July 19, 2024


Image Maker / bwb-images

 Shutter Speed and Aperture are two of the most import control settings on your camera.  They work in concert with each other.  The setting you make on one has impact on what settings you should make on the other.  This interaction between Shutter Speed and Aperture is a balancing act which allows you to have significant impact on the images you produce.  Before getting into how these two functions interact, however, it’s import to understand how each function operates individually. Let’s start with Shutter Speed

The Shutter Speed Control adjusts the length of time that the shutter on your lens remains open when the shutter release is triggered.  Most of the time the shutter on your lens is closed – blocking any light from entering the camera .  When you want to “take a picture” you depress the “trigger” or what is more appropriately called the “shutter release.”  This process opens the shutter and allows light to enter the camera and impact the sensor which registers the data for your image.  The longer the shutter is open, the more light that reaches the sensor.  There is a control on your camera which allows you to select the “shutter speed”  for your images.  It controls the “length of exposure.” Because this is an important and basic control – take a minute and find out where it is on your camera.  On a digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera there is likely a separate dial for this function.  On more simple “point and shoots” it may be a menu item.  Go ahead – look it up in your manual – I’ll wait………………  You really are going to use the manual as you learn about your camera …….you might as well keep it handy!    OK – got it? Great.

Shutter speed settings are labeled according to how long the shutter remains open, stated  in terms of seconds.  A setting of 1/125 sec means that the shutter is open for one – one hundred twenty-fifth of a second.  Not long is it?  That is a rather typical length of exposure (shutter speed).  Shutter speeds on some cameras go up to 1/8000 sec. or higher. Really, really, fast.  On the other end of the spectrum, shutter speeds can be slow (long exposure) down to 1 sec., 3 sec., or longer.   At the extreme low-end is a shutter speed setting typically labeled “bulb”.  At this setting the shutter remains open as long as the shutter release trigger is depressed.  Hold the shutter release down for one hour – you get one hour of open shutter time.

So I am sure you are fascinated with all this – but you might be asking “Why adjust the shutter speed?” Remember, I said shutter speed is important.   Shutter speed adjustments allow you to impact your photo in two primary ways. 

Exposure Control:   A long exposure (slow shutter speed) allows more light to enter the camera and be registered on the image sensor.  The longer the exposure the more light allowed in.  If not enough light gets to the sensor then the image is dark or even black and is termed “underexposed.”  If too much light hits the sensor then the image is washed out or even totally white and is termed “overexposed.”  Adjusting the shutter speed allows you to control how much light hits the sensor and therefore helps you get a properly exposed photo – whites look white, blacks are black, and the various gradations of colors and shades in between are rendered fully and accurately.

Action Blur Control: First a qualifying note.  In most situations it is best to hold your camera still either by using proper hand holding techniques ( this relates to your camera – not your romantic interest!) or by using a tripod.  (As with most things – there are exceptions – we will get to those later – but for now let’s assume that you are holding the camera nice and still while making your exposure.)  When the camera shutter is open, light hitting the sensor is reflected from whatever is in front of the lens.  If that object is stationary / not moving then the image will be crisp, clear and well-defined.  But that changes if you are taking a photo of an object which is moving in front of your lens – say perhaps a moving race car.  Shutter speed impacts the amount of action blur registered on the sensor.  If the shutter speed is “slow” – say 1/25th of a second, then a fast-moving object will travel a considerable distance during the time that the shutter is open.  The result will be a blurred image of the moving object.  This may be what you want – this type of motion blur lets the viewer know that the object was moving.  If you shoot with a “fast” shutter speed – say 1/1000th of a second, then the fast-moving object doesn’t travel far during the short time that the shutter is open.  The result is a photo where the action is “stopped” or “frozen.”  You will have a very clear image of that racing car.  Indeed, it will probably look like it is parked. In some situations you may want to stop or freeze the action – in others you may want the blur to convey a sense of motion.  Adjusting the shutter speed gives you this type of control. 

Zero In Flight / bwb-images








Fast Shutter Speed –  Above is a nice photo of an aircraft in flight.  But there is a problem with it.  A really fast shutter speed was used – 1/2000th sec – which got a nice crisp view of the aircraft but was so fast that it “stopped” the prop.  The sense of action and motion is lost.

Aircraft Pre Flight / bwb-images








Slow shutter speed – Above is another aircraft photo, this time using a slow shutter speed of 1/80th second.  The prop is almost totally blurred with a slight hint of blurred yellow paint at the perimeter of the prop giving more of a sense of active motion.

Now it’s time for you to experiment and practice.  To see the impact of the exposure control aspect of shutter speed operate your camera in the “manual” mode. (Yep – you may have to look it up in that manual thingy.) Manual mode turns off all of the automatic adjustments.  Then select an aperture setting and leave it there (I know we haven’t discussed this yet – so trust me – just set it – let’s  say set it at  f5.6 – look it up in your manual – I warned you that you were going to need it.)  Then shoot the same subject using different shutter speed settings.  Check the results – see what you get.

To see the impact of the action blur control aspect of shutter speed operate your camera in the “shutter priority” mode (back to the manual?) This is a really neat camera mode.  We’ll talk about it more later.  For now – just use it. Once you are in the “shutter priority” mode shoot stationary objects with various shutter speed settings.  Shoot some fast-moving objects with different shutter speed settings.  Check the results. 

That’s it for this time.  Get shooting and practicing … Enjoy The Adventure!

Dr.B, The PhotoTrekker