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What is Shutter Speed and How to Use it Like a Boss

Let’s talk about shutter speed, shall we?

You know that button you press to actually take a picture? It’s called the Shutter Button, or shutter release. Want to know why? Because it controls the shutter, and what tf does that actually mean? Let’s get into it.

First, let’s talk about what and where the shutter is. Think of it like a curtain, a blackout curtain, that sits in front of the camera’s sensor. In order for light to hit the sensor and produce photo magic, the shutter has to open. How long that “curtain” is open is called Shutter Speed. The longer it is open, the more light hits the sensor. We will talk about what this does to your final image in a bit.

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How Does Shutter Speed Affect my Image?

Shutter speed is responsible for two particular things: changing the brightness of your photo and creating dramatic effects by either freezing action or blurring motion. When you use a long shutter speed (also known as a “slow” shutter speed), you end up exposing your sensor for a significant period of time.

A slow shutter speed will create motion blur when dealing with a moving subject. Think about car advertisements, where a sense of speed and motion is communicated to the viewer by intentionally blurring the moving wheels or how the background seems to be whizzing by. This is also how to create those beautiful “milky” moving water photos. Slow that shutter down.

Check out the 2 images below:

  • In the first image, the motion blur of the foreground and background gives you (the viewer) a sense of fast motion. This is using a slow shutter while moving the camera along with the rider.
  • In the second Image, the rider is frozen in action because a fast shutter was used.

Slowing down the shutter is also necessary to shoot in dim or dark environments such as photographing the Milky Way. Keeping the shutter open will allow the sensor to soak up as much light as possible. An example: throw your camera on a tripod, slap a 2 second timer on to minimize camera shake, and set the shutter to 30 seconds to create something like the photo below.

Milky Way Photographed using a slow shutter speed

Shutter Speed and Exposure

Shutter speed also affects the overall exposure of an image. A long shutter allows your camera sensor to gather a lot of light, and the resulting photo will be quite bright. A quick shutter speed means your camera sensor is only exposed to a small fraction of light, resulting in a darker photo.

Keep in mind that Shutter speed is only 1 of the 4 elements to consider when it comes to proper exposure. There is Aperture, ISO, and the brightness of what you are photographing. Unless you’re in a studio, you can’t do much to control the light of the environment, but you can control your camera settings. Photography is the art of understanding how to set these properly to achieve the image you want.

Photography Basics Organization

(This will be filled in with links as I produce them) – Stay Tuned!!

  • Chapter 1: How Do I Use This F*cking Camera?!
  • Chapter 2: So What The F*ck is Photography Anyway??
  • Chapter 3: What is Shutter Speed and How to Use it Like a Boss (You are here)
  • Chapter 4: Let’s Break Down What Aperture Is, ya?
  • Chapter 5: ISO
  • Chapter 6: Composition
  • Chapter 7: Metering
  • Chapter 8: Camera Modes
  • Chapter 9: Focusing
  • Chapter 10: Flash
  • Chapter 11: Camera Settings
  • Chapter 12: How to Take Sharp Pictures
  • Chapter 13: Photography Tips for Beginners
  • Chapter 14: Photography Ideas