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Camera Shutter Settings

Discovering North Yorkshire through Photography and Video

Camera shutter settings influence exposure time, however it also has a much deeper creative purpose too. Handheld shots are often sharper with a fast shutter speed by preventing motion blur caused by human movement. Cameras have evolved of late to include image stabilisation, typically a switch located on the lens itself. Creativity is important in order to capture an attention grabbing photograph. Anyone can take a pleasing photo, but its that creativity that makes a special photographer. Adjusting camera shutter settings is a method in which a photographer can be creative, experimenting with both light and time.

Primary Purpose of Camera Shutter Settings

Of course the primary purpose of adjusting your camera’s shutter settings is to regulate exposure time. This is achieved by opening the shutter inside the camera body for a particular interval to allow in sufficient light, and let’s not forget, also time as well to create the shot. The camera sensor behind the shutter collects that information and binds it into an image. The problem is however, is that the longer you have the shutter open, the camera sensor also records any objects moving during the interim. It is these objects that blur and can result in a horrendous looking photograph. If your camera is handheld, your hand movement will be recorded too. This is why you should use a tripod or something stable to sit your camera upon when using long shutter durations.

Camera shutter settings are typically measured in seconds. Most cameras can be set up to 30 seconds. For faster shutter speeds, camera shutter settings are measured in a fraction of a second. Most cameras also have a Bulb feature where the shutter can be open even longer by opening the shutter for as long as the shutter button is pressed. However, you would need a remote or smartphone app to use this function to prevent tripod shake. A general rule of thumb when taking photos handheld is the following.

focal length number = 1/number

So if your focal length is set to 100mm on your camera then you should aim for 1/100 second. However, this rule is not written in stone and you may find that you can receive a steady shot with a lower shutter speed such, but certainly never go under 1/30 second. It can often depend on how much light you have available. You will be ale receive super fast shutter speeds on a bright sunny day for example. In low lit situations, then you will need to extend your shutter speed, such as at night time or indoors. With indoor shots however, you can often increase light by using the flash so you can upgrade your shutter speed to something faster.

Being Creative with Camera Shutter Settings

Now we understand that the quicker the shutter speed the less motion blur you will receive, how can we use this knowledge to create stunning photos?

Using Super Fast Shutter Speeds

The camera we are using in this series of videos can be set to 1/4000 of a second. In the human mind, this speed is barely imaginable. On the opposite end of the scale it can be lengthened to 30 seconds which is much easier to grasp. It can be said that the faster your object is moving, the faster the shutter speed you should use, but it also depends on how much light you have available too. For instance, if you are taking wildlife photography you often times require fast shutter speeds to freeze-frame movement. If you fail to do this, your background will be sharp but your subject will be blurred owing to their motion. But this is really useful when it comes to creativity. You may want to reveal a subject’s speed by showing motion blur in your shot. On the other hand, you may want to freeze-frame water droplets being shaken from waterfowl.

The problem you will find when using a high speed shutter is that it will have a knock on effect with your aperture value. A high speed shutter will allow in less light creating an underexposed photograph, so the camera will automatically adjust the aperture value to a wider setting to allow in more light in order to compensate. If the aperture is wide, this will vastly reduce the focus area rendering your photo unsharp. So how do we circumvent this? This is where the ISO settings comes in.

The ISO on your camera relates to the cameras sensitivity to light. On the camera we are using, it can be set between a very low 80 to a very high 6400. In our high speed shutter scenario, we need to adjust the ISO to something high such as 3200 for example. This can depend on lighting conditions, and the more daylight you have, the easier it will be. Setting the ISO high will eliminate the need for the camera to adjust the aperture to a much wider setting and keeping the photo sharp throughout. Of course, if you are shooting wildlife, you may require a wider aperture to blur the background anyway. We will discuss Depth of Field in our next topic.

Using Longer Durations

Using longer shutter durations is equally exciting in terms of creativity. We’ve mentioned already how the longer the interim the shutter is open, the more light and time is allowed through onto the sensor. This gives us a great deal of scope in creating a stunning photo, especially when it comes to recording movement.

One example of this is flowing water. You may have seen photos of waterfalls, rivers and streams that are returned with a soft, misty effect, yet the landscape the water flows through is sharp. This is achieved by lengthening the shutter duration to return more movement onto the camera’s sensor. Therefore, that soft, misty effect is in actual fact motion blur. There is no plug-in or software required to achieve this, it is simply done with the camera. However, as you are lengthening the shutter duration, you are allowing in more light and movement, so this means you will need some further equipment. Firstly, as you are allowing in more movement, you will need to sit your camera on a steady surface such as a tripod, a wall or something else. You cannot take this shot handheld because it will reflect camera shake in the shot. Additionally, if you are taking the shot in bright sunlight, you are going to receive too much light through onto the sensor rendering your shot over-exposed. Therefore, one way to reduce the light coming in through the lens is by attaching what is known as an ND Filter. You could say that it is similar to how we wear sunglasses to reduce the light entering into our eyes. The Neutral Density Filter comes in various strengths or stops. The darker the filter is, the less light is allowed through the lens. This helps us to record the extra movement but without the extra light coming in as well. Therefore we can record the waterfall’s movement without returning an over-exposed photo. ND Filters are often circular disks that screw on the end of your lens, where the lens cap fits. You will need to purchase an ND Filter the correct size for your lens. In our case, we require a 58mm size, but your camera may be different. In any case, it is not just the motion of water you can play with, but anything such as transport, people, wildlife and more.

Burgess Weir Thornton le Dale Fast Shutter Speed
Camera Shutter Settings: This shot of Burgess Weir at Thornton le Dale was taken with a fast shutter duration. You will notice how the water is almost freeze framed.
Burgess Weir Thornton le Dale taken with a long shutter speed duration.
Camera Shutter Settings: This is the same weir yet taken with a longer shutter duration. Instead of the water being freeze framed, the longer shutter duration has recorded motion-blur, making the water appear soft. The longer the duration, the more motion you will return in your shot. You will also notice how the more static elements such as the trees and shrubs are also slightly blurred. This is because the shot was taken handheld and has recorded camera shake.

Nightime Photography Camera Shutter Settings

You will certainly need to adjust the shutter duration at night because there is very little in the way of light. Unless you are recording the motion of stars, you will oftentimes need to reduce the ISO to a very low setting. Typically 200 or less. This is because your photo will be returned with noise or grain, spoiling a perfectly good shot. As the shutter duration is longer, it not only allows in sufficient light for the shot, but it also increases the amount of motion too. Therefore, you can be creative by recording streaking headlamps from vehicles or other moving lit objects. Street photography is oftentimes both fun and fantastic at night. However, photos in more static scenarios at night are also fun and creative especially if you live near places of historical interest or stunning landmarks. Remember however, if you take a photo in complete darkness where there is no light whatsoever, you photo will be returned the same. Therefore, there has to be some light source such as moonlight, streetlight, lamplight or even fire and candlelight. Another point to remember is that you cannot take night shot handheld, you will need to place your camera on something steady such as a wall or tripod. Also consider your personal safety, and take someone along with you especially if you are in a high crime area.

Thornton le Dale captured at nighttime.
Camera Shutter Settings: This image of Thornton le Dale was captured using Aperture Priority Mode at f16. The camera automatically calculated the shutter speed at 0.6 (half a second). Notice how the car headlamps have been rendered in the photograph. They reveal motion blur while the more static elements such as the buildings behind remain sharp.

Camera Shutter Settings Conclusion

The best thing to do of course, is to go out there and practice! If you do not possess an ND Filter yet, don’t worry as you can go out at twilight and at nighttime to practice using longer shutter durations. Experiment and get to know your camera. You can also preplan and decide on some fast moving objects in your area and go out and shoot them using a super fast shutter speed. Don’t forget to check the aperture value and ensure that your ISO is increased depending on the amount of light that is available. A duck pond is often a good place to start. You could also consider capturing transport such as a speeding train for example.

Key Camera Skills

Camera Shutter Settings

Aperture Value and Depth of Field

Image Quality Settings

Mastering Colour Settings

Photo Sharpness

Thornton le Dale to Low Dalby Walking Route