Shutter Speed

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Shutter Speed is the length of time the camera shutter is open.

When you take a picture, you hear the “click-click” sound, right? That’s the sound of the shutter opening and closing. Sometimes the pause between each click is longer and sometimes faster, and that’s due to the shutter speed.

Shutter Speed is measured in seconds. You’ll notice numbers that look like 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250…1/2000. On your camera it might just show 15, 30, 60, 125, 250, 2000…But those numbers mean 15th of a second, 30th of a second, 60th of a second….

In my opinion, one of the most common frustrations people have is getting motion blur in pictures. Camera phone, point-and-shoot cameras, DSLR’s. It doesn’t matter what camera you have, motion blur is due to slow shutter speed.

When there’s not enough light reaching the camera sensor, the shutter stay open longer to bring in more light. But you can’t blame it on your shutter speed alone, because a sharp, properly exposed photo requires a balance between ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture, because each of these three elements affect each other.

Let’s say you’re in a low light situation. You maxed out your ISO at 1600, and you have a lens that is only capable of opening to f/4.0. At that point, the only setting you have left to change to properly expose your image is to slow down the shutter speed.

If you have to slow the shutter speed 1/15, you will probably end up with a image that is not as sharp. Any human being taking a picture at 15th of a second shutter speed hand held is likely to end up with somewhat of a blurry image. However, if you use a tripod to keep steady, and if the subject doesn’t move, you can still get sharp images.

By the way, slow shutter speed isn’t always a bad thing. It’s often used intentionally to achieve motion blur, or used with a tripod in night photography.

Here are two examples of photos I took.
The first image was taken at shutter speed 1/1600 to freeze the action of my nephew pitching a baseball.

The next photo was take at shutter speed 1/8 to show motion of cute flower girls twirling and dancing at a wedding reception.

The important thing is that you have to understand shutter speed to use it to your advantage. Do you want to freeze the moment, or add motion?

Be sure to learn more about exposure from other posts on PTC:

Exposure part 1
Exposure part 2

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