Fundamentals of Operating a Camera: Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is the amount of time in fractions of a second you camera is capturing a scene. Depending on if you are shooting architectural photography, headshots, or corporate event photography, the shutter speed can have a major impact on the brightness, sharpness, and clarity of the image.
The chart is pretty easy to understand.
A fast shutter speed, 1/1000 second, will freeze action. Sports photographers routinely shoot at this shutter speed and faster. 1/4000 of a second is a pretty typical shutter speed for shooting fast moving sports action. In this example, a shutter speed of 1/350 second was used to freeze the action of a girl twirling a hole hoop.
You might be thinking: why not always use a fast shutter speed? If you do, everything will be sharp all the time. Because the shutter is open for a short amount of time the amount of light exposed to the camera’s sensor is greatly reduced. This will have a dramatic effect on the brightness of the image unless other variables are considered. More on this in later posts. As a photographer who shoots both people and architecture, Steve Silverman is experienced working with people on photo shoots.
On the other hand, you may want to show motion rather than stopping it. In this case, I wanted to show how water flows across the rocks in a stream. This landscape photo was shot at 1 second.
Steve Silverman is an experienced commercial photographer who has shot numerous landscape projects. His work is based on years of experience shooting nature landscapes in North Dakota. He brings this background to his work as one who creates architecture photos for regional and national clients.
Similarly, the sharpness of a photo is partially determined by how steady the camera is. If you are handholding the camera, you’ll have trouble keeping it steady at slower shutter speeds. As a result, your images might look blurry or out of focus. You may think the images are sharp but you’ll be disappointed once you zoom in on your computer screen or you order a large print.
The solution is to mount your camera on a tripod. As long as your camera is on the tripod, all other things being equal, the image will be sharp. Determining what shutter speed is the dividing line between handheld and tripod is partially dependent on the individual photographer. Based on the steadiness of my own hand, I am uncomfortable handholding at shutter speeds slower than 1/125. Others may have a steady hand (e.g. a surgeon) as slow as 1/30. Any slower and the tremor from your pulse will be enough to make the image fuzzy. If you’re in a situation where you absolutely have to shoot at these slower shutter speeds, you can momentarily stop your pulse by exhaling totally and pressing the shutter at the very instance all of the air has been released from your lungs.
Sharpness is also determined by the type and weight of the camera and lens. A heavy camera actually contributes to stabilization because weight is equally offset by the muscle tension in your arms, wrist, and hand. A lighter camera like a smartphone is actually harder to hold steady because there is little or no tension to offset by the person’s musculature. On the other hand, a long or heavy lens adds downward pressure on the front of the camera acting as a destabilizing force that may be difficult for the photographer to counter balance. A general guideline says that any shutter speed slower than one over the focal length of your lens dictates that you should use a tripod. For example, if you are using a 200mm lens, use a tripod for any shutter speed lower than 1/200.
The posts that follow will help you learn about many of these so that you can shoot photos like a professional.
More Fundamentals of Operating a Camera:
Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: The P Mode
Part 3: The Creative Modes
Part 4: Aperture
More articles about photography: click here
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