Digital SLR Photography

DSLR starters' guides: Shutter speed


Blurry images are the result of either you or the subject moving and at slow shutter speeds even the tiniest of movement will be recorded

Shutter speed controls the amount of movement in a photo, be it a sporting freeze frame or a dramatic night shot. Julie Kim explains shutter speed

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed is how long the sensor in your camera is exposed to light. Think of it as a blink. It’s measured in seconds and more commonly as a fraction of a second. Your DSLR has a whole range of shutter speeds but in photographic terms the important ones are:

1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500

When we talked about doubling or halving exposure with aperture in our Starters' guide to aperture, the same applies to shutter speed.

By moving from 1/60 to 1/125 and thus reducing exposure time, you are halving the light entering the camera.

By moving from 1/30 to 1/15 and thus increasing exposure time, you are doubling the light entering the camera.

You'll also find speed settings longer than a quarter-second, increasing in increments up to 30 seconds of longer. There’s also a special B setting (for Bulb) where you can leave the shutter open for as long as the shutter is held down. It's great for taking pictures at night of light trails, fireworks and fairground rides.

This New York street scene was taken with a quarter-second (1/4) exposure. (Image courtesy of www.appature.com):

New York street

The first image of the London Eye was taken at ISO 200 at f/29 for 30 seconds:

London Eye taken with a 30-second shutter speed

While the second was taken at ISO 1600 at f/2.5 for 1/6 seconds:

London Eye taken with a 1/6-second shutter speed

Why is shutter speed important?

To take a sharp picture requires you to shoot at the 'right' shutter speed. Blurry images are the result of either you or the subject moving and at slow shutter speeds even the tiniest of movement will be recorded. As a general rule, shoot on 1/60 or faster.

Top tip

Before you take a picture, decide what you’re trying to achieve. Do you want a sharp picture? Are you trying to freeze action or show it by using blur?

It’s your turn

Experiment with changing your camera's shutter speed using the following techniques:

Step by step: Stick your camera on a tripod and set your camera to Shutter Priority, to let your camera figure out the aperture. Take pictures of a moving object starting at 1/500, moving incrementally to 1/4 second.

Ready steady: How slow a shutter speed can you take a picture, handheld? Start at 1/125 and keep slowing the shutter speed down. Brace yourself against something and hold your breath.

Panning for gold: Try 'panning', which is taking a picture while tracking a moving object. Experiment with different shutter speeds starting at 1/60 then switching to 1/30. Find someone running or cycling. Track the subject and take the picture as you do it - keep moving as you are taking the picture and follow through after the shutter’s been released.

Freeze frame: Freeze movement. Ask a mate to do some jumps in the air. Press the shutter at the top of the jump. Experiment at different shutter speeds – you’ll find that you don’t need very high shutter speeds to freeze the motion.

Panning a cyclist
Panning needs a steady hand, good timing and a lot of practice, but can produce spectacular results

 

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London Eye taken with a 1/6 second exposure Even with a relatively fast shutter speed - this was taken at 1/6 second - you can create dramatic effects
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