Shutter speed
Aug 2, 2008
My third post is about shutter speed. Shutter speed is probably the thing you will most often modify, and as such the thing you really need to understand.

Shutter speed is the time the shutter is open. Now that may seem like stating the bloody obvious, and it is. The shutter is the opening that lets light into the camera. When using the viewfinder it is wide open, to let a constant stream of light in. The size of the whole is called aperture and is covered in the next post. Shutter speed is simply defining how long the shutter is open, or how long it will let light in. The light meter is your friend! Make sure you make proper use of the little light meter in your camera.

Warner sittin on a barrel in an underexposed photo Same photo but correct exposure Same photo again, but over exposed

Light meter

The light meter is often a line of numbers at the bottom of your viewfinder. Ranging from -2 up through 0 to +2. 0 is what your camera recommends for your current settings, and is good advice (but if we always listened to this we could just as well have got a small point-and-shoot type camera). The blocks giving the scales are called 'f-stops' so when I say 'Put your exposure one f-stop down', I mean you should adjust your shutter speed so that the light meter is one the first block to the left of the 0.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds. Most often, though, you will use much less than a second. Your camera will indicate how long the shutter will be open by giving you a number. How to interpret that number is your job. A shutter speed of 30" means 30 seconds, 1/4 means a quarter of a second. Somewhere around here your camera will start showing just a rather large number maybe 300, this is not 300 seconds but rather 1/300th of a second. Most cameras have pre-set shutter speeds between 30 seconds down to 1/4000th of a second. Lastly your camera probably has a mode cold "bulb", this means the shutter will be open until you close it. This can be handy if you do Astro photographing and need hour long exposures, or maybe just need a bit longer than 30 seconds.

How long exposure can you use
If you are holding your camera by hand make sure you have good support and shoot with as short shutter speed as possible. The rule of thumb says you can shoot 1/[focal length]. This is a good rule of thumb. You have no chance of doing a 2 second exposure by hand without support. You just end up with a blurry picture. Always try to have good support if you must use longer than 1/30th of a second exposure.

Good skies
When shooting a photo with mostly sky take the shutter speed down one f-stop. Depending on the sky you may want to take it down even further. Depending on your photo it may be possible for you to take one photo exposed for the sky (1 or 2 f-stops below the recommended speed) and one for the ground part (1 or 2 f-stops above the recommended speed), with that you can then combine the two photos to make a great result. Having trees or plants in your photo will make this almost impossible though. Using a filter can of course also add to a good sky.

Moving water
When taking photos of water that moves, like a waterfall, you want as long shutter speed as possible. The problem of course is that the longer speed you have, the lighter the photo. With the speeds needed to capture water good you often end up with a photo with very washed out colours. This can be solved by using a neutral density filter. When taking photos of moving water you probably want a shutter speed of a second or more.

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Category: Photography