Shutter speed plays a big role in the quality of digital images. It defines the length of time the digital sensor in your camera is exposed to light and controls how motion looks in your image. It’s expressed as something like 1/125 or 1/250, which stands for 125th or 250th of a second. A very slow shutter speed often requires a tripod, else the slightest shake of the camera will affect the quality of the photo. Leaving your camera on auto means that the sensor adjusts the shutter speed automatically which is okay for most scenarios to a point. To take beautiful creative shots, knowing how to adjust the shutter speed for your camera is a huge advantage and once you start experimenting, you need to look out for a couple of common mistakes. Discover them now, together with some digital photography tips for better shutter speed control.
Subject Moves too Fast (Blurry Image)
This happens when you want to capture a fast-moving subject like a person on a bike, a car in the street, or perhaps a dog running after a ball. The best way to find the right shutter speed is to experiment. For example, you may find that there may be small differences between the ideal shutter speed for different cameras. What works for a Nikon doesn’t necessarily work for a Canon digital camera. Here are some reference points:
- Running water — 1/250
- People running — 1/500
- Dogs and other small animals running — 1/1000
- Speeding cars — 1/2000
- Bird flying — up to 1/2000
Here’s a good video by Mads Peter Iversen for beginners
Subject is out of Focus (Blurry Image)
If the autofocus and the AF point are good, you can fix the problem by increasing the shutter speed gradually. If you are still not seeing improvements, it could likely be the focusing. Try a different AF point.
Not Enough Blur
Sometimes you’re aiming for the opposite effect — blurring motion to get rid of that static look. Slow the shutter speed to give the background the blur that makes the subject more dynamic. Here are some reference points:
- Cyclists, animals, or runners — 1/30 seconds
- Cars passing by — 1/125 seconds
- Animals on the run — 1/125 seconds
- Birds flying — 1/250
Use shutter priority mode so that the camera makes optimal aperture adjustments.
Subject Looks Stuck
If the subject looks stuck, the image will feel flat. Lowering the shutter speed a bit might work, but perhaps changing perspective could also work. Track the subject with your camera using the dynamic auto focus mode. Test this near a busy road where vehicles keep moving at high speed.
Water isn’t Smoothly Blurred
Blurring water on the first shot can be tricky. Try instead another strategy. Choose a starting shutter speed:
- Fast-running water — 1/8 seconds
- Slow-running water — 1/30 seconds
If you’re not getting enough blur, lower the shutter speed. If the test image is too blurred, increase it. The secret to great photography is experimentation. In the end, the greatest challenge to getting shutter speed right is making quick adjustments on the go. Practice.