3 Keys to Master Shutter Speed like a Boss.

Cascade, just enough shutter speed to indicate movement.

Have you just invested in a fantastic system camera?Are you starting to take some great photos but missing out on some awesome shots because there is unwanted blur?

Are some of your shots spot on technically but lacking that certain something?

Where is the emotional connection you felt at the scene?

Despite a great system camera and an awesome fast lens is there something missing in the translation of your vision to the computer screen?

Are you struggling to get action shots sharp or indicate movement when it’s needed?

It could be time to turn away from the safety of the fully automatic setting and brave the shutter priority mode. To make the most of this setting you need to find out what your camera can do by following 3 key experiments.

The Basics

Camera top showing Mode dial (red arrow) and turn wheel to change shutter speed (blue arrow)

When your camera is set to automatic, it’s brain chooses all the settings to give you a good exposure. Most of the time this works really well. But the camera doesn’t know what in the scene is important to you.

It doesn’t know you are trying to capture a Honey Bee as it buzzes from flower to flower collecting nectar. Most likely it will set a fairly slow shutter speed, sometimes as slow as a tenth of a second. To a bee, that’s an eternity and the constant motion it makes means your shot will be a blurry mess. Not to mention the possibility of camera movement at that length of exposure.

Bumble Bee on Vetch.

Time to get your big girl pants on. Be brave and turn that mode dial to S. This gives you control over the length of time the camera exposes the shot.

The great thing about this mode is that you will still get nicely exposed shots because the camera will sort out the aperture setting to manage the light from the scene.

  1. Freezing Motion

This first pair of shots will show you how to get great shots of things on the move that you would like to appear detailed, like bees on flowers, your children engaged in activities, people in street scenes.

Shot 1 With your camera set to Auto take a couple of shots of a moving object. Choose a bright day. Insects are a good choice of subject as their motion is quite quick and you will get chance to repeat your shots.

Shot 2 Set your camera to Shutter priority by turning the mode dial to S. The wheel on the top plate will now alter the length of time in which the camera takes the shot. This information will be displayed on the screen. Choose a setting of around 1/1000 of a second.

Shutter priority used to freeze motion. Guy Martin, TT mountain course, Isle of Man

For the shot above, I used the fastest speed my camera would allow at the time, 1/3000 of a second. The camera balanced the exposure with the other settings. The photo is acceptably sharp for the conditions. Sharp enough to see the wheel nut come off the bike, but that’s another story ….

How our Photograph Saved Guy Martin’s Life

At high shutter speed you can freeze motion and get sharp images.

The most likely result on auto is an unsharp or blurry image from a shutter speed towards the middle of the range.

2. Intentional Motion Blur

Of course, you may not always want to freeze motion completely. You might want to make use of motion blur to add drama or atmosphere to your work.

One very popular subject is fast moving water where longer shutter speeds create milky flows. For longer shutter speeds you will need to support your camera with a tripod or solid surface.

Shot 1 Set your camera to Auto and take a photo of a fast moving stream or waterfall. These subjects are great for showing the effect of a longer exposure. Choose an overcast but not dark day.

Shot 2 Set your camera to Shutter Priority and choose a shutter speed of around half a second. Use a tripod if you have one or set the camera on a convenient surface such as a rock.

A small amount of motion blur here lights up the rivulet down the rock face and the streams of light on the surface explain the water’s motion.

More blur is evident in the waterfall at the beginning of the article. Longer exposure times turn moving water to milky flows but require some more advanced techniques.

3. Low Light

One of my personal favourites is to use longer exposures to take shots in low light. These can create some unexpected, dreamy and ethereal shots. You’ll definitely need a tripod for this one.

Shot 1 Take your comparison shot with the camera on Auto. Choose a late evening or early morning just before sunrise or just after sunset. If there is colour in the sky, all the better. Choose a landscape subject such as a lake, the ocean or one with scudding clouds in the sky.

Shot 2 Set your camera to shutter priority and choose a very long exposure time such as 10 seconds. Take your shot again. Anything that moves in your scene will show as a soft blur.

Rippled surface smoothed out to give a lovely reflection.

In the shot above, the long exposure not only allowed the this low light shot to be taken but smoothed out the ripples on the lake’s surface for a dreamy reflection.

A word of caution with low light shots. Your camera may choose a high ISO setting. It helps if you can over ride this and set the ISO to it’s lowest setting (often 200). This will be hidden away in your camera’s menu so you may need to consult your instruction manual. A high ISO introduces noise into your image. A little can be interesting, a lot can be distracting.

Longer exposures capture the detail of the moon.

Longer exposures can give you access to some fascinating techniques such as Astrophotography, light trails …

Dr Who, Skaro, Dalek shot.

….. zoom bursts …

Fairy lights on Christmas tree zoom burst.

…. and panning.

Panning with longer exposure brings movement into your shots.

All these techniques are worthy of there own mini tutorials which will be coming soon.

But for now, you can improve your understanding of your camera and Shutter priority by following the simple steps above. The important thing is to go and practise these ideas so you are ready when the perfect opportunity to use them presents itself.

Reading is great, seeing is better, doing is the key to success.

Time to get out, get shooting and create amazing images that match your vision.

In case you missed it, you can find a similar guide on using Aperture Priority here

3 Keys to Mastering Aperture like a boss

If anything is unclear, please let me know and I’ll see if I can improve things. Let me know how you get on in the comments.

Happy Shooting :-)

Award winning Artist and Photographer still learning and evolving. Blogging the journey.

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