Hey there, I’m back with another post on how to improve your photos. After Bre and I found that most of you are just getting your feet wet in photography I decided to share some basic technical knowledge with you. Over the next few weeks I’ll be explaining the components of exposure – shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.

Today I’ll start with shutter speed, which plays an important role in achieving some cool effects:
keeping your photos sharp, motion blur, and panning.

As the name already says, shutter speed is about speed. It’s the speed with which your camera captures the photo. If your shutter speed is slow, that means your camera can capture a lot of stuff, which is happening while the shutters are open.

You can imagine it like a window with shutters that you open and close again. Light will flood the room while the shutters are open. The length of time they’re open equals the camera’s shutter speed.

So for example 1/30 of a second is a slow shutter speed (although you might think it seems fast as it’s still a fraction of a second), whereas 1/2000 of a second is fast. So the smaller the denominator (=number below the line), the slower your shutter speed.

(shutter speed: 1/1600 sec)

Now let’s talk about the first effect, which is probably what you want to achieve most of the time.

In order to achieve a sharp picture your shutter speed has to be fast enough.

• A good starting point is to consider the relation between the focal length you’re using, and the shutter speed. Let’s say you’re shooting on a 50mm lens, your shutter speed should be set to at least 1/50 sec (or higher). Or a focal length of 200mm requires a shutter speed of at least 1/200 sec for the photo to turn out sharp. This isn’t a golden rule, your settings can vary from that. It’s just a useful guideline to keep in mind.

• Also think about how steady you can be as a photographer. How still can you hold your camera? A few tips to help with that: keep your arms close to your body, hold your breath while you’re pressing the shutter, and don’t jerk the shutter. It also helps to stand strong, and to have your hand under the lens barrel to create a solid base.

• One more factor to consider: is your subject moving, or is it steady? An object which is steady will be easier to keep sharp and in focus, compared to a subject that’s moving. Movement means your shutter speed needs to be fast enough to freeze things up.

(shutter speed: 1/60 sec)

Another cool effect is motion blur : when you want to show motion you should use a slow shutter speed. In order to keep the steady objects in focus anyway ( like the background ), and only blur moving objects you need to be very steady again ( see tips above ).

(shutter speed: 1/13 sec)

Panning is the hardest visual technique. The idea is to move your camera along with a moving subject while using a slow shutter speed. This will result in the background being blurry, while the moving subject will still be in focus. It’s a good way to emphasize speed and movement.

Your shutter speed should be set to the same speed as the moving subject. Usually a shutter speed of 1/30 sec is a good starting point, but you will probably have to play around with it until you achieve the right kind of blur.

The trick to good panning images is to move your camera at exactly the same speed as the subject, and to keep your subject in focus all the time. This means you should move your camera in the same direction as the subject even before you press the shutter, and keep moving your camera in that direction even after you finished taking the photo. This helps to ensure a smooth panning movement.

( My photo isn’t the greatest example of panning – told you it’s hard ;) But you can look at this one here for example )

Now, go ahead and try it out for yourself. An easy way to start is to use the shutter priority mode ( TV or S ), as the camera will set the aperture automatically and you won’t have to worry about it. While I can only recommend ultimately using your camera in manual mode, it’s good to take one step at a time and to start with shutter priority mode.

( Note: some of your images might not turn out correctly exposed ).

As we move on to aperture and ISO over the next few weeks you’ll slowly learn more about other visual effects you can achieve, as well as exposure. Hopefully you’ll start to understand how it all relates. And in the end you should be able to use your camera in manual mode, which will put you in control of everything. :)

Good things to come.

Helena Mueller is a photographer & blogger based in London who loves arts, sweets, and dreaming of pretty places. She shares photography tips in story form for the Zoom In column.
  1. Kate says:

    Your photos are so beautiful, and I’m completely enchanted by the idea of panning. I also adore all the pigeon photos–they’re such an under-appreciated bird!

  2. torrie says:

    this is perfect for me! i’ve always wanted to learn these things, but after seeing phrases like aperture, shutter speed, and “1/30” i just tune out normally because i have NO point of reference to understand what the difference is between “1/30” and “1/1600” and which should be used for when. i also have no concept of how slow or fast those “times” are, but this post totally makes sense! i feel like i can actual grasp the concept now! can’t wait to read the next “lesson!” thanks for this! excited!

  3. Helena says:

    Thank you guys, I’m glad it helps to actually get your head around exposure and all that ‘technical’ stuff.

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