Understand shutter speed on your digital camera

If you often notice blur or fuzziness in your photos, you’ll want to tune in because too slow of a shutter speed is the most likely culprit for blur in photos.

Last time we talked about digital camera aperture and how adjusting the f-stop on your DSLR camera can control the light coming into the camera. Did you practice changing this setting? How’d it go? Did you notice the difference in your exposure as you changed the settings up and down? How about the subtleties in your depth of field (background and foreground blur)?

Well, today we are going to step up our game a little bit and discuss how shutter speed can effect exposure. But before we get into that, let’s start at the very beginning.

Digital Camera Shutter Speed

The Basics of Shutter Speed in Photography

Actual definition: The time in which the shutter is open at any given setting (come again?).

My words: How long the shutter (or eyeball) stays wide open when taking a picture.

What this actually means: The shutter on your camera is like a curtain in front of the sensor that stays closed until you press the button to take a photo. When you press the button to take a picture, the shutter opens and fully exposes the camera sensor to the light. This is what ‘records’ or captures your image. The setting for the shutter speed is displayed in fractions of a second, like 1/100 for example. The amount of time the shutter (or eyeball) stays open has an obvious effect on how much light is allowed into the camera when you’re taking a picture.

Think back to our eyeball analogy again, if you hold your eye open for a long period of time, you allow lots of light in. If you hold it open for just a second and then close it right away, much less light is let in.

See what I mean?

So, what is a good shutter speed you ask? Well, that’s a very good question.

Here’s my (very basic) rule of thumb for shutter speed

If you’re photographing something stationary, like food or products on a table and you are not using a tripod, stay at or above 1/100. If you are shooting something stationary and you are using a tripod, you can go much lower, 1/10 if need be. Generally speaking, I try to always stay around 1/100 or higher.

If you are shooting people portrait style (meaning they’re posed and aware they are being photographed), try to stay above 1/160. If you are shooting small kids who are active and moving, you need a much faster shutter speed to avoid motion blur (fuzzy photos). I never go less than 1/250 when I have children in the shot. If you are trying to freeze movement (a child running for example), you’ll need a very fast shutter speed, maybe even as high 1/1000 or 1/1650 to get a crisp image without blur.

Using shutter speed on your digital camera for proper exposure.

How to Use Shutter speed for Proper Exposure

We are going to do another practice session! This time we are only going to adjust the shutter speed. Again, image brightness and quality is not the goal here, we are only looking at shutter speed. I want you to try this with something stationary, like a piece of fruit on the table and then again with something moving, like a car driving, a child running, or even your dog.

For the stationary object, set your shutter speed slower, around 1/100 and see if you can get a crisp image. If you see blur, set the shutter faster, 1/160 or 1/250 and try again.

The moving shots are going to be a little trickier. Start with your shutter speed at 1/250 and see how much blur you see, up it to to 1/500 and take another shot. More crisp? Go even higher and look at the difference. Remember, the more you increase the shutter speed, the less light is getting in, so the images will be darker.

Feeling really brave? Try adjusting the aperture too. If you want a blurry background in your stationary shot, try using a lower aperture like f-2. If your photo is too dark, slow down that shutter speed (let more light in) to around 1/50 and see what that does. Don’t be afraid to play around with the settings.

Remember the smaller the number of the aperture (f-stop) the more light, the bigger the number, the less light.

Okay, now it’s your turn to practice, practice, practice! And don’t forget to check in and let me know how it’s going!

About the Author Kristine Underwood

Kristine is a professional baker and photographer and in between managing her careers, she blogs at Kristine in between. She retired from Medical Transcription after 20 years to follow her dreams and opened a bakery. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two daughters. She believes life is short; enjoy the in between and eat more dessert! Follow her on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram and Twitter.

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