Shutter Speed (Exposure Series Part 4 of 5)

Myfotoguy series on exposure part 4 of 5
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Image by William Warby licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic licenseLondon Eye London Eye in London, lit up at night. 60 second exposure. Image by William Warby licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license
 

Review of Shutter Speeds
The amount of time the shutter is open controlling how long the image sensor is exposed to light. The shutter prevents light from reaching the film until the moment of exposure, when it opens

Shutter speeds follow a standard sequence with each number being half that of the next, allowing half as much light to pass through. A typical shutter speed range:

1sec; 1/2sec; 1/4sec; 1/8th; 1/15th; 1/30th; 1/60th; 1/125th; 1/250th; 1/500th; 1/1000th; 1/2000th

Shutter speeds are expressed in seconds or fractions of a second. If you change your shutter speed from 1/125 to 1/60th you will gain one stop more exposure.

Effect of Shutter Speed

Besides the requirement of shutter speed for proper exposure, shutter speed can be used creatively.

In photography, shutter speed is a common term used to discuss exposure time, the effective length of time a shutter is open; the total exposure is proportional to this exposure time, or duration of light reaching the film or image sensor.

When a camera creates an image, that image does not represent a single instant of time. Because of technological constraints or artistic requirements, the image represents the scene over a period of time. As objects in a scene move, an image of that scene must represent an integration of all positions of those objects, as well as the camera's viewpoint, over the period of exposure determined by the shutter speed. In such an image, any object moving with respect to the camera will look blurred or smeared along the direction of relative motion. This smearing may occur on an object that is moving or on a static background if the camera is moving. In a film or television image, this looks natural because the human eye behaves in much the same way.
 

Because the effect is caused by the relative motion between the camera, and the objects and scene, motion blur may be avoided by panning the camera to track those moving objects. In this case, even with long exposure times, the objects will appear sharper, and the background more blurred.
 

Excessively fast shutter speeds can cause a moving subject to appear unnaturally frozen. For instance, a running person may be caught with both feet in the air with all indication of movement lost in the frozen moment.

When a slower shutter speed is selected, a longer time passes from the moment the shutter opens till the moment it closes. More time is available for movement in the subject to be recorded by the camera.

 
A slightly slower shutter speed will allow the photographer to introduce an element of blur, either in the subject, where, in our example, the feet, which are the fastest moving element in the frame, might be blurred while the rest remains sharp; or if the camera is panned to follow a moving subject, the background is blurred while the subject remains sharp.
 
 
The following list provides an overview of common photographic uses for standard shutter speeds.
  • 1/8000 s: The fastest speed available in production SLR cameras as of 2009. Used to take sharp photographs of very fast subjects, such as birds or planes.
  • 1/4000 s: The fastest speed available in consumer SLR cameras as of 2009. Used to take sharp photographs of fast subjects, such as or vehicles.
  • 1/2000 s and 1/1000 s: Used to take sharp photographs of moderately fast subjects under normal lighting conditions.
  • 1/500 s and 1/250 s: Used to take sharp photographs of people in motion in everyday situations. For sports, 1/500 is a good starting point.
  • 1/60 s: Used for panning shots, for images taken under dim lighting conditions. This is also the speed that many cameras default to when using flash.
  • 1/30 s: Used for panning subjects moving slower than 30 miles per hour and for available light photography. Images taken at this and slower speeds normally require a tripod or other camera support to be sharp. Image stabilization which many cameras and lenses now have is useful here when a tripos or other support is not available.
  • 1/15 s and 1/8 s: This and slower speeds are useful for photographs other than panning shots where motion blur is employed for deliberate effect, or for taking sharp photographs of immobile subjects under bad lighting conditions with a tripod-supported camera.
  • 1/4 s, 1/2 s and 1 s: Also mainly used for motion blur effects and/or low-light photography, but only practical with a tripod-supported camera.
  • 1 minute to several hours: Used for certain special effects.
 
Stone Arch Bridge at night in Minneapolis On top of the Stone Arch Bridge in Minneapolis. A shutter speed of 5 seconds was used to capture this night time scene of a patrol car passing.
 

Shutter Priority
Shutter Priority is a semi-automatic mode. It allows a photographer to choose the shutter speed, and the camera will decide which aperture to use (sometimes ISO for cameras with an Auto ISO function).

Understanding Shutter Speed

Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second
In an earlier post I recommended "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson which has helped thousands of photography students across the globe gain a better understanding of exposure.

Bryan has also wrtten a book titled "Understanding Shutter Speed" if you wish to explore creative uses of shutter speed.
 
 
How are you using shutter speed creatively, or in your style of shooting?
   

Articles in this series:
Part 1 - The Exposure Triangle
Part 2 - Stops, Values, and Sensitivity
Part 3 - Aperture
Part 4 - Shutter Speed
Part 5 - ISO
 
 

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