Fast and slow shutter speeds

Understanding Shutter Speed Part 1

The difference Between Fast and Slow Shutter Speed

This post will be a Two Part Post, learning how to understand what effect shutter speed has on your picture.
Part 1 will demonstrate the difference between using a fast shutter speed to “freeze” motion, and a slow shutter speed to show motion.

Part 2 will be a more technical discussion on how to use shutter speeds in the camera and understanding how use the camera’s controls to adjust shutter speed.


Part 1 –Fast vs. Slow Shutter Speed:

Let’s look at the effect shutter speed will have on the same subject.

Fast Shutter Speed

This picture was taken with a fast shutter speed: 500th of a second. You can see the subject is clear and motion is frozen. Can you tell if the carnival ride is moving or not? Not really. This is because the shutter is open such a short amount of time the ride isn’t given a chance to move across the camera’s sensor before it closes.

This short amount of time is what “freezes” motion. The faster the subject is moving, the faster the shutter speed needs to be to accomplish this. This picture is great if you want to see all the detail of the subject and the look of delight on the kid’s faces. It does not give any sense of movement, though. Fast shutter speed pictures are easy; this picture was a “one and done” picture. It took only one shot to get this as the ride came around.

Slow Shutter Speed

Slow Shutter speed

This picture was taken with a slow shutter speed: 60th of a second. It gives a great sense of movement by the blur of motion of the background, yet the subject is clear. This is because the shutter is open long enough to allow the background to move across the sensor as I was following the subjects before the shutter closed. The slower the shutter speed, the longer it’s open and the more blur you will see.

If you use too slow of a shutter speed you will see nothing but blur and you will not be able to hold the camera steady enough. That’s what I call the Salvatore Dali effect where the picture looks like its melting. It takes experimentation and the knowledge of the subject’s speed of movement to know what shutter speed to use to create the motion effect you desire. How much of the subject to you want to be able to recognize? How much motion do you want to emphasize?

How steady can you hold the camera before all you are really seeing is camera movement and not the subject’s movement? It takes practice. It takes experimentation. I first tried a 15th of a second and the whole picture was too blurry. I then tried a 30th of a second and it was better, but still too blurry. I then settled on a 60th of a second. This was no a “one and done” picture. In all I took 30 shots before I got this one that I felt was acceptable. The lesson here is not to be discouraged if your first shot is no good! The great thing about digital is that all those extra shots didn’t cost a thing.

Continue reading Part 2 for understanding how to use shutter speeds and make them work for you.

~Ron G.

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