Understanding Shutter Speed

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Ever wonder how those freezing actions, blurred motion, and other dramatic effects are captured on camera? The answer – Shutter Speed. Aside from Aperture and ISO, Shutter Speed is one of the three most important pillars in the realm of photography. As For us, this pillar happens to be most exciting. Today, I am going to share with you what I have learned about shutter speed and how you can use it to your advantage.

Knowing What A Camera Shutter Does

A camera shutter is basically that curtain you can see in front of the sensor of the camera. It stays closed until the camera fires a shot. So, when you click on the camera, the shutter opens and exposes the sensor to an amount of light that penetrates right through the aperture of the lens. So, why is it called a shutter? Well, simply because it closes immediately once the sensor is finished collecting the light – yes, it shuts the ‘excess’ light from hitting the sensor again. Note that the button that fires all the shots of the camera is likewise referred to as the shutter button.

What Shutter Speed Is

When enthusiasts speak of shutter speed in photography, they actually refer to how long the shutter stays open to allow the light into the sensor of the camera. Most of the time, we also call it ‘exposure time’. Keep in mind that when you use a fast shutter speed, you can actually capture and freeze an action completely. On the other hand, a slow shutter speed can produce a blurry effect on things or subjects that are in motion. The latter seems to be a favorite photography trick used in advertisements where both motion and speed are the subjects. Blurring out the motions of the wheels can communicate messages pertaining to motion and speed.

Slow shutter speed is also one of the common factors used in capturing objects at night, within dim environments, or to photograph lightning, fireworks etc. Many photographers who are keen on using the landscape as subjects also make use of slow shutter speed in photography to produce a sense of motion on subjects like a flowing stream. Now, this is why I find shutter speed to be one of the most exciting elements of photography.

How Are Shutter Speeds Measured?

Generally, the shutter speed is expressed in fractions of one second if they happen to be less than one second. For instance, ¼ means a quarter of one second and 1/500 means one five-hundredth of one second. If you own a modern DSLR, it can handle a shutter speed of 1/5000th of one second. For most DLSR available the longest (or slower) shutter speed is 30 seconds. These are the cameras without any external or remote triggers.

How You Can Set Your Desired Shutter Speed

Know that most cameras today are capable of handling shutter speeds automatically via what is referred to as the in-camera metering. The ‘AUTO’ mode means that the camera automatically selects both the aperture and shutter speed. On the ‘Aperture Priority mode, you can set the aperture but the camera will automatically set the shutter speed to be used. Now, if you truly wish to set the shutter speed manually, you actually have two options: to either go on ‘Shutter Priority Mode’ or set your camera to ‘Manual Mode’. Either way, you will have full control over the shutter speed you wish to use for your images.

For novice photographers, it is highly recommended to trust your camera in setting the shutter speed automatically before trying to manually change it. One good trick to get the best out of shutter speed is by selecting the ‘Aperture Priority’ and let the camera calculate the best shutter speed to use. Tricks like these can eventually help you understand the effects of setting the correct shutter speed for a particular photograph.

Where You Can Find the Shutter Speed

Knowing what shutter speed your camera is set to can be a bit tricky at first. So, here’s a quick guide. If you are using a Nikon DSLR, the shutter speed is usually at the top left corner when you look right through the viewfinder. Do not get confused if you find a whole or regular number instead of a fraction as this is the case with most DSLR cameras.

Now that you know the fundamentals of Shutter Speed in Photography, it is time to explore your camera settings to apply what you have learned today. Always, the best way to learn is to shoot more photographs. Enjoy!

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