Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Manual Tutorial #4 ~ Shutter Speed

Have you ever been trying to take a photo of your child as they go running by and all you get is a blur? Or you are trying to take a photo of a waterfall, but it keeps "freezing" the water so it looks choppy rather than flowing and showing movement.  Shutter speed is the key to addressing all of these issues.

When I am getting ready to take a photograph, I decide which is more important: movement or depth of field.  If my priority is to freeze action or show movement, I will set my shutter speed first and aperture second.  Alternately, if my priority is depth of field, I set my aperture first and my shutter speed second.  When I am at my son's soccer game, I am going to want a fast shutter speed.  I need to make sure that my camera will capture the movement and freeze it.

The two photos below show a fast shutter speed and a slow shutter speed.  When you are looking at the numbers underneath the photo, pay attention to the last number.  This will tell you the shutter speed used while taking the photograph.

Fast Shutter Speed

Dancing Couple
Jazz Age Lawn Party, NYC
ISO 200 ~ 53mm ~ f/5.6 ~ 1/200 sec
© Corrie M Avila

In the photo taken above, the couple was dancing quickly to the 1920's era Jazz music.  I knew I needed to have a fast shutter speed to capture them and freeze the movement.  If you look down towards the man's shoe, you can see that it is slightly blurry.  I should have set my ISO to 400 (rather than 200) so that I could make my shutter speed just a bit faster.

Slow Shutter Speed

Jazz Age Lawn Party, NYC
ISO 200 ~ 125mm ~ f/5.6 ~ 1/25 sec
© Corrie M Avila

In the photo above, I wanted to show the fast movement of the pianist's hands.  I set my shutter speed slower so that the movement would show.  The piano keys are crisp while the hands are blurred.  Had I used a fast shutter speed here, you would not visually "feel" the movement of the music.  I set my shutter speed to 1/25 sec.  This is much slower than I would recommend hand holding.  You should always use a tripod or something to set the camera on if you are going to go below 1/60 sec.  

Think back to Tutorial #2 where I gave a brief introduction to the three compenents of exposure.  While describing Shutter Speed, I gave the example of your eye.  When you blink quickly (fast shutter speed), not much light enters your eye.  When you stare and leave your eye open for a while (slow shutter speed), a lot of light comes in.  When you set your shutter speed to a fast number, it does not allow a lot of light to enter.  Therefore, if you want to set your shutter speed fast (to freeze movement), you will need to make sure there is enough light coming in to accomadate the quick shutter speed.  If there is not enough light coming in, you can put your ISO higher so that your shutter speed can be set faster.  Remember, all three components (shutter speed, ISO, and aperture) are connected.

If you are taking a photograph of a bird in flight or a race car rounding the last lap in a Nascar race, you are going to need a very fast shutter speed at around 1/1000 sec and up.  Here is a good website from Kodak that explains shutter speeds and what you would generally use them for (scroll down to the bottom for the Shutter Speed graph).

Homework for Tutorial #4

1) Locate where your shutter speed is on your camera.  Get comfortable with this setting so that you are able to adjust your shutter speed with ease.

2) Put your camera in TV mode.  (This is shutter speed priority).  Again, do not get comfortable here.  This is just for now to allow your camera to figure out the other settings while you adjust your shutter speed.  Set your shutter speed to 1/25 sec.  Take a photo and listen to the shutter as it opens and closes.  Write down the settings so you can compare.  Now change the shutter speed to 1/100 sec.  Take a photo and again listen to the shutter as it opens and closes.  Once more, write down the settings on a piece of paper.

3)  Compare your photos as well as your settings.  What did you notice about the aperture and/or ISO as you changed your shutter speed?  Was your first photo blurry as you handheld it?  Was your second photo more crisp?

As you get more comfortable with the individual components of exposure, you will be able to put them all together and take that perfectly exposed photo.  I promise, we will get there and you too will have your "aha" moment.  Hang in there!!  Once we are done with all three components (aperture is remaining), we will start working on the light meter and start applying what we have learned.  As always, if you have ANY questions at all, PLEASE comment, email, or message me on facebook.  I am here to walk you through this and to help you understand these concepts in any way that I can!

Continue forward to Aperture

Capturing the Moment,

Corrie <3


  1. Thanks for this great tutorial! Is there a general guideline for how much to increase your ISO based on how much you want to increase your shutter speed?

    Also, I read that for outdoors it is best to have an ISO of 100-200 and indoors it should be 400 and up. If you're photographing a fast moving object outside, should that rule be ignored and just go with the higher ISO?

    1. I'm so happy you found this tutorial helpful!

      Regarding the ISO vs Shutter Speed... There isn't an exact guideline per say. The way I look at manage ISO is first looking at the light (as you stated above). Am I indoors? (higher ISO) Am I outdoors on a sunny day (lower ISO)... but then (as your question asked) I think about what I am photographing. If it is a sunny day but I am trying to photograph a fast moving object, yes, it is likely I will increase my ISO.

      When I first started out, I would play with my settings before ever taking a photo. I would set my exposure and aperture with a general ISO setting. If I can only go as fast as a 1/60 shutter speed and I was trying to photograph my son running, I would either have a larger aperture (smaller f/stop #) or increase my ISO (sometimes a combination of both).

      When I photograph birds ~ If they are sitting on their perch, my ISO usually can stay low. If I want to catch their flight, I will usually have to have a much higher ISO so that my shutter speed can be much faster to freeze the motion.

      Hope this helps! Please also feel free to email me at travelingheartsphotography (@) ~ Take Care!