I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again– light is essential to good pictures. I would say the most important element of photography, but I might have to argue with myself that subject matter and creativity are right up there with light. Regardless, when aiming for better pictures, mastering how to capture the right amount of light is of utmost importance.
This is really part 2 of this discussion– if you haven’t already, you might want to go back and read “Light- Using Aperture to Create Better Images.”
After you understand aperture and how it affects your images, it’s time to take a look at shutter speed. The shutter inside your camera is is the device that allows light to pass through for a set period of time. It’s the piece inside your camera that “clicks” when you snap a photo!
Shutter speed is measured in seconds (and fractions of seconds). A shutter speed of “1” would be a shutter speed of one-second, meaning the shutter is staying open for one second. That’s a pretty long time for photography– think about how much motion can go on during one second! Therefore, you will most likely come out with a blurred picture with a slow shutter speed of “1.” A shutter speed of “1/1000,” or one-one-thousandth of a second, would be a fast shutter speed. There wouldn’t be a lot of motion going on during 1/1000 of a second. However– not much light can pass through during 1/1000 of a second either, so your picture might be too dark. The main reason you will use shutter speed is to capture motion.
Creatively speaking, sometimes you may want to capture motion to show how fast an object is moving, or you may want to slow down an image to catch something moving “in the moment.”
For instance: water. Slowing down the fast-moving water in a waterfall can create a very beautiful image. A slow shutter-speed on this type of a shot makes for a very smooth-looking image. This picture was taken with a shutter speed of “3,” so it captured the flow of water for 3 full seconds– you can see the difference between this and the next photo, which was taken with a shutter speed of 1/125!
Another instance where you may want to adjust your shutter speed is when you’re watching someone run, or jump. A faster shutter speed will slow the motion, creating a nice crisp image. A slower shutter speed will show the motion as a blur. A fun little technique I used to use when my husband was running track in college was a technique called “panning.” Using panning, you would use a slower shutter speed, but with your camera parallel to your object, you will actually move your camera along with the subject so that it stays in focus while everything around it blurs. This picture is an extreme example of this technique. I used a shutter speed of 1/20. As you can see, he was still running a little too quickly for me to follow him long enough:
This last picture I took with a shutter speed of 1/400, which was fast enough to stop him in his stride:
Well, that is shutter speed in a nutshell! A very fun little tool you can manipulate to create just the shot you want!