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The use of shutter speed photography

If you are starting in photography, you have probably wondered how to produce those awesome freeze motion in the images or how to capture a long exposure like a stars trail. Well, the objective of this article is to give you some basic pieces of knowledge of Shutter Speed Photography so you can start experimenting and producing artistic images.

We will talk about what is Shutter Speed and how it works, what kind of effects you can include in your pictures by using it strategically and how you can measure it.

But first, let’s start by explaining what shutter speed is. Picture it like this, the camera sensor is like an eye and the shutter is like an eyelid, so when the camera fires, the shutter opens and fully exposes the camera sensor to the light that has passed through your lens, after the sensor is done collecting all the light and information necessary the shutter closes immediately and that is how an image is captured.


shutter speed photography


What is Shutter Speed Photography?

Shutter speed photography is the amount of time the shutter is open during which light can pass through and hit the sensor. So essentially, it’s how long your camera spends taking a photo. Also, it allows setting a correct exposure on your camera. By the correct use of this setting, you will produce various effects on your images like freezing action or blurring motion, and also you will be able to control and influence the brightness of your photo.

Simply keep in mind that the longer the shutter speed, the more light is going to reach the sensor.

Other key concepts that you need to know regarding shutter speed is that it is one of the three elements of the exposure triangle along with aperture and ISO. If you are not using auto mode, you can set the camera to manual mode and this will help you choose the settings you prefer in order to achieve the result that you have imagined.

When you change any one of the three elements of the exposure triangle, you will need to compensate the others.

If you want to experiment with shutter you can try by using shutter speed priority mode. In this way, you set the shutter speed and the camera will adjust the right aperture to get the correct exposure.

Knowing how the exposure triangle works is key if you want to express yourself creatively through your photography. Otherwise, you will always end up with something different than what you expected which is very frustrating.

Freeze Motion and Motion Blur

Now let’s take a look at how changing shutter speed allows you to produce two different effects: Freeze Motion and Motion Blur. The basic concept that you need to remember is that quick shutter speeds freeze action, while long ones create an effect of motion when you photograph moving objects.

Freeze Motion.

With this technique, you can photograph an action or a moving subject so that it is perfectly still in the image. An example in landscape photography are photographs of lightning or animals. To get this effect the ideal is to use a stabilized lens as well as a tripod of course. The exposure time must be short and proportional to the subject’s speed.


shutter speed photography


If you are looking to create a Freeze Motion effect on a picture, what you need to do is to set a faster shutter speed. By finding an appropriate shutter speed you will be able to reduce to the minimum the motion of any moving object/subject and capture the moment. You could use water as an object to sharpen your skills with this effect.

Motion Blur

Rivers, streams, waterfalls, but also fountains and waves are some examples of what you can choose to capture the movement of the subject and thus create the motion blur effect.

To create these surreal and dreamlike images you need to master a technique referred to as long exposure. This kind of shooting consists of exposing for a relatively long time, for example, 1 sec. or more, in order to allow the light to affect the sensor and create a typical effect that is usually not perceptible to the human eye. The goal of this effect is to give a sense of movement.


shutter speed photography


The slower the subject, the longer the exposure time must be.

A scene that is too bright can be a problem. The camera’s exposure meter calculates the shutter speed according to the available brightness. It also varies the other parameters (aperture and ISO) in order to maximize the duration of the exposure. The best solution is to use a Neutral Density (ND) filter which will limit the light entering the lens in an even and neutral way, allowing you to increase the shutter speed.


Shutter speed is expressed in seconds, and mostly in a fraction of seconds. A shutter speed of 1/100 of a second means one-hundredth of a second. So if the denominator is greater the shutter speed is faster which means that less light gets into the sensor, this basic rule can help you determine the shutter speed needed for a freeze motion shot.

The other side is very slow shutter speeds that are not fractions of seconds but are measured in full seconds that can go from 1 to 30 seconds. For example, if you choose a 10-second shutter speed this means that the camera will be fully exposed for 10 seconds to the scene.

A few last words…

We have gone through some simple concepts of what is shutter speed and how it affects the look of your pictures with freeze motion and motion blur effects. It is essential to experiment and practice in order to learn the basics of composition.

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