In this lesson we are going to learn what makes up the basics of a camera and then shutter speed. If you ever took a high school photography course, they probably had you make a “pinhole camera”. If not, then basically this is a cardboard box with a tiny hole in the front and a flap over the front of the hole. The entire inside remains totally black and has a piece of film inside that the image will be recorded on. As the flap is lifted, the light is let in. The longer the flap is open, the more light. The larger the hole, the more light. That, in all its simplicity, is a camera. Of course thereafter is processing… (for another day). The size of the hole is the aperture and the flap is the shutter.
The shutter by definition is the movable curtain in the camera that opens and closes when you press the shutter release button. While the shutter is open, the scene you’re taking gets passed to the film or sensor where it is recorded. The amount of time that the shutter stays open is the shutter speed.
Like aperture, shutter speeds are made up of fractions: 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, etc… each time you change from one to the other, you are either doubling or cutting the light in half. So, 1/30 lets in twice as much light as 1/60 and 1/125 only lets in half of 1/60.
Like aperture affects a photo (depth of field and what is in focus and what is not), the shutter speed also affects the way a photo can look by either showing or freezing motion. We will cover more in a “low light lesson” later. For now though, it’s enough to think of it as showing or freezing (sharp or softly blurred). So, if everything in the scene is in focus and a car driving by is blurry, then the shutter speed was left open long enough to show the motion of the car. Or, you can use a fast shutter speed to stop dripping water in mid air.
The following is a list of basic ways to think of shutter speeds. This is an excerpt from ‘The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Portrait Photography’ and is an excellent reference manual:
- B (“Bulb”) – At this setting, the shutter stays open for as long as the shutter release is held in, allowing you to take long time exposures and to show motion in images that contain changing light patterns, such as pictures of fireworks.
- 1/4 sec and 1/8 sec – These slow shutter speeds require a tripod or some other support. It’s possible to shoot close portraits of people who are adept at sitting perfectly still at 1/4 sec, but not likely. These shutter speeds are intended mainly for stationary subjects.
- 1/15 sec and 1/30 – Some super-steady photographers using normal and wide angel lenses can hand-hold their camera at 1/15 and 1/30 and get sharp pictures, but it’s better to use a tripod because odds are blurring will still be a problem.
- 1/60 sec – Most people can take steady shots at 1/60, a speed which still allows great depth of field in most situations. Additionally, this is the most commonly recommended shutter speed to use with electronic flash.
- 1/125 sec – Probably the safest all-round shutter speed for handheld shots. Although not intended to capture motion, it’s great for taking more candid-type portraits when outside in normal daylight.
- 1/250 sec – The shutter speed for mid-level action photography.
- 1/500 sec – The action shutter speed that can clearly capture most rapid motion.
- 1/1000 sec and up – Better have awfully good light and fast film for these settings.
What is not mentioned in this list is that in the B or bulb mode you usually need a tripod and helpful to use a remote since you control how long the shutter stays open.
Also, taking the same photo from different angles gives you a different feel. ie. a moving subject from head on, 45 degree angle and from the side will all give your photo a different sense of motion. Just an idea to show us how taking a photo with the same settings at a different stand point gives us a different sense of motion.
So, for now, we are going to play with the automatic setting of “sports mode”. Play with the flash on and off and see what the difference is. Make mental notes of the shutter speeds your camera is using and the results you are getting from different shooting situations.
Use sports mode and show motion either frozen or in motion… make sure that the photo tells us that there was motion happening when the picture was taken. Don’t worry if your subject is blurry if it’s an action shot… if everything else is clear, then it is a successful action shot. Or, you can do the opposite and freeze someone jumping in mid air. Don’t forget to upload your specs with your photos. We’ll be looking at the shutter speeds this time.