What shutter speed should I be using for…?

We have compiled a list of the TOP50 questions that we hear on our workshops. From gear, to settings, to composition, and shooting styles, we have decided to post three questions and answers a week till we get through them all.

We hope they answer some of the questions that you may have. Here is today’s question.

Question:What shutter speed should I be using for…?

Today's answer supplied by David Topping: Shutter speed is your camera’s motion-control setting. As a starting point, consider that a shutter speed of approximately 1/60 of a second will capture motion in much the same way that your eye perceives it. From there, it’s a decision about whether you want to freeze or exaggerate the motion.

To freeze motion, you’ll need to use a fast shutter speed. However, what that means will vary depending on the subject. Obviously, the speed of the subject will dictate the necessary shutter speed to freeze the motion; the faster the movement, the faster the shutter speed required to capture the subject without any motion blur.

You will also need to consider the subject’s “apparent” motion as seen through the frame of your camera. If the subject is close to you, it’s apparent speed across the frame of your camera will be fast, so you’ll need a faster shutter speed; if the subject is far away, even though it may be travelling at the same speed, it will appear to be moving slower and you will be able to freeze the motion with a slower shutter speed.

Physical location isn’t the only thing that affects the subject’s size in the frame; the lens you’re using will make the subject appear larger or smaller, depending on the focal length. A telephoto lens will make a subject appear closer and will therefore require a faster shutter speed to freeze motion.

The apparent speed of a subject is also affected by the direction of the motion. A subject coming towards you will appear to be moving slower than a subject moving across the frame, so you’ll need to select a shutter speed accordingly.

In general, a shutter speed of around 1/1000 of a second is a good starting point to freeze action, but it’s always best to take some test shots to evaluate the image at full magnification and look for motion blur. Then adjust as necessary, while considering a balance between the required aperture and ISO settings.

While freezing motion is pretty straightforward for any given subject (the motion is either frozen or it’s not), emphasizing motion is, to some extent, subjective. To emphasize motion, you’ll need to use a slow shutter speed (1/30 of a second or slower). However, the actual shutter speed necessary to depict the motion will depend on both the subject and your creative vision. The “correct” shutter speed for any given subject is largely a personal preference. To show motion in a waterfall, for example, you may prefer to retain some detail in the flow by using a faster shutter speed, or you may prefer a smooth, milky appearance and opt for a longer exposure. Also, keep in mind that the same variables that affect the choice of shutter speed when trying to freeze motion apply when we want to emphasize motion.

Taken to the extreme, a very long shutter speed can actually eliminate motion because anything moving won’t be in one place long enough to register on the sensor. This long-exposure technique is a great way to smooth out rough water and soften cloudy skies. It can also remove people and vehicles from a scene (as long as they keep moving).

Over time, experience will help guide you to a good starting point for typical situations, but you may still need to make small adjustments to get it just right. As long as you understand the variables that affect your choice of shutter speeds and you have a vision of what you’re trying to achieve, you’ll get there.

We go to the extremes of using shutter priority in British Columbia... from long exposures seaside, to capturing bears and jumping orca's. Why don't you come with us. All the details are here, http://northof49photography.com/vancouver-island-workshop

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Kevin A Pepper

Kevin is a photographer and educator based in Waterloo, Ontario. His first love is photographing nature, regardless of the season or weather condition; the Ontario landscape and its wildlife are his inspiration. But you will also see other styles of photography in his portfolio. From street photography to urban exploration of abandoned buildings and architecture, he loves to capture it all with his camera for his corporate clients and his growing personal portfolio. Kevin’s images have been featured in Canadian Nature Photographer, PHOTONews Canada, Photo Technique Magazine, The London Free Press, The Weather Network, and National Geographic Online. His diverse client list includes the City of Cambridge, Olympus, GORE Mutual, TVO, and African Lion Safari. Kevin also operates “Northof49 Photography”, a company launched in 2012 dedicated to teaching amateur photographers through International and Canadian-based workshops. In the coming year, Kevin will be leading workshops in Iceland, Mongolia, Tanzania, Venezuela, Provence, and numerous destinations across Canada. Website: www.kevinpepperphotography.com