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Photography 101 – Shutter Speed

June 26, 2018
Photography cheat sheet - shutter speed

To discuss shutter speed, we first need to understand what the shutter is and how it works. The shutter is the curtain in front of the camera sensor, that stays closed until the camera fires. When the camera fires, the shutter opens and exposes the sensor to the light passing through the aperture. Once the sensor is done collecting the light, the shutter closes, stopping the light from hitting the sensor.

Shutter speed, also known as exposure time, is the length of time the shutter is open, allowing light on the sensor. The longer it’s open, the more light hits the sensor. Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second, which indicates how fast the shutter opens and closes. For example, 1/2 of a second lets in twice as much light as 1/4. Important to note, the shutter speed range can vary from camera to camera.

Shutter Speed and Light

The longer the shutter speed, the more light allowed to shine on the sensor, making the picture brighter. When the shutter speed is fast and only allows light to hit the sensor for a brief fraction of a second, it will produce a darker picture. A picture taken at 1/2 of a second will be far brighter than a picture taken at 1/500 of a second. For instance, if you’re taking a picture and it’s too bright, try using a faster shutter speed.

long exposure - cityscape

Shutter Speed and Motion

Shutter speed not only controls the brightness but also how much motion is recorded in the picture. A faster shutter speed will capture motion and make it clear and sharp. A slow shutter speed will record the motion and make it blurry.

Shutter speed allows you to get creative with your photos. A photo taken with a slow shutter speed is also known as a long exposure. The image above is a great example of using a slow shutter speed (or long exposure) to create a stylistic effect. You can no longer see the cars themselves but only their headlights and taillights, appearing as blurred lines. This is the same in the photo below of the stream. When shot with a slow shutter speed, the water appears blurry, almost smooth.

long exposure - stream

On the other hand, when using a fast shutter speed motion is captured mid-movement. The photo of the duck is a great example of this. The water droplets are stopped mid-motion, appearing crisp and clear. Sports photography utilizes fast shutter speeds being able to capture the right moment when the baseball player swings the bat and hits the ball. If the photographer uses a slow shutter speed, the baseball player would be a complete blur.

slow shutter speed - duck

You now have an understanding of shutter speed and long exposure shots. Happy shooting!




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