An Exercise to Learn and Practice Shutter Speed at Home

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One of the most important choices you make when taking a photograph is deciding what shutter speed to use. The shutter speed controls how much light comes into your camera, and how motion is recorded.

A faster shutter speed will freeze action and slower shutter speeds can create a blur. Both choices can produce great pictures. In this simple exercise that you can do at home with a ceiling fan, you will have the opportunity to practice setting your camera on different shutter speeds, and seeing how each affects motion in the image.

It’s best to do this during the day when there is some ambient light in the room. You might choose to shoot this with the ceiling lamp on or off, either will work. Or you might try both ways to see which you like better.

To get started, set your camera on shutter priority, or manual mode, and do a few test shots to check your exposure. Put your camera on a tripod for the most consistent results. I also chose to focus on the silver plate on the lamp of the ceiling fan to create consistency. It can be tricky in an exercise like this because your auto focus can get confused and focus on the ceiling, the blades, or the chain cord. (Note: you might try back button focus here, or use autofocus and then lock it or switch to manual).

Practice shutter speed using a ceiling fan/

f/8 at 1/125th, ISO 1600.

Start your series at 1/125th of a second. Notice that I focused on the metal plate on the lamp, and how sharp it is. The blurring in the fan blades is caused by motion.  Also look at the chain. It’s sharp toward the lamp, but the focus gradually falls off as it gets toward the pulls.

Now slow your shutter speed down to 1/60th, and see what happens. If you are shooting in manual mode, remember that when you change your shutter speed, you must also change your aperture or ISO too.

Practice shutter speed using a ceiling fan/

f/11 at 1/60th, ISO 1600.

Notice the blur in the blades at 1/60th. Next, look closely and you can also see that the pull chains show some movement. The depth of field is deeper as well, see how much is in focus between the metal plate on the lamp and the pulls.

Now, slow it down a little bit more.

Practice shutter speed using a ceiling fan/

f/13 at 1/40th, ISO 1600.

What do you notice at 1/40th? The blades seem to be moving faster because of the blur, but nothing has changed with the fan. There is a greater depth of field also, much of the pull chain is in focus now.

Let’s slow it down even more.

Practice shutter speed using a ceiling fan/

f/20 at 1/4, ISO 1600.

Now, at 1/20th, the blades have taken on a new look and the chain is more in focus. Let’s slow it down a little more and see what happens.

Practice shutter speed using a ceiling fan/

f/32 at 1/8th, ISO 1600.

At 1/8th of a second, the blades are almost indistinguishable, and note that the metal plate is not as sharp as in the other photos. Ceiling fans are seldom perfectly still when the fans are moving and you can see slight movement in the metal plate.

Now, let’s go back and speed things up. Try a shutter speed of 1/250th and see what happens.

Practice shutter speed using a ceiling fan/

f/5.6 at 1/250th, ISO 1600.

Compare this to the first image, which was shot at 1/125th of a second. You can see that the blades still have motion, and notice the difference in the depth of field. At f/5.6, the chain is considerably more out of focus than at f/32.

Next, change your shutter speed to 1/500th.

Practice shutter speed using a ceiling fan/

f/4 at 1/500th, ISO 1600.

At 1/500th, the fan blades show motion. Now try 1/1000th.

Practice shutter speed using a ceiling fan/

f/2.8 at 1/1000th, ISO 1600.

At 1/1000th of a second, the fan blades are frozen. It’s almost as if the fan isn’t turning. Notice the difference in the depth of field. The pull chain is out of focus due to the narrow depth of field at f/2.8.

Here are a couple of real world examples of how you might apply this to your photography:

Shutter speed 1/30th - the water is partly frozen.

Shutter speed 1/30th – the water is partly frozen.

Shutter speed 1/2 second the water becomes silky and smooth

Shutter speed 1/2 second the water becomes silky smooth

You can also do this exercise by keeping your aperture consistent and changing your ISO. So what did you learn by doing this exercise? Give it a try and share your photos and what you learned below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Vickie Lewis is a National Geographic shooter who is known as a heartfelt photographer who loves telling stories with photographs. She’s been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and has taken over 150 portraits for People Magazine. Vickie loves sharing her passion for photography with others in her writing and workshops. You can sign up for her free Crash Course on photography and follow her on Instagram.

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