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What Is Shutter Speed in Photography

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What Is Shutter Speed in Photography?

Also, even though shutter speed in photography is a technical topic, you can achieve practically anything once you learn how to control it — from crisp and freeze-frame outdoor photos to motion-filled, velvety shots of gushing waterfalls.
So, if you wish to become an expert in shutter speed photography and learn how to use this mode, keep on reading till the end.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is just what it sounds like, meaning it’s the speed at which a camera’s shutter closes. It basically refers to the time duration a picture is exposed to light, which can be merely milliseconds or minutes.

For instance, slow shutter speeds give a relatively long exposure (the amount of light taken in by the camera) to photographers. In contrast, a fast shutter speed creates a relatively short exposure.

While taking a picture, the shutter of a camera opens to permit light to reach the recording medium, thus creating an image. You can control how the final image will turn out by controlling how long the shutter should remain open.

Common Shutter Speeds

A shutter speed is measured in mere seconds. Sometimes, it can even be in fractions of a second. Some of the most prevalent shutter speeds in photography include:

  • 10s
  • 1s
  • 1/10s
  • 1/30s
  • 1/60s
  • 1/125s
  • 1/250s
  • 1/500s
  • 1/1000s
  • 1/1600s
  • 1/2000s

These numbers refer to fractions of a second that the aperture is open. A bigger denominator indicates a faster shutter speed, while a lower denominator indicates a slower shutter speed. A fast shutter speed option gives you a better chance of capturing a clear and sharp photo.
For instance, you can start with a 10-second shutter speed, which is the longest. However, the shutter speeds tend to get shorter as they move from 1-second and end with a super-fast 1/2000s shutter speed.

Note that these different measurements of shutter speed mentioned above are not widespread, as the majority of mirrorless cameras and DSLRs enable you to choose all the way from 30-second shutters to lightning speeds of 1/4000s or even 1/8000s.
In some instances, photographers might also be able to access a unique and special mode known as the “Bulb mode.” This enables you to keep the shutter open for whatever length of time.

Hence, even though the majority of cameras allow you to choose from some of the most basic shutter speed options, there are practically hundreds of possible shutter speeds to use, all of which expose the camera sensor to varying amounts of light.

How Do Different Shutter Speeds Affect Your Photographs?

It Increases And Decreases The Exposure (i.e. The Brightness Of The Image)

A longer shutter speed indicates more light hitting your camera sensor, resulting in a light, clear, and bright image altogether. Hence, if you shoot a picture of a tree at 1/800s or 1/1000s and then lower it to 1-second, you’ll notice the second photo (with a slower shutter speed) to be significantly and visibly brighter.

So if you are outdoors, you need to adjust the shutter speed setting to get a nice and even exposure. The specifics vary from scene to scene, but you must ensure not to under or overexpose the picture so heavily that you lose details in the darkest/lightest parts of an image.

It Increases And Decreases The Sharpness (i.e. The Details Of The Image)

Slower shutter speeds help you achieve blur motion, while faster shutter helps you achieve freeze motion. While photographing any moving object (such as birds in flight) at 1/4000s, you’ll notice the flapping wings and each feature to be crisp.

However, the photo will be an indecipherable blur if you use a shutter speed of 1/10s. The correct setting for shutter speed needed to freeze movement varies depending on the moving object’s speed.

A feather or leaf drifting through the air can suffice for 1/200s for optimum sharpness and details, while an object moving in speed might call for 1/2000s or above.

On the contrary, a relatively slow shutter speed is also a significant reason why an image turns out to be blurry. Hence, close attention is required while determining your shutter speed value to get the desired results.

Choosing a Shutter Speed

Choosing a shutter speed involves considering your photo’s end goal and asking yourself what kind of photo you want to take. For example, if you take a picture of a waterfall at a regular shutter speed, the water tends to freeze, and the texture becomes visible.

However, there are many images of a waterfall where silky, smooth water is noticeable. To achieve this effect, you must ensure the camera does not move and choose a long shutter speed to take the photo. This way, the tiniest details of the water cascading down blend seamlessly to help you achieve that look.

Shutter speeds allow you to do two things: freeze motion or use motion to capture a vibe or tell a story. Whether you wish to depict the movement of subjects at a slow shutter speed or take a split-second photo with a short shutter speed, the possibilities are endless.

Ultimately, it’s all about seizing the moment or portraying what you think of that particular moment. Hence, if you want the power of capturing the vibes and energy of a specific moment instead of just capturing the visual details to be in your hands, you need to master the art of using shutter speed.

A faster shutter speed allows photographers to freeze time. This setting will open and close quickly and capture a sliver of whatever is happening.

The second option lets you use a comparatively slower shutter speed. It opens the aperture to allow in more light. This shutter speed can be used in dimmer places where additional light might be needed to expose a captured image correctly.

Use Fast Shutter Speeds to Freeze Time In Photos

When you do not want motion blue (the effect caused by the camera or anyone moving during a slow shutter speed shot/long exposure), using a fast shutter speed is the best option. Fast shutter speed provides a somewhat magical ability to capture a single second in a time capsule.

Water is one element that works best with fast shutter speeds. So, it can be as powerful and fierce as a tsunami or as still and calm as a dewdrop, thus depicting two entirely different stories.

Use Slow Shutter Speeds to Add Motion To Photos

If your end goal is to capture a sharp and in-focus picture, capturing the exact moment and look of an athlete’s face while they land a winning shot, your preference might be to use a fast shutter speed.

This will freeze a moving object and depict a story by putting a specific moment on hold. However, pictures that stop time and eliminate motion limit the multiple possibilities of storytelling.

Sports can be captured beautifully by experimenting with different levels of shutter speed. This is where slow shutter speeds are most effective. They help narrate a story or seize the action that goes far beyond a single second.
A slow shutter speed lets you achieve the perfect blurred motion photo and gives you a better sense of the actual reality in that specific scene.

Setting the Shutter Speed on your Camera

Different cameras have different shutter speed settings.. Still, it is quite simple to change the shutter speed, much like rotating a dial. However, you must know that the ability to change the shutter speed varies depending on the camera mode you are using.
For instance, the auto mode lets your camera automatically choose the shutter speed. This means you will not be able to make any adjustments to the shutter speed.

However, if you are using the manual mode, you can simply choose a shutter speed of your own preference, as well as independently select the two other fundamental camera settings: ISO and aperture.

If you are using the Shutter Priority mode, you can choose the ISO and the shutter speed, and let your camera choose the aperture for the ideal level of exposure (based on how it assesses the setting).

If you use the Aperture Priority mode, you can choose both the ISO and aperture and let your camera choose the shutter speed for an ideal level of exposure (based on how it assesses the setting). There are various camera modes that suit different situations.

Hence, you mustn’t focus on selecting just one mode and sticking to it. Instead, you must learn to adjust your mode dial depending on how your individual image needs to obtain the best results.

Final Words

Now that you know about shutter speed in photography and its different levels, you are well equipped to capture some memorable photographs. So, head out with your DSLR or any camera and experiment with the array of shutter speeds, and get to know which option(s) works best for you.

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