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Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed is an essential part of every camera but on a manual camera its an adjustable setting and part of what I call the Exposure Trilogy, along with the ISO number and the Aperture.



So, after learning what the shutter is, there is a question that every photographer wants to know about shutter speed. That is, “how do I see the affect of shutter speed in my photographs?” The answer is that shutter speed controls the appearance of motion in a photograph. In other words, you’ll see moving subjects as either frozen and motionless or in a linear blur depending on the shutter speed you have chosen.



With shutter speed you can portray a moving subject any way you want the viewer to see it in the final image.  The slower the shutter speed, like 1/15th, the more motion blur you will capture.



The higher the shutter speed, like 1/125th or faster, the more sharp and still the subject will appear. Just to give you some idea about the affect of speeds, here are some examples:



An 8000th of a second will stop a bullet in mid air.

A 1000th or faster will freeze a landing jet

A 125th or faster is good for sports

A 60th is good to make a clear portrait

A 30th will begin to express motion blur

A 15th to 1 second will capture increasing degrees of motion blur.

2 seconds and beyond will make flowing water look like clouds.



The visual effect motion is, of course, a combination of the subject’s speed and the shutter speed. From B to 1/5000th of a second and very stop in between there will be varying degrees of motion, from absolute blur to the sharp stillness of a speeding subject suspended in time, like the famous photo by Harold Edgerton of a bullet cutting through a playing card. In the photo the bullet is frozen in mid air.



One important tip I’ll pass along in regard to shutter speed is that if you use a setting that is slower than a 60th of a second, you should use a tripod or something to steady the camera. Some photographers recommend that you not hand hold a shutter speed if you shutter speed number is less than the focal length number of your lens. For example, If you are using a 125mm lens, don’t hand hold the camera for shutter speeds lest than a 125th of a second. Otherwise you’ll end up with a blurry image due to camera movement. This kind of blur tends to look amateurish, like the photographer made a mistake.



If you’re really steady, and you haven’t had too much caffeine, you might go down a stop less than recommended without negative effects.



As a photographer who understands the visual effects of shutter speed, it is important that you consider which setting would best capture how you want to interpret a subject in motion. If you have a point and shoot camera, you have little choice about which shutter speed the camera is going to use.



If you have a DSLR then your options are endless. Shutter speed is a tool that can bring visual excitement and creativity to your photography. It’ll allow you many ways to express motion in the stillness of the fixed photographic image.



Now, its time to consider your own camera’ shutter and the ways to capture some of the many things around you that are in motion. My advice is to turn your camera toward the light, throw open the shutter, and let the shadows fall behind you.




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