In the first segment of the DSLR Exposure Series, I briefly discussed the exposure triangle, and one of the three settings in the Exposure Triangle, aperture. Today we're moving onto a second setting in the exposure triangle: shutter speed.
When you're dying for a crystal clear shot and all you're getting is blurred eyes and streaks of arms and legs moving as your two-year-old runs away from you, it can be very frustrating—especially if you're shooting in auto and you have no idea why your camera is blurring every. single. shot. Not cool. Most likely you want to avoid motion blur, and understanding shutter speed is the first step to stopping it.
Shutter speed is a refreshing setting to learn about (at least it was for me) because it's pretty self-explanatory, and we like self-explanatory around here. No big tricks to throw you for a loop like aperture does. Just speed (or lack of it). You can totally do this. You've got it in the bag.
What is shutter speed?
Shutter speed is the length of time the shutter remains open for a shot, or how long the digital sensor is exposed to light. Shutter speed controls the ability to capture motion blur or stop action in a photo. It means your shutter is open for a longer amount of time or shorter amount of time, depending on where you set it. And that setting affects two things: light and motion blur. The faster the shutter speed, the darker the photo and crisper the capture, freezing motion in time for your shot. The slower the shutter speed, the lighter the photo, and more blurry the capture, allowing more time to pass and more movement to be recorded in the shot. Easy breezy.
Let me specify that motion blur is different from the bokeh we talked about in the Aperture post, and it's different from just missing the focus and not nailing the shot. Motion blur and out of focus are two different things. Motion blur happens because your subject (or anything else in your shot) moved, or you moved, and you were shooting on a slow shutter speed.
Let's have our 2 minute tech-y session and get it over with. Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of a second. For example, 1/500 means that the shutter will be open for one five-hundredths of a second. Like I mentioned above, fast shutter speeds (like 1/1000) are used when trying to freeze action but decrease the amount of light entering the camera. Slow shutter speeds, like 2 seconds, are often used for night shots or when trying to show motion.
Speeding up your shutter will ALWAYS mean a darker photo…UNLESS you compensate for it somehow with other settings (sound familiar? From the aperture post? Remember, each setting in your Exposure Triangle equally affects how light/dark your photos will be). If it is bright where the picture will be taken, but you want to show motion, you can make the aperture smaller or use a lower ISO to compensate for the extra light the slower shutter speed is letting in.
In most cases with every day shooting, though, you should probably be using shutter speeds of 1/80th of a second or faster, because anything slower than that is very difficult to use without getting camera shake and blurring the heck out of your shot.
|Left: f/1.4, 1/5000s, 50mm, ISO:100. Right: f/10, 1/60s, 50mm, ISO:100|
How do I avoid motion blur?
Speeding up your shutter is the obvious answer, but when you do that, you'll find that your shots start losing light in a hurry, especially if you're shooting in dark shade, in earlier or later hours in the day when light is low, or indoors. A black photo, crisp or not, isn't doing anyone any favors. There are four quick steps for avoiding motion blur when your light is low. If you've tried the first step and your shot is dark or still blurry, move on to then next one.
- Make sure you're on your LARGEST aperture. This will let in the most amount of light.
- Max out your shutter speed by using as low of a shutter speed as possible without blurring.
- Use your last resort and adjust to a higher ISO. (more on this to come in Part 3 of this series)
- If you've tried all of the above, and your shots are still blurry, you need a new lens with a bigger aperture (you can learn more about that in my lenses post).
|Left: f/9, 1/60s, 50mm, ISO:100. Right: f/1.4, 1/2500s, 50mm, ISO:100|
Is motion blur ever a good thing?
Yes. It's one of those things where if you understand the rules, you can break them on purpose and do something awesome. But that will probably be rare unless it's something you're crazy about experimenting with. There are times when you want to show blur, indicating movement, speed, or a time lapse, and if you ever decide to get a little crazy with shutter speeds and venture into long exposures by using incredibly slow shutter speeds, it can be pretty fun (I'll probably do a fun long exposure post in the future). When you're blurring on purpose, slow shutter speeds are on your side. Otherwise, try to nail your settings and you'll be able to leave your blurry days behind.
|Top: f/1.4, 1/3200s, 50mm, ISO:100. Bottom: f/10, 1/80s, 50mm, ISO:100|
Photo challenge of the week!
Switch to timing priority/shutter speed priority (Tv for Canon, S for Nikon). Play around with different shutter speeds to see how it changes your photos. This is especially fun if you try slower speeds with people or things that are moving to show motion, then switch to a faster speed to stop them in time. Get a feel for what shutter speed works best in broad daylight, in the shade, indoors, and commit them to memory if you're feeling ambitious.
Good luck! Let me know how it goes, and be sure to share your questions, comments, and experiences with us!
And I had to leave you with this outtake photo to kick off the weekend, because it cracks me up. Nailed the jump, killed it with the shut eyes. But he's so focused and trying so hard it just can't go unshared! Have a great weekend! :)