How do I Understand and Use Shutter Speed?

I am continuing from where we left off when we previously talked about photography. This post is a part of the series of posts on Photography Basics, a series born out of my interest in the subject. In this series, I write and share with you what I get to learn about the topic. The impressions are entirely mine, and you are free to differ. (Though I don’t wish you to.)

Shutter speed is one of the most important things to consider in photography; the others being the aperture, focal length, and ISO. So far we’ve covered aperture in detail. Before we get to talk about shutter speed, we must first understand what a shutter is.

What is Shutter?

Shutters are like curtains. And, what do curtains do? They control the amount of light entering a room. Similarly, shutters help control the amount of light falling onto the imaging sensor through the lens. The basic mechanism in cameras is that when you click the shutter button, or tell the camera to capture an image – by releasing the shutter (that’s what it is called, technically), the camera opens and closes the shutter to expose the imaging sensor to the light. The imaging sensor captures this light and produces an image that is then written into the memory card and displayed on the LCD panel of the camera.

What is a Shutter Speed? And, what are fast and slow shutter speeds?

Shutter Speed is a representation for the length of time for which the shutter remains open. But, why speed? Speed, in photography, is more than just a figure of speech. Understand that the imaging sensor, by default, captures the image for only a frame of time. In some advance-level DSLRs, this frame of time can be as fast as 8000th of a second. But, you can regulate the image by manipulating the amount of time for which the shutter lets the light pass through to the imaging sensor – hence, fast and slow shutter speeds.

A fast shutter speed means that the imaging sensor is exposed to the light for only a fraction of a second; that the shutter opens and closes speedily (as speedily as 8000th of a second, as we just discussed). So, the light is exposed to the imaging sensor for only a short amount of time. So, if you see photographs of people hung in the air as they jumped, it was probably the camera that captured them at higher shutter speeds. Here’s a picture that my friend Arun shared with me specially for this post! Arun is a blogger, too. I love reading his blogs IdleMusingz and Lulling Lores.

arun-with-his-daughter-riddhi

Whereas, a slow shutter speed means that the shutter remains open for anything longer than a second (technically, anything slower and longer than a 100th of a second should be called slow shutter speed). Today’s cameras can have slower shutters that open for as long as 30 seconds to capture one frame. That’s actually slow. And, then there’s this bulb mode, where the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter button is in the released position. It is like 30 seconds of slow shutter speed multiplied by the amount of time the shutter button is released – something of that sort. But, that can be controlled by an intervalometer, which, as the name suggests, can be used for taking pictures at regular intervals.

How do I apply the understanding of shutter speed while capture images?

To capture an image, as you already now, you need the right focus, an aperture that lets in sufficient light onto the imaging sensor, an ISO that’s set to sufficient light sensitivity, and a sufficient shutter speed to capture the details. Irrespective of what or where you are capturing, you will need a combination of all these.

If, for example, you are shooting in the dark (or want to create a dramatic effect that shows flow), to set your camera to capture for longer shutter durations, because to capture a sharp image you will have to let in more light onto the imaging sensor. But, this again is subjective.

I prefer to shoot in the Aperture Priority mode. So, all I am supposed to do is control the aperture. The camera system controls the other elements based on the aperture I choose. This means that if I choose f/4, the camera system will analyze the scene and then set the other values automatically for me. Typically, a 2:1 ratio is associated for the aperture and shutter speed calculations.

How do I create special or artistic effects?

To capture images creatively, you have to learn to adjust your creativity to match the capabilities of your camera. There are lot of techniques available on the Internet that I found were easy to try. The motion blur effect that you see in all those utterly-clichéd photographs (Sorry, but no sorry.) of waterfalls, seascapes, and clouds are the result of slower shutter speeds. Here’s what I captured on my way to Harihareshwar (Konkan area), some years back.

zippy-drive

Feeling dizzy looking at the picture? Me too!

You can combine a relatively slower shutter speed with panning to create a motion blur. Some photographers use this technique in sports and automotive photography. For those who don’t know about panning, it is a technique where the camera is fixed to a tripod and then moved from one point to another keeping the motion horizontally parallel to either the ground or the movement of the subject.

Are there any rules?

Yes; Keep the shutter speed inversely proportional to the aperture. The wider the aperture, the slower the shutter speed. Otherwise, you may end up over exposing or under exposing your photographs.

Rain Rain Come Again.jpg

That one’s from my Flickr profile.

I am still experimenting with the shutter speed: My Canon IXUS HS is a Point & Shoot, which powers up to only about 3 frames per second. So, I don’t have a lot of ground for a high speed action. The truth is:  Your creativity is your only limit.

Until next time, happy clicking!

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3 thoughts on “How do I Understand and Use Shutter Speed?

  1. Loved the informative write-up, and thanks for featuring my photograph! You have got the knack, Suyog, when it comes to writing! Coming to my experiences with photography, I have never got into the technicalities yet, but I just keep playing with the various options on any camera that I can get hold of. The one shared here is taken using a mobile, Xiaomi Redmi 2 Prime.

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