Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Camera Basics 101: Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed is one of the most important aspects of capturing any image.  When I think of the settings I need to adjust for a shot, there are three that are the most important.  These three include: Aperture, ISO, and Shutter Speed.  These are THE most changed and used settings on your camera for creating proper exposures.

So what is shutter speed exactly, and how does it work?  The concept is actually fairly simple and relates directly to how long the shutter is open.  The shutter is what lets light onto the sensor thus creating an image.

(This is an example of a long shutter speed taken at night.  The colored lines are cars tail lights and headlights.)

When the shutter speed is set for a longer time period, say 1 second, this means that the shutter will stay open for 1 full second.  When it's set shorter, 1/2500th of a second, then the shutter is only open for 1/2500th of a second.

Why do we need to change this setting?  It all depends on  your subject matter, what your ISO is set at, and also what your aperture is.  If your shooting at night time there is far less available light.  This means that for the sensor to capture an image, the shutter speed must be longer to expose the sensor to more light.  The same goes for shadowy situations, indoors, or cloudy days, etc.

Think of it like placing pennies in a jar.  When the lid is only open for a very short time, you can only put in so many pennies.  Hold it open for longer though, and you can put many more in.  Sensors do the same thing to build an image, and the shutter is like the lid of the jar with it's speed being how long the lid is open controlling how much light can come in (light being the pennies).  The light builds up the longer the shutter is open, making for a brighter image.

When you have a smaller aperture, meaning that the lens is less open and allowing less light in, you need a longer shutter speed to correctly expose an image.  When the aperture is more open, you won't need as long of a shutter speed.  Check out this article for more information on aperture.

ISO also affects your shutter speed.  The higher the ISO you set, the more sensitive the sensor is to the light.  With a high ISO, you can use faster shutter speeds.  With a low ISO, you need longer shutter speeds to expose correctly.  Check out this article for more information on ISO.

Another effect of shutter speed?  It will change the way motion looks in an image.  If you shoot movement with a long shutter speed, the action will appear blurry.  This is because the light coming in from the athlete is building while the athlete is moving, capturing the movement.  This can work very well with an action image.

(Fast shutter speed used causing water to appear frozen and harsh)

(Long shutter speed used causing water to look smooth and in motion.)

Use a fast enough shutter speed, and the action will appear stopped.  When I speak of action I'm not always referring to people, but am referring to any type of movement.  Use a fast shutter speed on a snowy day and the snowflakes will look natural.  Use a longer speed and the snowflakes will look more like sleet or freezing rain.

(Slow shutter speed making the snow appear natural and still.)

(Long shutter speed making snow appear more like sleet or rain.)

The best way to learn your shutter speed is with a bit of practice.  Try setting your camera in Shutter-Priority mode (allows shutter speed adjustment only and solves the rest for you).  Set it low and try to capture action, then set it high and see how the same shot looks.

Then try switching to manual.  Set your aperture at f/22 and see what shutter speed you need just to expose the image.  Set it at f/4 and try again.  Also try changing your ISO, set it high and see what will work, then low to see how it effects your image.

When you've mastered your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, you'll know what you need to change to get certain effects.  This is when your mind becomes the limit, and your camera an extension of your vision.  Practice, practice, practice!  Digital images can always be deleted!

If any of this article is unclear, please comment below so that I can help you understand the concepts better.  All Photo Buzz is here to help you!

That's the BUZZ for Today!  Please check back soon for more.


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