Free Photography Class #9: All about Mastering Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed
Master Shutter Speed. In Picture: JP Frederick. BTW, highly recommend this Newer Flash and Joilcan Tripod. Hands down, great bang for your dollar. Advanced camera settings

Mastering Your Shutter Speed

So, there is a method to our madness of learning ISO then mastering shutter speed. Most, if not all the time, you will know almost exactly what you want your aperture to be for a shoot. And we will discuss that in the next and final section of this beginner series. ISO and shutter speed are going to be your variable settings that you will play with most often to get everything just right. So now it is time to learn some advanced camera settings!

I regularly bounce between these two when doing nature, landscapes, wildlife and even street photography. Your shutter has to be fast enough to not blur the details (unless that’s what you are going for) so it takes experimentation and experience to master how to set that while using the lowest possible ISO. So, let’s get to it!

photography of person holding black camera lens
Mastering Shutter Speed- Advanced camera settings

Short review of what we have learned

So, what we know about aperture so far, is that the wider the shutter opens, the more light is let in, which brightens the picture but reduces the field of view with lots and lots of beautiful creamy bokeh.  This is symbolized by a lower number like f/2.8.  As you “lower” your aperture by making the hole smaller, you get more sharpness around and behind your subject (deeper field of view), but less light is coming in to expose your sensor and keep your picture from being too dark; for this example, we will say we are doing some landscapes at f/11.  Now, shutter speed and ISO to the rescue!

Camera Aperture Explained, Understand aperture
Mastering Shutter Speed- Advanced camera settings

Shutter Speed to the rescue!

So, for our landscape, we want f/11 so all those beautiful trees and mountains will be in focus.  If it’s super bright outside, then as we discussed in ISO, you would probably be able to just set the ISO to 100 then slowly adjust your shutter speed to be the perfect brightness.  But shutter speed comes with its own unique set of challenges. First, if you are hand holding the camera you just can’t keep it perfectly still. Too slow of a shutter speed may reflect the slightest unsteadiness in your hand, especially after a few cups of coffee, and you don’t want a blurry landscape!

So obviously, before adjusting ISO in that situation, you are going to have to set your shutter speed fast enough to not reflect that natural shaking.  Now if you are on a tripod, then you can be sure it’s much steadier and can even use a remote shutter that plugs into your camera, so you don’t accidentally move it when you push the shutter button. A tripod takes out the issue with a slow shutter speed, so you may be able to set your ISO first, then start reducing your shutter speed until you have the perfect brightness. Even try a few different shutter speeds, just in case. 

Similarly, if you are taking pictures at your kid’s soccer match, you are going to have to use a fast shutter.  You pretty much learn what you will need with experience, but before then, you can experiment on local joggers or dogs running in the park.  And again, with that fast shutter speed and your aperture already set, you are now going to have to turn to ISO to brighten or darken your photo to perfection. 

Tripods at a soccer game will save your arms from having to hold the weight of the camera all game, but the shutter is going to be much too fast to have to worry about your hands shaking… those kids are moving way faster than your hands so your shutter speed will already be set really high to catch their movement. So, to make this easy and less wordy, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of shutter speed! Then to the holy grail of cheat sheets!

Camera Aperture Explained, Understand Aperture
Mastering Shutter Speed- Advanced camera settings

Advantages

Fast Shutter:

  1. Captures very quick motion without blurring, creating high detail.
  2. Let’s in much less light on a bright day.
  3. Can handhold camera

Slow shutter:

  1. Can artistically blur things like moving water to create a unique smoothing effect.
  2. Let’s in much more light in low lighting, can even capture stars in the night sky if open long enough!
  3. Blurring can be corrected by using a tripod

Disadvantages

Fast Shutter:

  1. Captures quick motion at the expense of light, so you may have to increase your ISO which can cause graininess.

Slow Shutter:

  1. Not all blur is artistic. You cannot take pictures of a moving object without blur which hurts the quality of your image.
  2. Just can’t hand hold the camera the slower you go, images will be too blurred sometimes even unrecognizable.
  3. Unless through artistic blurring (called shutter drag), too slow can eliminate your ability to have people in your image all together. Even the slightest movement of your subject can render the image useless if your goal is detail.

Cheat sheet for shutter speed!

I wish I had this when I was going through photography classes, below is a chart with the minimum shutter speed you would want to use for different scenarios!

  1. Still Landscape with tripod (remember even clouds move so have to take that into consideration). If there is no movement in your pictures, then your exposure is your only limit on how slow you can go.
  2. Still Landscape handheld (image stabilization plays a role in this also, but we will assume you don’t have it). Slowest shutter can vary on the person, but I would say no slower than 1/90th of a second.  I try to squeeze a little slower sometimes, but this is a great hard and fast rule to follow.
  3. Headshots/portraits handheld1/90th of a second will still work but take multiple pictures in a row; especially with more than 1 subject since everyone blinks differently!
  4. Headshots/portraits with Tripod1/8th of a second is a great bottom spot. See how big of a difference a tripod makes! But again, make sure you take a lot if you are using this slow of a shutter. Folks blink, make funny faces, forget to smile… all kinds of things so hold that shutter down and delete it if you don’t need it.
  5. Human Motion/Sports Photography without blur1/1000th of a second or above is the hard and fast rule of sports photographers everywhere.  But not everyone is running 20 mph or throwing a 100-mph fastball. 1/1000th of a second will freeze human motion, but you can cheat down to 1/800th or so. Just look and see if you are blurring your pics!  I have used as low as 1/500th of a second, but it’s typically kids playing or maybe a power walker.  Anything slower than this will create some blurring if the person is moving.  Beautiful pictures can be made with blur and there is no hard and fast rule on how slow to go to create that artistic look.  But it takes lots and lots and lots of practice to figure that out. If I had to say a great place to start for motion blur, I would go with 1/125 to 1/250 per second and again, lots of practice. Those can really turn out horrible if you don’t know what you are doing and timing it just right.
  6. Fast shutter Bonus: Freeze hummingbird wings1/4000th of a second is the slowest you can go to freeze the wings of a flying hummingbird; these little boogers are just speed demons!
  7. Slow Shutter Bonus- best shutter speed to smooth out moving water: 3 full seconds is a favorite of mine.  If you think about it, every drop of water that rushes by as your shutter is open is captured.  The more water, the smoother it looks.  But I have taken a few on a tripod for portraits and you can get away with 1/4th to 1/8th of a second; it just isn’t as pretty!

That’s a wrap!

So! Now you know the minimum shutter speed for the type of photography you are taking. And you know some basics about aperture! Plus, you know if you are setting a minimum shutter speed, you want to do that before adjusting the ISO.  Well guess what, you can now pass the beginner stage with some practice with different lighting, subjects and motion! And after your first 10,000 photos in manual mode, you will be instinctively setting your camera.

Next, we will finish up this series by covering aperture tips and tricks with a similar “cheat sheet.”  So, until next week, get clicking! Can’t wait to see what you create! Check out our most recent creations by following us on Instagram!

Go even further in your knowledge of shutters by learning the differences in your mechanical and electronic shutter!

By: Jon Frederick, Lead Photographer for Seven11

Jon Frederick

I am an internationally exhibited fine arts photographer, blog contributor, and published Christian author. Along with my wife, Kathleen, we are the founders of Seven11 Photography and co-authors of “Immersion: An Inspirational Christian Photography Collection”. “Immersion” is the first devotional of its kind to combine “faith-inspired” photography with individual messages of Christian encouragement, creating a more immersive study you can read, see, and spiritually feel. Our goal is to help fellow Christians deepen their relationship with God by creating studies that go beyond written words. If a picture says a thousand words, our unique approach reaches deep into your thoughts, memories, and emotions, through visual engagement, to deepen your study and actively strengthen your relationship with Jesus Christ.