Shutter-speed settings are typically shown in fractions of seconds or whole seconds.
Your camera will probably have numbers such as these: 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, etc., which are fractions of seconds.
You may also see numbers at the low end of the scale, such as 1, 5, 10 or 30, which represent whole seconds.
Your camera may also have a “B” setting, which is “bulb.” At this setting, the shutter will remain open until you release the shutter button.
The 1/500 setting on your camera equals 1/500th of a second, which is very fast, so “1/30,” or 1/30th of a second is much slower. (Compared to the blink of an eye, which is approximately 1/3 of a second, even the 1/30 setting on your camera is quite fast.)
As a digital photographer, you take most of your pictures at 1/60th of a second or faster (1/125, 1/250, etc.). Any shutter speed slower than 1/60th will usually require a tripod or some means to eliminate camera movement.
You’ll notice that the shutter speed settings displayed on your camera double from the slow to fast end of the range. For example, 1/500th of a second is double 1/250th; 1/30th of a second is double 1/15th; etc.
Understanding this doubling concept is important. Remember, 1/500th shutter speed is faster than 1/250th, but because it’s faster, light has less time to enter the camera. Aperture settings are also doubled. That, as well as the special relationship of shutter speed and aperture, is explained in Part 3 of this series.
The purpose of whole-seconds shutter speeds and the bulb setting is to shoot when there is very little light, or to create motion in your digital photos.
Many digital photographers struggle with the concept of motion. A blurred image occurs because shutter speed (as well as the other two heads of the exposure monster) were not considered, or consciously set, before taking the picture.
If you want the subject (or the entire photo) to look sharp, then select a faster shutter speed. Most sports photographers, shooting indoors or outdoors, want to freeze the action, so they shoot a football game on a bright, sunny day, for example, as fast as 1/1000th or 1/500th a second. Even at an indoor game, such as basketball or hockey, the pro sports photographer will shoot at least as fast as 1/250th, or 1/500th, if possible.
You can impart motion to your digital photos, on purpose, if you shoot at a slow shutter speed. That speed depends on the light conditions, how fast the subject or object is moving and how much you want to blur the image. During that football game on a bright, sunny day, 1/125th or 1/60th will probably be slow enough to create motion that shows the speed of the running back. These same speeds may work indoors, but lighting may require even slower speeds, such as 1/30th.
Slower shutter speeds will reveal the motion of water in a whitewater river or pouring over a waterfall. An extreme example is to place your camera on a tripod in the yard at night and frame the area in which the full moon will move during a few hours. Use the bulb setting and a shutter release cable to leave the lens open for all those hours, so you capture multiple images of the moon, as it rises and sets, in one digital picture.
There’s also a relationship between shutter speed and the focal length of the lens that you should know as a digital photographer. A longer focal length lens, such as a 200mm lens or larger, is more difficult to hold steady, so you typically need a faster shutter speed to compensate. The secret is to use a shutter speed with a denominator that is larger than the focal length of the lens. For example, set the shutter speed at approximately 1/250th if you’re using a 200mm lens.
Part 1 of this five-part series started to give digital photographers the knowledge to tame the three-headed exposure monster: ISO, shutter speed and aperture. Part 2 explains shutter speed.
Shutter speed is a measurement of the time your camera shutter is open, allowing light to enter and exposing the sensor to it, which creates your picture.
Your first digital photography lesson about shutter speed is how it is displayed on your camera.
Your second digital photography lesson about shutter speed is the purpose of these settings.
Image credit: vectomart / 123RF Stock Photo
Now, you’re ready for Part 3 of this article, where you’ll learn about aperture and how you can use it to shoot better digital photography.