T he shutter speed is the amount of time for which the camera stays open. It determines the duration for which the shutter curtains remain open to expose the film or camera sensor (in case of a digital camera) to the image. A high shutter-speed allows a very low amount of light to come in because the shutter remains open only for a small time. On the other hand a slow shutter speed allows a lot of light to come through since the shutter is open for a long time interval.
Exposure And Shutter Speed
Depending on the amount of light in the scene, the camera (or you) may choose to use fast or slow shutter-speed. The lesser the light in the scene the slower the shutter speed to allow more light to make way for proper exposure. Shutter speed thus is one of the pillars of exposure triangle.
Shutter Speed Implications
Most of the cameras and all of the D/SLRs provide the shutter priority mode to allows you to override the shutter-speed with the setting of your choice. In an average DSLR this may range from 32seconds to 1/4000 of a second. Besides exposure, the primary use of shutter speed is to control the amount of motion-blur due to movements and activity in a scene. Thus sports scenes employ a high shutter-speed to freeze movement of the players. If you are shooting a stationary subject you may want to control aperture or set your camera to one of the auto modes instead.
Impact Of Shutter Speed
The shutter speed has the profound impact on the picture. The slow shutter speed helps you in capturing the waterfalls, fireworks, traffic trails — categorized as long exposure photography. This helps induce a certain amount of blur to portray movement or motion effects. Like in the image below, the rain drops are blurred owing to slow shutter speed. The photograph was shot at exposure of 1/60 sec.
A very high shutter speed on the other hand, freezes the motion the instance shutter release. This freezes even the water droplets in a scene like the splash photography. Look at the picture below, the running dog was photographed by Canon EOS 1-D Mark III at 1/1000 sec exposure, to freeze the motion.
Controlling the shutter speed gives you an opportunity to capture fantastic, outstanding and pleasing photographs portraying motion effects. Shutter-speed varies with the motion-effect that you desire and the scene you want to photograph.
Time To Experiment With Shutter Speed
Here’s a small exercise you can do to create and understand the effects of shutter-speed. Set your camera to shutter-priority mode. Try boosting up the shutter speed to (1/500 sec.) capture any moving subject on the street, and you will observe the subject freezes at this extremely fast shutter speed. Now slow down the shutter speed (1/30 sec. or slower) to introduce blurs following the moving objects. Dialing down the shutter speed to the slowest range supported by your camera will enable you to capture the long exposures with the risk on introducing blurs. To effectively use slow-shutter speeds it is always recommended to use tripod or place the camera on sturdy surfaces, for portraying the foam like look for the running waters.
Quick Tip: If you are using a DSLR your camera will have a bulb mode. So if you want to go beyond the slowest shutter-speed the camera offers, you can use the bulb mode. It allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you keep the shutter-release pressed.