10 Steps to Manual Mode: Shutter Speed Basics

snow boarder flying thru the air
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This is the third part of the 10 part series: 10 Steps to Manual Mode.

You can access the series here—> 10 Steps to Manual Mode Series.

In this third part of the series, we are going to focus on Shutter Speed.

Shutter speed is one of three parts of the Exposure Triangle that is very important when understanding photography.

I discuss the basics of the Exposure Triangle in this post—> Exposure Triangle Basics for Shooting in Manual Mode

fireworks in the night sky

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is how fast the shutter moves when taking the photo.

The slower the shutter moves, the more light that is able to get in. This makes for a brighter photo.

How do we use it to take better photos?

Fast shutter speed ( 1/200 and up) is used on sports photography to stop the motion. If you are photographing birds in flight, your child sliding into home plate or any thing else where you want to freeze time, you are going to need a fast shutter speed.

Slow shutter speed (1/160 or less) is used to blur motion or low light situations. It can be used to make creamy water in a waterfall or river and can bring more light into your photo.

You will usually need to use a tripod if you go with a slow shutter speed. You might also want a slow shutter speed to make light trails such as star trails or car light trails on a highway.

How does shutter speed affect the exposure triangle?

The higher the shutter speed, the less light that is let into the photo. So if you crank up your shutter speed, you are going to have to increase your ISO, decrease your aperture or both.

The lower the shutter speed, the more light that is let into the photo. So if you use a slow shutter speed, you can use a larger depth of field (aperture) or lower ISO.

I find I can hand hold my camera at about 1/60th of a second and get a clear picture. Anything lower than that and I need a tripod. Everyone is different, so if you plan on using a lower shutter speed, make sure you don’t have blur on your photos.

A Tale of Two Waterfalls:

Water is a great example of how you can use shutter speed to make a much different vision of the same subject.

a waterfall in the sunshine

Above is a waterfall taken with a fast shutter speed. The water is choppy because it is stopped in motion.

soft, smooth waterfall

Here is a waterfall taken with a slow shutter speed. The water is smooth and it flows together. It also makes the photo a little darker than I would normally like.

I like the look of the smooth, flowy water personally, but it is up to the photographer to make that choice by using shutter speed to bring about his/her vision.

3 Tips to Choosing the Correct Shutter Speed:

  1. Test your skills to see how low you can go on shutter speed without a tripod. This will be your baseline when thinking about low shutter speed.
  2. Use a tripod (and wireless release) for really low shutter speed. In these extreme cases, even pushing the shutter button can effect the camera and make your photo blurry.
  3. Blur isn’t always a bad thing. It can signify motion and make water silky smooth. Using shutter speed to complete your artistic vision is one way you can stand out from the crowd.

Action Steps:

  1. Test your shakiness. Test out different shutter speeds to see at what point you need a tripod because your handheld shots are too blurry.
  2. Experiment. Try out different photos with low and high shutter speed to see how changing the shutter speed can effect the vision of your photo.
  3. Get a good tripod. Using a very low shutter speed will require you to use a tripod to get a clear shot.

This is the third lesson of ten that will be coming in the next few weeks.

Next week we will talk about aperture and how to use it properly for great photos. Click here to go to the next lesson —> 10 Steps to Manual Mode: Aperture Basics.

Learning shutter speed and how to use it properly will make a big difference in your photography. Whether it is star trails, silky smooth waterfalls or catching a hummingbird in flight, shutter speed can make your photos stand out from the rest. So take the time to learn this setting and how to use it to your advantage in your photography.

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How do you use shutter speed to make you photos unique? Let us know in the comments below. And if you found this post helpful, please share. Thanks!


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