opens up quickly and exposes the sensor to the light that could pass through the lens within those moments.
As soon as the sensor collects the light, the camera’s shutter immediately closes down so that no more light can hit the sensor.
For firing the camera, you need to press a button, and that button is known as the “shutter button,” as it eventually leads to the trigger, which opens and closes the shutter and results in the image being captured.
The Shutter Speed
Now let’s come to Shutter speed. In simple language, it is the amount of time the camera shutter opens. It is the length of time the camera sensor is exposed to light; thus, it defines how long the camera takes to capture a photo.
It has a significant impact on the final images as it affects the appearance and quality of exposure.
Here are some ways in which shutter speed can have a significant influence on your photos:
If you use high shutter speeds, which means that you expose the sensor to light for more extended periods, the first impact will be motion blur.
Considerable shutter speed means that moving subjects will get blurred along the direction of motion. This can add an artistic effect and is mostly used in bikes and car advertisements to intentionally blur moving wheels to communicate a sense of speed and movement to the viewer.
Long shutter speeds are also used to create a sense of motion on waterfalls and rivers and photograph objects in dim environments, especially at night with tripods like the Milky Way.
It is also used by Landscape photographers to intentionally blur the subject while keeping everything else sharp to draw attention.
On the other hand, photographers use short shutter speeds to do just the opposite. This means that they expose the sensor to light for shorter periods to freeze motion.
They are a fast shutter speed, which helps eliminate movement so that even fast-moving objects look still. It is used to capture things such as cars driving, birds in flight, or sports activities.
Thus, if you use fast shutter speed to take pictures of water, then every water droplet will be captured hanging in the air completely sharp. So shorter shutter speed can even achieve those things which are not yet visible to the eyes.
So now you know why shutter speed is crucial as it controls all the above actions. By just merely controlling the shutter speed, you can add a new perspective to your photography. Let’s move on and discuss how shutter speeds are measured?
Measuring the Shutter Speed
Shutter speeds are measured in seconds. They are represented as fractions of a second, as they are usually under a second. So ¼ speed means a quarter of a second, and a 1/350 means one-three-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second.
Present-day DSLRs and modern mirrorless cameras have shutter speeds of a minimum of 1/4000th of a second, and the latest technology can even handle quicker speeds of up to 1/8000th of a second.
So imagine how fast these cameras are. Simultaneously, the most extended shutter speed available on most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is mostly 30 seconds.
And if you want an even longer shutter speed, you can get them using external remote triggers, extending the time if necessary.
To help you better understand the camera shutter speed, I am inviting you to watch the YouTube video by Benjamin Jaworskyj. In his lesson ”Shutter speed – easy explained – Photography Tutorial for Beginner” which is covering very well the topic:
The link between Shutter Speed and Exposure
The most impact that shutter speed has is exposure as shutter speed controls light and impacts the image’s brightness. Thus, shutter speed is a vital element of the exposure triangle as any alteration can profoundly affect the picture’s exposure.
For example, if you use a long shutter speed, you will be providing your camera sensor with a lot of light so that the resulting image will be wholly bright with high exposure.
While if you use quick shutter speed, you will be exposing your camera sensor to only a small fraction of light, so the resulting photo will be darker with less exposure.
However, as the shutter speed is not the only element in the exposure triangle, the other two components, Aperture and ISO, can also affect an image’s brightness.
So shutter speed is interlinked with them, and the actual brightness of the picture is defined by the combination of three. So you do get some flexibility when deciding shutter speed for a perfect exposure as you can alter other settings with it.
But for that, you need to have a thorough understanding of the connection between ISO aperture and shutter speed to balance them optimally.
Setting Shutter Speed
In most cameras, shutter speeds are automatically handled by default. Usually, the camera is in “Auto” mode, in which all the settings, including shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, are chosen by the camera without your input.
You can change this by changing the camera mode to make your own decisions and experiment with your images.
There are two modes through which you get to choose the shutter speed manually, and these are:
The first is the “Shutter Priority” mode, in which your camera allows you to set shutter speed but automatically selects the aperture. In contrast, ISO can be set either manually or automatically.
The Second is the “Manual” mode, in which your camera allows you to set both the shutter speed and aperture manually while ISO can be set either manually or automatically.
Just be careful when choosing shutter speed, as a small change can make a huge difference in your results. Therefore, it is better to start using the auto mode and gradually transition to manual mode once you have grasped the basic concepts.
I hope this article has made it easy for you to understand shutter speed, and you will apply it more effectively.
Remember that to master anything, and you will have to practice a lot. So go out in the field and experiment with different shutter speeds so that you can master it.
Believe me. Once you have this concept cleared away, it will make it easier for you to progress in your photography journey.
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