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DSLR Basics for beginners: Introduction & everything you need to know about the Shutter Speed

Shubham Davey 0
Reading Time: 10 minutes

In the previous post, I talked in detail about the ISO settings that is one of the three pillars of Exposure Triangle. The other two pillars being, Shutter Speed and Aperture. To take better photos, it is very important for you to understand all the three elements of the exposure triangle.

What did you do when you had a fast moving subject in bright daylight? You’d switch to sports mode and do the job. That’s okay for beginners, but if you want to have better control over the final image and take much better photos, its time to switch to Shutter Priority mode.

In this post, I will share my understanding of Shutter speed and answer the following questions:

  1. What is Shutter speed? How does it affect the photographs
  2. How does the shutter function?
  3. What are the best shutter speed settings?(recommended settings)
  4. Difference between shutter speed and ISO settings
  5. General & helpful FAQs

Without taking much of your time, let’s begin😉

What is Shutter Speed? How does it affect the photographs?

In simplest words, shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter of your DSLR is open. 

In digital photography, the shutter speed is the length of time for which your image sensor sees the scene you are photographing.

Allow me to break the ice On shutter speed for you so that you can easily digest the information:

Shutter speed is scaled in seconds

The amount of time for which the shutter is open is scaled in seconds. The speed ranges from 30 seconds to 1/6400th of a second, i.e. 6400th fraction of a second. Bigger the denominator faster the shutter closes.

Most used shutter speed is 1/60th an above

If you operate below this range, there is very big chance that the camera will shake and will not produce sharp images.

Use a tripod for slower shutter speeds 

While operating on slower shutter speeds (the shutter will be open for a longer period of time)

Each stop will double the shutter speed

If you go down or go up by one stop, the shutter speed decrease or increase respectively. That is, the shutter speed ranges from 1/10, 1/20, 1/40, 1/80 etc. This ‘doubling’ of the speed is to better understand the aperture settings too. Doubling the shutter speed will also double the aperture and hence the light that the lens lets in also doubles. So it’s good to go down by one stop in aperture and one stop up in shutter speed will give you the exact same exposure.

Very slow shutter speeds are good, sometimes

Some DSLRs have the features where the shutter can be open for a longer period of time. That is 1 seconds to 30 seconds and beyond. Furthermore, those DSLRs have a bulb mode. In the bulb mode the shutter is kept open as long as you hold the shutter button. In other words, as long as you want the shutter to kept open.

Look for the moving object

If you have a moving object in your frame, make sure you have a faster shutter speed to freeze the moving object. Depending on the speed of the object, you can decide the speed of the shutter that can freeze that object. Furthermore, if you want to freeze the moving object you should up the shutter speed stop and ice freeze those objects.

Like in the below example, you can imagine the speed at which the pigeons flip their wings. To freeze this, I had to up the shutter speed. Since the light is great I can go ahead with a faster speed without worrying much about the exposure.

shutter speed

Motion isn’t always bad

Another use of having faster shutter speeds is having smooth water flow, giving a silky touch to the flowing water flow. A speeding vehicle/rainfall/animal will also need faster shutter speeds to operate those scenes better.     Furthermore, you can also use faster shutter speed to take low light photos(light trial or just the light)

Take a look at the two photos below:

shutter speed
                                                                                              © Shubham Davey
shutter speed
                                                                                           © Shubham Davey

How shutter speed affects the focal length of the image composition

While you consider going down on shutter speed to capture those fast moving objects, you might need to pay attention to the focal length, i.e the aperture of the composition. When your DSLR is set to shutter priority mode, the DSLR takes care of the aperture and ISO settings (you can change the ISO always)

In this situation, the DSLR automatically opens the apertures allowing more light inside the image sensor. More the light sensor has to process, more time it takes to capture the image. Hence, there are very high chance of shakes and improper final images. If you are using an aperture of 50mm then you should use faster shutter speeds(at least faster than the value of aperture) of 1/60th of a second.

Similarly, if you are using an aperture of 200mm, then ideal shutter speed is at least 1/250th of a second. This is to do away with the additional light you allow to let in. It’s that simple.

After all this, don’t you think both Shutter Speed and ISO are one and the same? Both deals with light, both control the intensity of the light entering the lens? Is it the same?

Let’s find out,

Difference between ISO and Shutter Speed

ISO settings are one of the most important pillars of the exposure triangle. This basically controls the sensitivity of the light entering the lens. In other words, the ISO settings control how reactive the image sensor is to the light it reads.

Though ISO settings and shutter speeds deal with light, they are not the same. To give a one-liner, the difference between ISO and Shutter Speed will be –

ISO deals with the sensitivity of the light, whereas the shutter speed deals with the light intensity.

Furthermore, shutter speeds are not only for controlling the light intensity. It also comes real handy while shooting fast moving objects, like birds, vehicles, water etc. Which is not possible in case of ISO settings. It’s solely for light sensitivity, that’s it. Nothing more!

ISO vs. Shutter Speed

Application –

ISO is the measure of light sensitivity, where the shutter speeds are the measure of light intensity.

Measurement – 

ISO is measured in numbers and the shutter speeds are measured in seconds.

Selection of ISO & Shutter Speeds – 

ISO settings are best when the value is lower. As the high ISO will result in over-exposed photos if the light you are working on is too bright. High ISO is useful when the light is too poor but this will invite digital noise.

Shutter speeds, on the other hand, are useful for freezing moving objects. Well, the primary use of this feature is exactly this.  Secondary use of this is to control the light intensity and create silky motion in the moving objects. Also for creating light trials of vehicles on road.

Now, I know you’d have a lot of questions popping up in your mind. Here are some top questions I think you already have.

Frequently Asked Questions on Shutter Speed

What is Camera Shutter? 

Your DSLR is highly relatable to your eyes. Just like you have eyelids, the DSLRs have shutters. These shutters act as the curtains between the lens and the image sensor. Depending on the speed you are operating, the curtain would be open for that amount of time and close exactly after that.

The light that the image sensor read for that amount of time is processed and the image is ready for you to flaunt.

How to set the Shutter Speed?

Shutter speeds are automatically set by your DSLR when you are working in any of the automatic modes. However, if you are working in any of the manual modes, you can control the shutter speeds.

Furthermore, there’s a dedicated mode called, shutter priority or Tv mode (in Nikon & Canon respectively). You can find that mode in the mode dial of the DSLR. In this mode, you control the shutter speed and your DSLR takes care of the aperture.

There’s another mode to control shutter speeds, which is “manual mode“. In this mode, you can control shutter speeds and aperture. This is the toughest mode as it completely gives control to you. Once you get hold of the settings, manual mode is super addictive.

How to find the Shutter Speed?

If you are operating in Live view(Lv) then you can find the shutter speeds value on the backscreen of your DSLR. Alternatively, if you are operating your DSLR in viewfinder mode, then you can find the shutter speed on the bottom left side of the viewfinder screen.

Nikon D90 Top Panel - Shutter Speed

Best shutter speed settings to work on

As I have mentioned earlier, the best shutter speed settings to work on is 1/60th of a second. However, as per the lighting conditions you are shooting in, shutter speed needs to be changed. If the light is too harsh, you should go for faster shutter speeds. On the other hand, if the light is too poor, then you should opt for slower shutter speeds.

The basic concept is, the shutter speed is inversely proportional to the intensity of the light. I think shutter speed is the easiest thing to get a hold on. It is similar to the blink of an eye, higher the light intensity more you’d blink to control it.

Final thoughts on Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is one of the pillars of the exposure triangle, isolating which will leave your images will be either over-exposed, blur or under-exposed. So it is important to note that when you up/down the shutter speeds by one stop, change the aperture and ISO settings accordingly.

Ideally, ISO settings should be as low as possible(100-400) while working on shutter priority mode. And the aperture should be less than the denominator of the shutter speed. For example, if you go down by one stop, you are letting half the light in. Hence you should open the aperture by one stop and/or increase the ISO by one stop. This will keep the balance of the exposure triangle. Keeping this in mind, you’d definitely do well while shooting in shutter priority mode.

Over to you. What do you think is shutter priority mode to your photographic experience? Do you any experience to share? Let me know in the comment section below. Do you know someone who’s looking for this information? Share this post with them.

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