What is shutter speed in photography? Making the most of your camera

Those stepping out of auto mode will need to learn about three important settings in photography: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. These are commonly referred to as the “exposure triangle”, as one must achieve a balance between all three factors to achieve a well-exposed image. Today we will be talking about shutter speed, how it affects an image, and how to use it to your advantage.

Also read: What is ISO in photography? Everything you need to know

What is shutter speed in photography?

In order to take a photograph, a camera needs to let light into the sensor. The camera has a shutter, which stops light from reaching the sensor until activated. When a shot is triggered, this shutter will open up and expose the sensor to entering light. The time this shutter stays open is referred to as shutter speed.

How is shutter speed measured?

The Exposure Triangle

Shutter speed is typically measured in seconds and fractions of a second. A shutter speed of 1/100 will expose the sensor for a hundredth of a second. Likewise a 1/2 shutter speed will last half a second. You can also leave the shutter open for multiple seconds, which is commonly referred to as a long exposure shot. Most cameras can go down to about 1/4000 of a second and up to about 30 seconds or more.

The effects of manipulating shutter speed

A shorter shutter speed will help “freeze” the moment. This will make for crisper photos, but it allows less time for the sensor to capture light, making the image darker.

A shorter shutter speed will help freeze the moment.

Edgar Cervantes

When light is not sufficient, you can brighten an image by elongating the shutter speed, but this could also create motion blur. Detail can still be captured with a longer shutter speed, but you will need both your subject and camera to be very still. You can use a tripod to keep your camera static.

Fast shutter speed
Slow shutter speed

When should I extend shutter speed?

Most photographers like to keep the shutter speed as short as possible. You might want to manipulate ISO and aperture to better expose an image without extending the shutter speed. Alternatively, you can add artificial light to the scene.

There are also times when a photographer may want to use a longer shutter speed.

Edgar Cervantes

As you advance in your photography knowledge and skills, you will realize extending the shutter speed can also create amazing effects. This can be done to smooth out waves in the ocean, for example. People also love capturing light in motion, a technique which requires a longer shutter speed. A little bit of motion blur can also portray movement, such as a blurred out passing car.

Consider using an ND filter

Camera filters and polarizers

There is such a thing as having too much light.

Edgar Cervantes

There is such a thing as having too much light. Imagine taking a shot in a sunny day and you want a long exposure shot; let’s say it is a 5-second one. You also want to keep aperture wide open to get that nice bokeh. This leaves you with one other setting to manipulate: ISO. The only problem is that ISO can only help you so much, since you can’t go lower than base ISO (usually 100) to darken an image.

A neutral density (ND) filter is essentially a dark piece of glass that stops light from reaching the sensor. This accessory attaches to the front end of a lens. It’s perfect for shooting daytime long exposures.

Buy ND filters on Amazon

Like every other setting in the exposure triangle, keeping your shutter speed in check will be essential for your success in taking a great photograph. Learn your camera, take it to its limits, and have fun shooting!

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