What is shutter speed?

When we’re thinking about exposing our pictures correctly, there are three variables to consider – aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. All of these have an effect on how light or dark your picture is, as well as affecting other aspects of your photo. We have looked at the effects of aperture and ISO in previous articles, so it’s time to consider shutter speeds, and what lowering your shutter speed can do to your pictures.

What do you mean by shutter speed?

To get to grips with what shutter speed is, we need to know what a shutter is. And to do this, it helps to understand the very basics of how a camera works. Light enters a camera lens, travels into the camera body and is recorded as an image when it hits the sensor (or film) in the back of the camera. The amount of time the light is allowed to hit the sensor for is controlled by the shutter; a piece of metal or fabric that opens and closes when the picture is taken. The slower the shutter speed, the longer the shutter is open for. Get it? Okay.

What does this mean for your pictures?

Well, two things. First, the longer your shutter speed is, the longer that you’re letting light hit the sensor – which means that your picture will be brighter. This is great news for taking pictures at night, as you can correctly expose dark scenes without having to use flash. As long as you’re photographing still objects, that is – the second effect of slow shutter speeds is that whilst a shutter is open, all movement during this period is recorded. This means that photos of people in dark rooms can be out of focus if slow shutter speeds are used without flash.

Long Exposure

Long Exposure, by Danny Wartnaby

How can I control it?

Try changing your camera from Auto mode to either Shutter Priority mode (‘TV’ on a Canon camera; ‘S’ on a Nikon) or Program mode (P), and experiment! For most long shutter speed work, a tripod is necessary, as it allows you to ensure that your camera isn’t moving whilst you’re taking your pictures. This makes sure that any static objects in your photo remain in focus.

Be Creative

Using slow shutter speeds, you can get some amazing effects – I’ve always loved photos featuring light trails and more recently have become amazed by shots of star trails, which use exactly the same premise as capturing the trails left by car headlights. You can also use slow shutter speeds to create fantastic panning effects.

A Haunted Trail

A Haunted Trail, by Joshua Debner

I’ve chosen just a few examples, but there are plenty more ideas out there. So what are you waiting for?

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