1. What is shutter speed?
So aperture is the hole in the lens that lets in light, right? Well the shutter is the curtain that determines how long light can enter that hole. Think of it as someone sleeping in a room with black-out curtains. Another person walks in and pulls the curtains open. Maybe they keep the curtain open a while and it gets really bright. Maybe they push them open and close them really fast and it's just a flash of light (or in my room, a wake up annoyance.) Anyway... that's how the shutter works. Or think of the kitchen sink analogy Bryan Peterson uses with aperture. The shutter speed would be how long you keep the faucet running.
Shutter speed = how long light can enter the hole.
2. Shutter speed controls motion
For creativity, the choice of shutter speed will control motion in a picture. The faster the shutter speed, the more it will freeze moving subjects. If you have kids running-all-willy-nilly and you want to capture this, you need a fast shutter speed. Sports? Fast shutter speed. Hyped up pets? Fast shutter speed. The slower the shutter speed, the more moving subjects will blur. Painting with light? Slow shutter speed. Do you want that hockey puck to look like a little black blur? Pick a slower shutter speed.
3. Shutter speed and focus
Shutter speed plays an important role in how sharp in focus your pictures will look. This is not depth of field like aperture but the sharpness of the subject you've focused on. f you find that your subject is not in as much focus as you'd like... too slow of a shutter speed is often the issue. At a certain point, a shutter speed will get too slow and you can't hand hold the camera to hold it steady enough for sharp focus. Even if we hold as still as possible our body moves ever so slightly. Plus some people might be more shaky than others. No matter your freezing statue skills there's always a point where no one can hold a camera still enough for a very slow shutter. It will blur. We call this camera shake.
This also applies to living subjects. At the very minimum I shoot 1/100 when photographing people. That's because even if someone is posing still for me in a photograph, they are alive and have those slight movements that come from breathing, etc. That motion combined with my own shake of the camera can make things in less sharp focus. The faster the shutter speed, the more sharp focus you'll get.
I have often shot inanimate objects (like a wedding cake) at a minimum of 1/60 shutter... if at all possible I would prefer to shoot it with 1/200 for a sharper focus. Of course you might not have enough light to do this and you might have to use a slower shutter that isn't where you can hand hold it. That's when you have to put the camera on a tripod. If you take detail pictures a lot, investing in a tripod can make a world of difference for your detail photos.
4. What you need to know:
- shutter speed is often referred to as just "shutter"
- it is most often designated by a fraction - 1/100 of a second (though some cameras show it as the whole number, it is given that it is a fraction)
- a " designates the shutter speed as a second... so 2" is "two seconds" of time
- shutter speed controls motion in a picture
- "hanging the shutter" is photog speak for using a really slow shutter (let lots of light in)
- "bumping up the shutter" means shooting in a faster shutter speed
- to get sharper images, shoot in at least 1/100 or faster. 1/200, even better
- for really fast subjects (you want to freeze) hit 1/400 or faster shutter
- to blur moving subjects, pick 1/60 or slower shutter speed
- at about 1/50 or slower, you really need to use a tripod
I took this picture at night with just 2 lamps on in a room. Since I wanted a smaller aperture to get the Rubik's cube in more focus, I had to use a slow shutter to let in more light. In this situation I used a tripod because no matter how still I held the camera... I couldn't hold it still enough to get it in focus.
This picture is a midway ride at the State Fair. I didn't have a tripod (I didn't want to lug it around) but at night of course I wanted a blurred image. I ended up hand holding this shot, standing as still as possible at 1/30 shutter speed. Sometimes I will brace myself against a pole or short brick wall in a pinch. I couldn't get a complete motion blur in this shot but I still love the effect.
Painting with light is another fun effect when using a slow shutter speed. To do this you must use a tripod. I usually pick a slow shutter speed and play with the other settings until I get the exposure how I want it. You can use the glow of a cell phone, glow sticks and even Christmas lights to get the effect. Just move the lights around while the camera is taking the picture. It's a lot of fun.
Make a date with your camera and focus practicing with just shutter speed. Take at least 3 pictures with shutter speed in mind: try your hand at capturing motion blur of a subject, then try freezing motion. Don't have a moving subject? Make something move. Cars, people on bikes, kids at play, etc. are all great subjects for capturing motion. You'll need to pick the shutter speed first, then adjust the other settings accordingly.