Home Camera Settings How to Choose the Right Shutter Speed Camera Setting for Your Photograph

How to Choose the Right Shutter Speed Camera Setting for Your Photograph

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choose the right shutter speed for your photo

Are you confused on how to choose the right shutter speed for your photograph? Have you ever taken a photo and later discovered that the subject within the frame had unintended motion blur or you froze the action of something you really want to create a blur?

In this article we’re going to teach you how to choose the right shutter speed in order to capture the right type of action within your photograph.

 

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A Quick Definition of Shutter Speed

Shutter speed, also known as “exposure time”, stands for the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera sensor. If the shutter speed is fast, it can help to freeze action completely. If the shutter speed is slow, it can create an effect called “motion blur”, where moving objects appear blurred along the direction of the motion. To learn more about shutter speed read our post on Understanding Shutter Speed.

Choosing the Right Shutter Speed for Action Shots

Before you set out to take a photo you need to make a decision on what you want to achieve within the photograph.

Decide on which one of these two effects you are going for:

  1. Freezing the action within the frame
  2. or, allowing the action to create motion blur within the frame

After making a decision you’ll then have an easier time choosing the right shutter speed for your photograph. It is important to set the appropriate shutter speed for the effect you are looking for and then adjust your aperture and ISO to achieve the correct exposure.

1) How to Freeze Action Within the Frame

If you want to freeze the action within the frame, like a race car zooming by or a baseball player hitting a fast pitch, you need to take a few things into consideration:

  • The distance between the camera and the subject
  • The focal length of your lens
  • The direction in which the action is traveling: parallel or perpendicular to the camera
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Photos by artolog and Éole

The distance between the camera and the subject affects shutter speed choice because the closer you are to the action the faster the shutter speed has to be. Objects that are close to the camera appear larger and fill more of the frame. Small movements require less distance to travel to create an exaggerated effect.

To help you understand this concept set your camera in shutter priority mode and hold it in your right hand. Next, hold your left hand out at arms length in front of your face. Adjust your camera’s focal length so that your hand fills the frame. Choose a 1/60 of a second shutter speed. Then, in a faster manner wave your hand back and forth and take a picture. Notice how moving your hands just a few inches seems like big movements within the frame and causes motion blur? Now, adjust your shutter speed to 1/500 of a second and take another picture; the motion of the hand should be captured still.

To expand on the previous example have a friend stand one hundred feet away from you and keep your camera set on the same focal length. Also, change your shutter speed back to 1/60 of a second. Then, have your friend wave their hand just as you did and take a photo. Notice how the action of your friend’s hand is frozen even though you used the same shutter speed that cause your hand to be blurry? That’s because objects that are farther away from the camera take up less space within the frame and require larger movements (like waving arms) to create an exaggerated effect.

The focal length you choose is affected in the same manner as the distance between the camera and the action. The only difference between the two is that the focal length is an optical change while the distance is a physical change. A long focal length is just like moving closer to the action and requires a faster shutter speed while a shorter focal length is like moving farther away and requires a shorter shutter shutter speed. For example, if you’re trying to capture a pair of boxers fighting from a distance of 10 feet using a focal length of 20mm, you would have to use a shutter speed of at least 1/500 – 1/1000 of a second to freeze the action. On the other hand, if you were at a distance of one hundred feet away with a focal length of 20mm you could use a slower shutter speed of 1/125 – 1/250 of a second for the same effect because the size of the boxers motions diminishes considerably.

The direction in which the action is traveling (parallel or perpendicular to the camera) also affects the right shutter speed choice. The rule of thumb here is easy to understand. Subjects that move parallel to the camera (left or right and up or down) require faster shutter speeds than those that move perpendicular (toward or away). The reason for this is that a parallel motion requires less distance to travel to make a noticeable effect. It’s more difficult to see the change in distance when an object is perpendicular to the camera.

2) How to Allow the Action to Create Motion Blur Within the Frame

Allowing the action to create motion blur within the frame is a creative way to use shutter speed in photography. Popular uses of this technique include images such as the motion trails of a car zooming by and the smooth flowing water of a waterfall. Luckily,choosing a shutter speed to create motion within a photo is not as complicated as the steps to freezing action as you learned above.

For the most part, when you are trying to capture the motion blur within a photograph you’re going to be relatively close to the action. Therefore, focal length and distance is not as much of a concern on which shutter speed you choose. If you are really far away from the action then you will want to take those two things into consideration and follow the tips we outlined above in How to Freeze Action Within the Frame.

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Photos by tris and SeeMidTN.com

In order to capture the best motion blur shots you need to set your camera on a tripod. Allowing the action to blur within the frame requires a relatively slow shutter speed (one that is too slow for you to shoot handheld without the whole image becoming blurry.) So, lock your camera down and allow the motion to pass in front of your camera.

The right shutter speed you choose for creating motion blur is very dependent on how fast the subject is moving and really requires experimentation. If it is a slow subject (like someone walking) we recommend that you start with a shutter speed setting of 1/4 of a second. If the subject is fast moving (like a car racing by) we recommend starting with a shutter speed setting of 1/500 of a second. Take a shot with these settings and then adjust the shutter speed up or down depending on the effect you are going for to find the right shutter speed for your photo.

We hope you enjoyed this tutorial on how to choose the right shutter speed for your photography. Leave a comment below sharing your thoughts on this topics or a specific example of using shutter speed to capture a certain effect.

3 Comments

  1. […] How to Choose the Right Shutter Speed for Your Photograph – this entry level article goes into detail discussing how to select the correct shutter speed for the action shot you are trying to capture.  Focal lengths, distance between the camera and the subject and the direction of travel are all discussed to shed some light on this particular genre of imagery. […]

  2. […] How to Choose the Right Shutter Speed for Your Photograph – this entry level article goes into detail discussing how to select the correct shutter speed for the action shot you are trying to capture.  Focal lengths, distance between the camera and the subject and the direction of travel are all discussed to shed some light on this particular genre of imagery. […]

  3. […] also written several articles on shutter speed including: How to Choose the Right Shutter Speed for Your Photography, Pro Tip: Minimum Shutter Speed When Shooting Handheld, etc. but thought it would also be […]

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