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In photography, camera sensors or film are exposed to light in order to capture a subject. The image captured reaches the camera lens, going past it to the film to capture it in real time. This is where the shutter comes in. The shutter will close on the snap, which stops the flow of light to the subject matter and exposure of the film.
The length of time that the center of the film is exposed to the subject (and the light) will determine the shutter speed setting. A fast shutter speed might be 1/500-1/1000 seconds or 1/700-1/2000 seconds, and it’s typically used to capture sharp images of fast movements. So, in definition, photographers alter the shutter speed of a camera in order to control how much light the sensor and film receive — and ultimately, the appearance of the subject.
But how does this affect the appearance of an image? What’s the difference between a fast shutter speed and a slower one? In this article, we’ll answer these questions for you.
Setting a faster shutter speed lets less light into the camera sensor or lens, which is a setting ideal for fast-moving subjects, such as flying birds, moving vehicles, or someone running. If you were to take pictures of these subjects while in motion using a slow shutter speed, the images would be blurry because the camera’s film would be exposed too long.
Think of fast shutter speeds as a way to stop or freeze the action and slower shutter speeds as a way to create motion blur. Slow shutter speeds are ideal in low-light or nighttime conditions, especially when you want to create an exaggerated blurred image or other visual effects.
However, if you want to create a sharp image of a subject, a faster shutter speed is ideal. And in some cases, panning that camera to the side can help to make up for slower shutter speeds such as taping a biking marathon.
There are different types of camera shutters that can provide different advantages and photos. However, the type of shutter you have will depend on whether you have a digital or analog camera and if the quality of the camera, as more expensive cameras, will have more shutter speeds.
Fast shutter speeds are optimal settings in brightly lit areas. In these scenarios, you’ll need the shutter to open only for a very short amount of time in order to have adequate subject lighting. Because the area is already brightly lit, you don’t want to overexpose the film or the sensor.
Also, any time you want to capture fast or split-second movements, such as a hummingbird hovering or a sprinter running, you’ll want to use a high shutter speed.
So, using a shutter speed of 1/1000 will work to sort of freeze the subject in motion. If you’re filming outside, you can typically use a higher shutter setting, as you usually have less light to work with. Be sure to account for this.
Photographers who shoot sporting events, animals, nature, or other photography where freeze-frame and still shots are needed will often find faster shutter speeds to be more advantageous. Fast-paced motion is captured better with a faster shutter speed.
For example, a shutter speed of 1/60th would be way too slow to capture crisp images of a bird in flight. Keep in mind that whenever you increase the shutter speed, you’re also increasing the aperture of the lens (aka “iris”) as well.
So, if you want a creative shot, you can use a very shallow depth of field to make the background a blur, bringing the focus to the foreground. This is often used in interviews and other shots where the background can be a bit of a distraction.
It’s also important to note that a sharper image can also come at a higher price. For example, if you’re shooting an “in-action” shot at a shutter speed that is too fast, it will make the image look darker, as it will decrease the amount of light that’s needed for a crisp image.
Ultimately, the camera’s iris needs to be opened long enough to maintain adequate exposure to the subject. In other words, don’t aim for shutter speeds that are too high unless you specifically plan to do a bit of editing in post-production. You need to edit the freeze frames (or slow-motion stills).
Another disadvantage to faster shutter speeds is that it only works when there is enough lighting, which may not be possible if you’re filming outdoors at night or indoors with low lighting.
Try different settings to see what works best. Doing so will help you unlock tremendous potential in terms of framing, capturing crisp images, and creative possibilities while you’re working with different targets. It’s also helpful to experiment with different types of targets during both daylight hours and night or in low-light settings.
|Someone walking at a moderate pace
|A person sprinting
|A bird while in flight
|An animal running
|Freezing slow-moving animals
|Moving water (blurred)
|Still subject snapshots
|1/500: 1/1000 second
|Used to blur people walking or water
Shutter speed is the amount of time that a digital sensor or strip of film inside your camera is exposed to light while you’re taking a picture. The faster the shutter speed, the less light is allowed in the camera, which often results in a crisper image.
Fast shutter speeds are used to capture fast-moving actions such as people running, vehicles in motion or nature-related images, such as rain falling or birds flying. If you’re new to photography it’s important to have a good grasp of shutter speed, how it works, and when to use certain settings in order to create the perfect image.
Featured Image Credit: sergey causelove, Shutterstock
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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