Monday, August 2, 2010


Today's lesson: SHUTTER SPEED. Shutter speed is basically the speed of your shutter. That is all. Bye.

I’m kidding! First, I’ll explain what Shutter is. The Shutter is a mechanical part in the camera that opens and closes to expose the sensor. Their relationship can be likened to the eye and its eyelid. When you open the shutter (eyelid), light goes through and hits the sensor (eye). The sensor then “sees” the image. When you close the shutter, the sensor stops “seeing”. So it stops recording the image.

Back to shutter speed. Shutter speed is simply the time that the shutter is open. Shutter speed’s unit of measurement are seconds (or fractions of it).

For example:
1” = one second
1/60 = one sixtieth of a second,
1/200 = one two hundredth of a second,
5” = 5 seconds, and so on.

I hope you got that because I won’t list all the ranges of shutter speeds here. I’m lazy. Anyway, if you’re confused with the fractions, just remember, the higher the denominator (the number below the one) the faster it is. So 1/200 is faster than 1/60.

So, you’re probably saying: “Okay, okay I got it!! Get to the juicy part! What is the shutter speed for?!”
So I’ll say: “Okay, okay! Relax! I’m getting to that!”
And you’ll say: “Okay. Go get to it.”
And I’ll say: “Okay. Here it goes...”

Okay. Here it goes. Shutter speed affects how much light enters the sensor. If the shutter speed is too fast, it will produce a dark image because there wasn’t too much time for the light to enter and register unto the sensor. The opposite happens when your shutter speed is too slow. It will produce a bright image because there was too much time and the light “overflowed” unto the sensor. It has to be just right.

Confused? Think of this metaphor:




Frightening, I know.

Let’s imagine. You saw this man on the street. If you close your eyes too fast, your eyes, won’t recognize what it was. It’ll be like: “Dude! What was that?!” = You can’t appreciate the scene because the shutter speed is too fast and it produced an image that’s too dark. 

Let’s imagine that you closed you eyes at just right time. You saw the guy, you recognized what the hell he’s doing, and then you closed your eyes right away. Your eyes will say “HAHAHAHA! That’s interesting!” = The scene is perfect because the shutter speed is just right.

BUT, if you saw the guy, and you decided to stare for I don’t know, 1 minute or for some unknown reason, you decided to wait for the guy to finish the song, your eyes are now vomiting. It’s probably saying: “What did I do to deserve this??!!!! Why?! Why??!!” And you’re traumatized for life. = The scene is too bright. It’s because too much light entered the sensor.

I hope you understood my metaphor. And please, if what you’re planning to take pictures of are like the one I described above, then please, for the sake of humanity, don’t pursue photography. Please have mercy on the poor souls who will lay their unfortunate eyes on your pictures...

Okay. Back to less disgusting things. Shutter speed, just like ISO has its “special ability” of course. It controls the movement of your subject. 

Just remember:
Slow shutter speed = blurry.
Fast shutter speed = sharp. 

Here’s the explanation for that. This won’t be disgusting, don’t worry. Imagine a man running in front of you from left to right. If the shutter speed is slow and it’s open for let’s say, 1 second, the image will be blurred because the sensor recorded the guy running from left to right. But if the shutter speed is like 1/200, the sensor didn’t see the guy run from left to right because it was only open for a very short time. It only saw the guy at the start and then the shutter closed already. So the image you’ll see is a man running at the left of the frame.

What’s the practical use for this? If you’re on a basketball game and you want to take a picture of a player in the air, you have to use FAST SHUTTER SPEED. Because if you didn’t, your image will be a blurred image of a basketball player jumping. Remember, you only want to take a picture of him in the air.

Here's an  example:

Well, she's not a basketball player but she's still jumping right? So this will do. The giddy woman on the photo is my lovely fiancee jumping for joy when we arrived at Boracay last year. This was taken using a point and shoot camera. In point and shoots, you can't change the shutter speed. It is always on AUTO. So again, learn how to use your DSLR so you can avoid pictures like these.

Another good effect that you can get with your shutter speed is making things move while others still.

An example of that shutter speed effect is this photo.

As you can see, the girls on the left are sharp but the two girls on the right are blurred. (the image isn't super sharp because I blurred it a bit in post processing to make it a bit more interesting) That's because the girls on the left are steady. The girls on the right are just moving into the scene when I took the picture. If my shutter speed is too fast, you won't see this effect. All of the girls would be sharp. The photo won't be as interesting.

And last thing. If you use SLOW SHUTTER SPEED, your hands have to be steady. If it’s too slow like 1/50 and slower (it depends on your hands), you’ll have to use a tripod. Why? Because if not, the camera will not only capture the movement of your subject but will also capture the movement of your hands.

So that’s it! Easy, right? Next time, I’ll teach you Aperture. And after that, we’ll put them all together. You’ll be snapping pictures in no time! =) Class dismissed!


  1. classmate, a question on shutter speed lecture from a newbie:
    you said that shutter speed must be fast to capture a fast moving object but you also said that fast shutter speed would also produce a dark image. how then would you perfectly capture a basketball player on air?

  2. Hi Coke! I'm so sorry I haven't been blogging for a while... I've been busy lately. Anyways, about your question: Yes. Fast shutter speeds will produce a sharp but dark image. So, to compensate for that, you should boost your aperture and ISO. That's it! It's as simple as that! Remember, a large aperture (the lower the number the larger the aperture is) lets in more light. And higher ISOs make your sensor more sensitive to light so, higher ISO = more light.

    But if you are using your kit lens, it might be difficult to capture sharp images if you are in a dark location... That's the reason why pro photographers invest in very expensive lenses. That's because those lenses have very big apertures to let in more light. But don't let your gear's limitation discourage you! You can still do it using your kit lens. Just use a very high ISO like 1600 or if you're really desperate, 3200 (3200 in my camera is not that bad)and then just reduce the noise in post processing. =)

  3. I forgot! To let in more light, use flash! =) I don't use flash often because I love "artistic" shots that often require ambient light. But if you take pictures of basketball games, then it's okay to use flash. =)