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Understanding Shutter Speeds

By , Saturday 28th November 2015 in Tutorials

Accurate control over shutter speed can make or break a shot, so use this guide to take control over your shutter speed.

Shutter speed works hand in hand with aperture and ISO to balance the perfect exposure.

Shutter speed rating vary from 30 seconds through to 1/8000 seconds. Some cameras also feature a "bulb" setting which keeps the shutter open as long as the shutter button is depressed. Traditional SLR cameras often used a shutter release cable which locks the shutter open indefinitely.

The longer the shutter speed, the more likely you are to introduce vibration and motion blur to an image, however you can capture the motion of objects. The faster the shutter speed, the less blue and motion blur will be captured. With a fast shutter setting you will "freeze" an object's motion. Example of this can be seen below.

Shutter speeds are given in specific increments which are double or half the previous. For example 1/125 is half the speed of 1/250 and 1/500 is twice as fast as 1/250.

Controlling exposure is a balance between shutter speed, aperture and ISO and this balance is called the exposure triangle.

Slow shutter speeds blur motion and capture the impression of movement.
Slow shutter speeds blur motion and capture the impression of movement.
Fast shutter speeds freeze motion and create a very static looking image
Fast shutter speeds freeze motion and create a very static looking image

 

Using Bulb mode for super-slow shutter speeds

Bulb mode can usually be accessed by selecting "B" on the mode dial, or on "M" and selecting bulb on the shutter speed selection. The shutter will now be open for as long as the shutter is depressed. On modern dSLRs this may cause camera shake as you will need to hold the button in. For this reason you can use a remote shutter release cable which is either a manual switch or a more advanced timer device.

Camera Settings Dial
Camera Settings Dial

Bulb mode is much simpler than it sounds, but the small matter of knowing how long to hold the shutter open for puts people off using it. If you were shooting a landscape with a 10-stop ND filter, then the exposure chart supplied with the filter, or a downloadable smartphone app, will give you an idea. Otherwise, it’s a bit of trial and error.

For photographing star trails or time lapse night scenes you may be interested in the article "How to take long exposures on a Canon dSLR".

The Sky at Night
The Sky at Night

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About the Author

Tim Trott

Tim is a professional software engineer, designer, photographer and astronomer from the United Kingdom. You can follow him on Twitter to get the latest updates.