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Shutter Speed

Lesson 2 from: The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners

John Greengo

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Lesson Info

2. Shutter Speed

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The topic of this lesson is shutter speed in photography.


Q: What is shutter speed and why is it important to understand? A: Shutter speed is the length of time that the camera's shutter is open, allowing light to enter the sensor. It is important to understand because it affects the exposure of the image and can also be used creatively to capture or freeze motion.

Q: How is shutter speed measured? A: Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second, ranging from 1/8000th of a second to 30 seconds.

Q: How does changing the shutter speed affect the exposure of the image? A: Increasing the shutter speed (e.g. from 1/60th to 1/125th of a second) decreases the amount of light entering the sensor, resulting in a darker image. Conversely, decreasing the shutter speed (e.g. from 1/60th to 1/30th of a second) increases the amount of light and makes the image brighter.

Q: How does shutter speed affect motion in an image? A: Faster shutter speeds (e.g. 1/1000th of a second) freeze motion and are useful for capturing fast-moving subjects, while slower shutter speeds (e.g. 1/30th of a second) can create intentional blur and convey a sense of motion.

Q: Are there any general guidelines for choosing the appropriate shutter speed? A: It depends on the subject and the desired outcome. For example, for fast-moving action, a shutter speed of around 1/500th of a second is recommended, while for casual human action, a shutter speed of around 1/60th of a second is suitable. Experimentation and practice are key to finding the right shutter speed in different situations.

Q: Can shutter speed be used to adjust the brightness of an image even if there is no motion? A: Yes, adjusting the shutter speed can be used to make an image brighter or darker, even if there is no motion in the scene.

Q: Can shutter speed be used creatively in photography? A: Yes, shutter speed can be used creatively to capture or freeze motion, create intentional blur, or convey a sense of speed or stillness in an image.

Q: What is the significance of the term "stop of light" in relation to shutter speed? A: A "stop of light" refers to doubling or halving the amount of light by changing the shutter speed. For example, going from 1/125th of a second to 1/60th of a second doubles the amount of light entering the sensor.

Next Lesson: The Sensor

Lesson Info

Shutter Speed

All right, the next section is on shutter speed, and so in this section it would be helpful if you also knew about apertures and ISOs, when we talk about shutter speeds. But it's kind of weird because you need to know about everything to talk about one thing. But I like to start talking about shutter speeds because intuitively I think they're the easiest to understand. It's a period of time. You all know what a day and a week, and an hour and a second is. But for a photographer, the difference between a hundredth of a second and a thousandth of a second is a really important number to know. So we just need to learn time on a smaller scale you might say. Now, things do get a little interesting in here. So this is a little quiz in this class, all right? Because the way your brain thinks, and you need to make adjustments when you get in here to photography. When you look at this and I ask you which one of these numbers is larger, it's kind of a joke question, right? Well the problem is is...

that we're gonna be talking about shutter speeds, and these are usually fractions, but they're not listed as fractions. We're gonna compare two and eight. And eight is a much shorter period of time than two. All right. Shutter speeds will range anywhere from an 1/8000th of a second down to 30 seconds. They can go beyond that, but that's very typical range. Shutter speeds by the way is a terrible name. It's not very accurate, because the speed that the shutter moves is the same for all photographs, it's just how long they delay between the first and the second. And so it might help to think about this as exposure time. How much time is the sensor exposed to light? All right, let's go something very simple. One second to two second. We have doubled the amount of time, we have doubled the amount of light. It works in a linear scale like that, where you double the time, double the light. Very, very simple. And this is a term that we like to use in photography called a stop of light. It comes from F stop, aperture stop, which we'll get into in another section, but we've carried it over here. And so, if we go from one second to two second, we've moved our shutter speed a full stop. It's double the amount of the light. We'll have times that go down to 30 seconds. You'll notice the little hash marks which indicate full seconds. When you go from one to a half second, we've cut the light in half, because we've cut the time in half. Now, I realize that this is a very politically divided time, but you know what? We're gonna call it equal between fractions and decimals. I don't know how, which ones you favor at all, but they're both equal. Two really means one half, and 0.5 is .5. And because some cameras don't use the points, they just the quotation marks that are there, that says 0.5, which is equal to two. A normal shutter speed might be around 1/60th of a second, and then a very fast shutter speed might be around 1/8000th of a second. So why are you gonna choose a specific shutter speed? Well there's a couple of different reasons that are competing with each other, and so there's a lot of conflicts. In photography, one of the common themes that you'll hear is it's a compromise. You can get a little of this, or you can get a little of that, or you can do a little bit of both, but you can't do all of both. And so on one side, there's a technical reason. If you want to let in less light, you're gonna set a faster shutter speed, because a faster shutter speed lets in less light. If you want to let in more light, it's gonna be a longer shutter speed. Now we can also deal with the aesthetics. And we can freeze motion with faster shutter speeds, but we can also blur motion, and sometimes we do want to blur motion with those slower shutter speeds as well. As we go through these shutter speeds, you need to be thinking about time and motion. How long does something last, and how much does it move in that fraction of a second? Now, if I can take just a moment from the class here. I teach a lot of photography classes, and generally speaking as I go through them, the first photos that I get to show are with shutter speed. And the first photo that I show in all of my classes is a picture that I have taken at 1/8000th of a second. Now I've been teaching for 10 years. And when I started teaching, I'm like okay, well I need a photograph to show what 1/8000th of a second looks like. And I had no photographs, because it's just not used very much. And so I went out and I created a photograph that showed 1/8000th of a second, and it was okay. And I finally have captured an image that tells the story of 1/8000th of a second. Don't build it up too much, it's not that great, okay? But this is an 1/8000th of a second. And so this is an archer in Mongolia. They just fired the arrow, and you can see that 1/8000th of a second has not totally frozen the arrow. There's still a little bit of blur there, but this is the fastest shutter speed that my camera had, and so that was the best that I could do in that case. And so, there are very, very, things that move so fast that you will need 1/8000th of a second in order to capture it. And it's something that only kind of the medium to higher end cameras have in there. All right, next up is 1/4000th of a second. So this is gonna be the top shutter speed for most cameras, and this is gonna be pretty good at stopping generally fast action. We're not gonna get into the fine details of these different thousandth of a second, but you'll notice there's a lot of things in here that move very, very quickly. So not only is the dog in focus, but the water droplets around the dog are frozen as well. Thousandth of a second, another very fast shutter speed. Depending on the type of subject you're photographing you might find that one or two thousandth is best in that case. All right, so 1/500th of a second is one that you should mark down in your notes as very important, because it stops fast human action. And so generally fast human action, it's gonna do a good job of freezing that action so that you can see all the details in the face, and the body movement, and so forth. Now, 1/500th is good for most human action. As I say, if it's a really fast person you might need 1/1000th or 2/1000th of a second. Rarely would you ever need anything beyond that. There are some other factors that play in when it comes to recommending shutter speeds. The angle of view, the lens, and so I'm trying to give you some just good general ballpark ones to start with for right now. Here we are at 1/500th of a second, and those wing tips are blurry. Why is that? Well, what do you know? Birds move a little bit faster than humans do. At least their wings do. And so, it's not fast enough to stop that action, but it does start to bring up an interesting point for those of you who are new to photography. And that is, is blur bad? How good or bad is blur? Well, as photographers, I really think of us as short story tellers, all right? So this is a short story, and I have a limited amount of information that I can give you in this short story. And by showing you those wings a little bit blurry, you can immediately start to assume that those parts of the bird are moving faster than the other parts. And so it starts giving you a better understanding of what's going on with that bird. And so when you see something blurry, you know it's moving fast. And when it's frozen it's not moving as fast. And then you can start to identify with the subject. Because a lot of times, when you're looking at a photograph, you're thinking about, what would this look like to my own eyes? What would this experience for me be like? And so this is just bringing you a little bit more into that scene. 1/250th of a second. You can see the feet, and some of the wood mallets that they're holding are a little bit blurry. And my intention is to show movement. And I want to show where things are moving more quickly than others. Now one of the things that's a lot of fun is when you have a mixture of sharp and blurry in here. So his face is really sharp, which is good. We like to see peoples' faces nice and clear. But you can see the stick that he's holding is a little bit blurry, so that's moving more quickly. The tire, the front side of the tire, little bit blurry because it's rolling quickly, and that puff of dust that's kind of hanging in the air there, that's kind of just stopping for a moment before coming back down. And so when you have this blur and sharpness, it gives you a lot of different insights into what's going on in that photograph. Now once we get below 1/250th, we're getting into kind of what I would call normal shutter speeds. The 1/250th is faster and above. So at 1/125th of a second, this is what I consider a very normal shutter speed. Some things are moving around, we've got boats in the water, people, birds floating around. And you don't see a lot of blurriness in here. Because they're not moving exceptionally quick, but everything is kind of moving around a bit on its own. The next key shutter speed to remember is 1/60th of a second. Because this stops casual human action. And so the two key shutter speeds are 1/500th for fast human action, and 60 for casual human action. It seems like humans are obsessed with other humans. We tend to take a lot of pictures of people. This is also a pretty good shutter speed for thinking about for handholding the camera. This is probably the lowest shutter speed that most people under standard conditions would want to handhold the camera. But, for people moving around not too quickly, 1/60th of a second will do a good job. And so if it's maybe a casual walk, not a fast walk, but a casual walk, somebody talking, somebody gesturing with their hands. 1/60th of a second is probably going to be fine for that. And very quickly, we get into slower shutter speeds, all right? So 1/30th of a second and slower are gonna be our slow shutter speeds, and you have to be a little bit concerned about handholding the camera. Now this first image here, this is not how I normally shoot. I have a very fast moving subject with a relatively slow shutter speed. To be honest with you, I was waiting in Havana, Cuba with these beautiful blue doors, and I was waiting for somebody to come walking in front. I mean, I was hoping for a woman in a yellow dress, because I thought that would contrast with the blue very well. But instead I got these two kids running down the street, and I didn't move the camera at all. I just had the camera in my lap just pointed straight ahead, the kids ran in front. I didn't have time to change all the settings, or any settings, and I just took a photo, and this is what you call a happy accident. I got a photo that I liked. Now normally you want to see people nice and sharp. But I think there's a different story here. And I can see two kids, I can see the kid on the left is turning around, and he actually looks like he's smiling. The kid on the right is carrying one shoe. I don't know if the kid on the left is carrying a shoe. They're both bare foot, there's shenanigans going on, all right? And so you can kind of tell something's going on here, and that blurriness kind of leads to one of the other topics I'll mention about from time to time, and that is mystery. Not telling the whole story. Kind of one of the biggest problems for me when I was beginning photography, and other photographers, is they kind of just want to shoot everything as it really is. And a lot of times, it's nice to have a little bit more mystery, and just show something that makes people think more carefully about one particular concept or ideas. You don't have to show everything in a photograph, but you can kind of hint at it, and you can have some fun with that. All right, so this is the opposite of the Cuban boys. In this case I am panning, I'm moving the camera at the same pace the car is, so the car maintains the exact same position in the viewfinder. And that's why the car is sharp, but the background is blurry. It's because I'm moving, but I've matched my movement with the car's movement. And so, panning can be a lot of fun if you have a cluttered background, or you don't want peoples' eyes to go to the background. And once again, we have that fun mixture of sharp and blur. Your eyes tend to want to go to what's sharp, but the blur adds a bit of a mystery and another element for that scene. This is the first photograph in this series of photos that was taken on a tripod, all right? And you'll notice that the flowers in the first row are a bit blurry, and that's because they're blowing around in the wind. But you know what? The flowers in the background, they're also blowing in the wind, there's nothing stopping the wind from hitting them, but it's much blurrier in the front. So even though all the flowers are moving relatively about the same amount, it's more apparent the closer up the flower is. And that has to do with the size of the flower and how many pixels on the sensor that it's moving back and forth. And so when it comes to shutter speeds, size is important. How big on the screen is that particular subject? And so when someone says, what shutter speed do I need for flowers? Well how close are you to the flowers? How big are the flowers in the frame? And that's kind of one of those I can't give you a specific number, it depends on some other variables. All right, I think this is kind of a fun one. All right, so the runners in the marathon. They're running down the street. They're moving pretty quickly, but you can see their feet. Why? Because their feet are actually not moving for this very short period of time. I don't know, it's a quarter second, a half second, as their foot plants and moves to the next step here. And so we can see clearly the feet and the brands of the shoes and so forth, but you can't see any of the faces, because they're moving much more quickly. And so once again that mixture of blur and sharpness can be a lot of fun in the right areas. Now this has something very interesting going on in it. We have a train, and as you all know that trains move at a pretty steady speed from the beginning to the end of the train. But you'll notice that the train at the bottom of the frame is much blurrier than, oh up around that curve that it's coming around there. And that goes back to the tulip idea where the bigger the cars are in the frame, the more that motion is gonna be apparent, but there's one other factor that's also important, and that is the direction of travel. When something is coming straight towards you, it doesn't seem to be moving as fast as it does when it's moving across in front of you. If you've ever driven on a long straight road, and you saw a car a mile off coming towards you, it doesn't look like it's moving that fast. And that's because it's not changing in size, it's not changing in its location, it's just kind of getting a little bit bigger. And so that's what's going on here. So when it comes to the specific recommendations, well what's your angle of view? How big is it in the frame? Those are factors that would be important to know about when trying to choose exact shutter speeds. So you might be wondering, how does a photographer even choose a shutter speed? Well a lot of it is based on experience, and so that's why you've got to get out there and practice. And it's based on educated guesses, and a little bit of practice. And that's why we shoot test photos, to see if something works, and then we go up or down depending on where we're at a little bit. All right now we're getting into full seconds, and you'll see that one has the two little marks next to it. That doesn't mean one inch. In this case it means one full second. And so when I shoot waterfalls and moving water, generally I like to get down to one full second in order to see that movement in the water, if that's your goal. You can do it with something a little bit slower, like a half or a quarter second, but sometimes it's not as smoothed out as you might like. All right, I threw this photo in as a ringer, okay? This is something that's kind of unusual. Yeah, there's a little bit of movement in the water, and the clouds, I theory are moving a little bit, but for the most part there's not a lot of movement in this photograph. And so something to consider when you are selecting shutter speeds is, is my subject even moving? Let's just say that you're photographing a vase, and you want to get a nice photograph of that vase. Well that's gonna be relatively easy, partly because it's not moving. And if you photograph it from a tripod, your camera is not moving, and you could use any shutter speed you want. And as long as the exposure is correct, you don't need to worry about any sort of blurriness at all. And so think about subjects that are not moving, and they're gonna allow you to do more with them than subjects that are moving. All right, this is a very hidden location. Nobody knows where this one is coming from. So, what's kind of fun in here, if you look down towards the bottom middle, you can see some people were walking, and you can just see some bare remnants of their feet and legs as they were walking, because their feet and legs were in that one spot a little bit longer than they were the rest of the time. And so here, four seconds was necessary, because it's a relatively dark environment. But I also wanted to have some fun with the movement, where you can see some people standing in line. They're not moving at all for four seconds. And other people are moving very quickly. So once again the blurriness and sharpness combined in one photograph. As we get to these longer shutter speeds, we can start having some fun. This is called light painting. This is an LED hula hoop. You can see, there's someone over on the bottom right that is dancing with a hula hoop. This other one was right over the camera, this person walking away with it. So you can do all sorts of fun things at night with different sorts of lights. This is called star point photography, and here you can leave the shutter open in this case for 15 seconds. Couple of other important settings on the camera are set right as well. And we can now see all the stars of the night sky. This is Yosemite Valley. We can actually see the cliffs all illuminated by the moonlight here pretty clearly. And this can be something that can be a lot of fun to do because you can continue for your photography throughout the night. There's just barely enough light that you can continue to do that. Another version of light painting here with the car headlamps and tail lamps moving along. You can see some cars are stopped at the light, some cars are moving. Once again, that mixture of blurriness and sharpness in the photograph is nice. And obviously if anything is very important, you generally want to have it nice and sharp. And so one of the most important lessons when it comes to shutter speed is trying to figure out, what is a fast enough shutter speed to do the job, but not going too fast? And so, let's say you're gonna be photographing your friends in the marathon, okay? They're gonna come running down Fifth Avenue, and you want to get a nice sharp photo of them. You'd probably be wise to be around 1/500th of a second, or maybe 1/1000th of a second. Now, the whole idea of, well more is better, doesn't always work in this case. If you said, let's just choose 1/8000th of a second, that's gonna do a fantastic job stopping this person moving. Which is correct, it would do a fantastic job. But the problem is is it's essentially stealing resources from the aperture and the ISO which we have yet to talk about. And so, the important thing here is being efficient. Use just as much as you need, and maybe one for safety, but no more than that. And so, that sometimes requires a little bit of testing. You might need to take a few test shots to see what works in a particular case, and then you dial it in, and you're done. Most sports photographers who shoot professional sports, they figure out very early on what shutter speed they need for a particular event, and they leave it there for the entire match, game, or event. Just because they know they want to get sharp photos and they don't want to go any further than that. And so, shutter speeds are very important to start with, but it's something you want to figure out and then move on with. I did have a question. I was wondering if the shutter speed, if it can help regulate anything other than motion and capturing motion. It's regulating exposure, and motion. And so, how bright the image is. For instance, on some of the landscape shots where nothing is moving, you want to make it a little bit brighter or a little bit darker, shutter speed is a great thing to adjust there, because it's not really having an impact on anything else. And as far as motion, remember that it affects whatever is moving that you're photographing out there, but it also affects your movement of handholding the camera. And so, that 1/60th of a second is a good general starting point, but it varies a little bit with lens and whether your camera has stabilization in it as well. And so, those are the main points about shutter speed.

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Ratings and Reviews

Kanoelani Patenaude

I am a pro photographer in my dreams, where I know the in's and out's of my camera; however, reality proved differently, as real life would tell you, I was a deer caught in headlights just looking at my new 7D Mark II. I am a photographer enthusiast without the skills, but a lot of love for the moments one, or the profession/hobby of it can capture. I mostly shoot my husband, friends, and community surfers in the lineup, and of course, my children, who rarely sit still. Thus, I switched from Nikon to Canon, venturing on the 7D Mark II for the grand reviews of how stellar of camera it is for action shots (surfing, and kids, this was a no brainer). That said, and overwhelmed with the way beyond my skill set, but noted desire and aspiration to grow, I made the purchase, and sought help rather quickly as I wanted to feel confident with what I was utilizing to capture the best memories possible. I came into this John's courses knowing the "on/off" button, and "auto" shoot mode. I came out of the course feeling like the pro in my dreams, and ready to shoot manual. John's teaching style is on point, and his detailed visuals are a huge plus. My first shots post this photography kit course, I thought were great for my first educated shoot, and shockingly, I even received and email from one of the sponsors of the surfers I captured, asking if they could use my image for their sites and publications. Not bad for a newbie. Though, my intent was never a business purpose, I did not know if I should charge a small fee, or give it for free. I don't mind free as it's not my business, yet I don't want to ruin it for any professional photographers in town doing the same thing that are charging. Perhaps another course to help me with that. I highly recommend courses by John Greengo! Thank you so much, John!


I'm not sure my first review posted. But I LOVE this class! John Greengo is a great, engaging teacher who is really adept at representing the concepts visually and excellent at explaining them verbally. I love how he goes through examples with photographs he has taken. Even though I only have a Nikon Coolpix digital camera, it does have Manual, Shutter priority, and Aperture priority modes. Through his class I've gotten a really good sense of how to balance ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. It's a great overview for me especially since I am new to photography, I can play around with some of these settings, and I have a greater understanding of what I might need in a higher level camera in the future. Money well spend! (For $29, this is an absolute steal). John Greengo is an awesome teacher and I hope to take more of his classes in the future!

Megan Wagner

John is extremely articulate and is a great teacher with lots of visual aids and metaphors to help understand photography. I have been doing photography for a few years now and this class was a tremendous help in boosting my knowledge and refreshing my memory in multiple aspects of photography. The graphics that John uses are helpful and he even goes through images and asks which settings would be best to use and will go through the why. He makes things easy to understand and is very clear about the information he provides. I am so glad I took this course and I would highly recommend it even to an experienced photographer. Thank you John Greengo!

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