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Taking good photographs isn’t just about buying the most expensive camera available. Whether you’re a wedding photographer or an amateur looking to turn professional, it’s important that you understand shutter speed and how it can affect the photos you take.
The easiest way to explain shutter speed is the length of time the camera shutter is open. Back in the days of “film” photography, this was the time that the film was exposed to the scene. In digital photography terms, the shutter speed is how long the camera’s image sensor “sees” the scene.
There are various shutter speeds for various purposes. Measured in seconds (fractions of seconds), speeds are denoted in numbers such as 1/1000 or 1/50. Obviously, the larger the denominator, the greater the speed. The average camera speed is usually 1/60. Speeds slower than this are hard to manage as they almost always lead to blurry photographs.
The most common shutter speed settings available on cameras are usually 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8 etc. Some cameras also allow you the option of measuring shutter speed in full seconds (not fractions) such as 1 second, 2 seconds, 10 seconds etc. This is particularly useful in low light photography or when you are trying to capture movement.
Of course, many photographers use shutter speeds lower than 1/60 and this does not mean all their photographs turn out blurry. For best results, slow shutter speeds should be used when your camera is on a tripod so your camera is stable and there is no shake whilst capturing the shot.
Now that you know the technical details, how do you go about picking the right shutter speed so you get perfect photos? Needless to say, the demands of wedding photography will be vastly different to photographing a school sports carnival.
The most important consideration when picking the right shutter speed is movement. How much movement do you expect to capture?
Would you like to “freeze” this movement in order to get a clean, clear photo? In this case, you need to use a fast shutter speed. This will let you capture the moment before it escapes you. Or maybe you would like to let the movement appear blurry (intentionally) in the photos to better project the movement? A slower shutter speed should be used in this case.
The actual numbers for the speeds will depend on how “frozen” or “blurry” you want your images to turn out and a little trial and error in the right situation will help you figure this out.
The focal length of your lens will contribute to camera shake and unless you have in-camera image stabilisation, you should consider your shutter speed depending on the focal length as well. For longer focal lengths, you will probably need faster shutter speeds. Without image stabilisation, you are best to use a shutter speed denominator that is larger than the length. So, for 200mm lens, your ideal speed would be 1/250 for a good quality photograph.
Following these tips will help you choose the right shutter speed and will take you a long way towards taking better photos.
Kevin provides various tips and tricks on wedding photography, portrait photography and family photography.