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Lesson Four: Balance – Shutter Speed

Photography freezes a moment in time, but it doesn’t always freeze the same length of moment in time.

Sometimes it freezes a thousandth of a second (1/1000)
a hundredth of a second (1/100)
a tenth of a second (1/10)
even one second or up to 30 seconds.
In extreme instances exposures ranging upwards of many hours can be used to draw out detail that isn’t visible to the human eye.

The Shutter Speed controls the length of time that an exposure takes place. The common range of DSLR’s is 1/4000 th – 30 seconds.

High shutter speeds like (1/4000 th – 1/800 th ) of a second means you can freeze fast moving objects such as a a humming bird’s wings or a water drop hitting the surface of a still pond.

The mid-range speeds ( 1/400 th – 1/8 th )are great for a variety of storytelling effects and can be used to balance the ambient light in a photo to suit the light needs.
At a certain point outside of the midrange of shutter speeds you will find extreme clipping. “Clipping” is what happens when the colour information for the lightest and darkest tones get lost as a result of under or over exposure. Once this Clipping occurs, you will loose the ability to print proper detail in clipped areas. Using darkroom (Lightroom) techniques, this detail can be salvaged to a point. But we do want to get it perfect in camera before we start to rely on post-processing.

The long shutter speeds (1/4 – 30 sec.) are great for shooting in dark city scenes with dragging car light effects, or when shooting astronomy or moon shots. Other times long shutter speeds can be used to create amazingly complex photos that defy the laws of the world we live in.

F- 5 ~ 1/100th sec

F- 13 ~ 1/160th sec

F- 3.8 ~ 1/4 sec

Have a look above at how Shutter Speed can be used to tell a story or freeze action.

Have a look below how shutter speed can stop a falling object (an apple) or allow it to “drag” through the photo bv varying the time the shutter remains open. At slower speed the object will leave behind a streak of  and then become a giant blur of colour. Good photographers learn to use this shutter drag to their photos best interest, to help tell a story or convey movement that will compliment the photo.

Shutter speed also changes the amount of ambient light, as it stays open longer, more light is allowed into the camera. In the following example ISO and some post processing has been used to best show the effect of Shutter Drag.


Move your mouse over the Shutter Speeds to see the different drag effects.

When you learn to combine  Shutter Speeds and Aperture, along with ISO tweaking and Metering the light. You are well on your way to understanding and then ultimately mastering photography.

In the next lesson we will look at the camera’s Meter and the different Metering systems that can be offered by different cameras.

Today’s lesson has shown us that besides being a controller of light, the Shutter Speed can help us show movement or stop movement.
It is another one of the tools at our disposal for storytelling; we now have Depth of Field using the Aperture and Time/Movement using the Shutter Speed.

Now you can be proud that you have almost all of the knowledge needed to start making great photos in your camera’s manual mode.

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One Response

  1. Film photographers did the same things for decades, by virtue of the actual darkroom. For the real artists in photography, the digital age is nothing more than an extension of what we are actually given. – I really like the photos above, especially the mystic mood conveyed with the bottom photo. Good job. Marge Firlit

    July 10, 2011 at 2:29 am

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