Getting to know your camera – shutter speed

Investing in a DSLR was one of the best and most rewarding things I have ever done. I have developed a wonderful hobby into a creative business, but it took time to understand my camera to capture everyday and special photos of my children as well as photography for clients.

Image source: Capture by Lucy
Image source: Capture by Lucy

 

In this ‘Getting to know your camera’ mini series I want to take you through the three fundamental principles of exposure. You can catch up on Aperture here, but this post is all about shutter speed. Perfect for this time of year when your children are playing and running in piles of autumn leaves and, if we’re lucky to have a white winter, lots of silliness in the snow!

Image source: Capture by Lucy
Image source: Capture by Lucy

In very simple terms shutter speed is what gives you control to blur or freeze an object in motion. So either photographing something that is moving in sharp focus or capturing a blurry image. This is known as panning. You know the kind of photos, milky looking water in a waterfall or a fast moving car or train.

The button you press to take a photo is called the shutter button which controls the opening and closing of the shutter. The shutter speed lets you control how long your camera shutter is open for and how much light you let into the camera’s sensor. The longer it is open, the more light that is exposed to the sensor.

Shutter speed is a length of time and is measured in seconds. When the shutter speed is less than one second it is measured in fractions of a second. You will find the shutter speed in the LCD Display panel.

Image source: Capture by Lucy
Image source: Capture by Lucy

Take your camera and set it to Shutter Priority or TV mode if you use a Canon like me. You can then control the time your shutter is open with your dial button. Don’t forget the longer the shutter is open, the more light that is exposed to the sensor. On a sunny day this can make your photos look whited out or overexposed, but on a dark day, you need a longer exposure to capture the subject in focus. In natural daylight on a clear day a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second will be just fine for everyday photos.

Understanding shutter speed and using your camera on shutter priority will let you manually change your settings depending on the speed at which your subject is moving. I have created this handy cheat sheet to help you visualise the range of objects you can photograph and the settings you need.

Image source: Capture by Lucy
Image source: Capture by Lucy

You will see that as the setting gets slower and the shutter is open for longer, you need to use a tripod. Your camera is sensitive to motion so particularly in lower light conditions, even the slightest hand shake can have an effect.

We all know that children, especially young children are often on the move! They race around which is fun for them, not so fun for you behind the camera when you are trying to capture them in focus. Think swings at the park, school sports days and opening birthday presents. Magic photos that you need to capture whilst they are in motion. I love taking photos on holiday of my boys running in the shore and jumping through waves and I change my settings to ensure I capture them in sharp focus.

And it’s not just my boys I love to photograph. I love little details, flowers, grasses, raindrops on branches in winter and in late summer the gold husks that sway in the breeze. I always switch to Shutter Priority and get low to the ground. Our westies are also such happy posers and I need to adjust my settings to capture a big yawn from Mabel or Moose’s impressive “I can touch my nose with my tongue” trick!

Image source: Capture by Lucy
Image source: Capture by Lucy

 

When shooting on TV or Shutter Priority mode you also have control over ISO. If you shoot on Aperture Priority the shutter speed will automatically adjust. I am going to cover ISO in the next post in this series so come back soon and have a read.

Have fun practising and share your photos so we can see them. Tweet us your photos or tag us on Instagram @lifecake @capturebylucy.

Lucy Heath

Lucy shares her family life from the countryside in the South West of England with her two young boys on the award winning blog capturebylucy.com. Lucy juggles a product photography business with a hectic household and believes in making the ordinary extraordinary. Come and say hello on Twitter or Instagram

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