Exposure Triangle (Part 2) – Shutter Speed

So, you’ve read Part 1 and are eager to learn more, right? That’s great; you’re in the right place dear reader and thanks for visiting again.

Today, you’ll find out more about one of the three key factors discussed in Part 1: Shutter Speed. Specifically, you’ll find out more about the benefits and trade-offs of using a fast or slow Shutter Speed. As demonstrated in Part 1, each of these factors controls how bright or dark your final image will look, but what we didn’t cover in Part 1 is the effect that these changes make on the quality and presentation of the image.

So, what is the effect that changing Shutter Speed introduces? Let’s recap first – in Part 1 we saw how a longer exposure, (that is, one where the shutter stays open for longer), results in a brighter image because more light is let in. If this is what you’re after, then that’s a good thing, right? But suppose for instance you want to photograph a sprinter running from your left to your right. In such a situation, a long exposure (slow shutter) would not be the most recommended way forward, even if we wanted a brighter image. The reason being that the longer the shutter stays open, the more light goes in. What this translates to is a blurry image of everything that is moving in the photograph! Since the sprinter is not static, the camera will register his movement on the film or sensor, and the longer the shutter speed is left open, the more blurred the image would look. In such situations, we need to “freeze motion” if we want to get a sharp picture of the sprinter. To do so, we need to use a fast shutter speed – that is, a very short timeframe for the shutter to open and close down again. Speeds to capture such “action” shots are typically over 1/200th of a second – so remember: action shots typically need motion to be frozen so go for fast shutter speeds.

"Freeze" Movement

“Freeze” Movement

On the other hand, suppose for instance that you want to photograph a seascape and make the sea look like a smooth and milky surface – the way to go is to use a sloooooow shutter speed. And by slow, I mean really slow. Most times, you’d have to use a shutter of at least 1″ (second), but I have been in circumstances where the shutter was set at 30″ or more. It all depends on how much light is available at the time of the shot. And if you think 1″ is a fast time-frame, try holding a camera steady for that long whilst taking a picture, and you’ll realise that your end result would probably be a very blurry image as a result of “camera shake”. (So as a side note to keep in mind with slow shutter speeds – use a tripod or rest your camera against a steady surface). Where else would you want to use a slow-shutter speed? Well, in many situations actually, so long as you know what you’re after. Essentially, slow shutter speeds allow more light into the photo and smoothen movement, rendering anything that moves as a blurry “ghost”. Slow shutter speeds can be used when your camera is steady and you’re photographing a still life or static object, it can be used to shoot fireworks, lightning strikes, seascapes with smooth seas, night landscapes, and anything where light-streaks are desired. If you’re unfamiliar with any of these terms, remember – the Internet is your friend. Search any of the above and you’ll see plenty of examples of photographs that, in most probability, were shot with a slow shutter speed. So the rule here is easy – if you want to capture movement, the shutter must be slow, that is, go for a long-exposure.

Motion Blur

Motion Blur

Of course, I’m sure that this blog might have raised as many questions as it could have answered, so if that’s the case, leave comments and send me your queries and I’d be happy to answer. As a recap, I’ll make it simple to remember:

  1. Action is fast, so go for a fast shutter speed.
  2. Movement takes time, so give it time by selecting a slow shutter speed.

One final comment – don’t take my word for it. Try it out. Make mistakes. Learn by doing – and when you get the hang of it, break the “rules” and see what happens. Sometimes, you’ll find artistic possibilities increase when you leave the rules behind you and make your own! Enjoy experimenting!

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4 Responses to Exposure Triangle (Part 2) – Shutter Speed

  1. Pingback: Exposure Triangle (Part 4) – ISO Sensitivity | ALISTAIR FARRUGIA | photography

  2. Pingback: The “Correct Exposure” – Part 1 | ALISTAIR FARRUGIA | photography

  3. Pingback: The “Correct Exposure” – Part 2 | ALISTAIR FARRUGIA | photography

  4. Pingback: Exposure Modes | ALISTAIR FARRUGIA | photography

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