Changing the shutter speed on my DSLR camera for creative effect is one of my favourite techniques for taking interesting photos. Understanding how to use your camera’s shutter can help you to achieve the images that you have always wanted to take.
You can use your shutter speed to create motion and mood in your images or to freeze fast action. Slower shutter speeds can be used to portray movement, create abstract images or create dreamy effects such as mist-like flowing water. Faster shutter speeds can amplify a moment in time. Sports photographers often use very fast shutter speeds to show details such as the sweat coming off a boxers face in mid shot, or a soccer player’s feet in the air about to kick the ball.
There are so many different effects that you can get from playing with your shutter speed. In this article I’ll help you to get your experiments off the ground, by giving you some ideas on the speeds you should start with, to get some interesting results.
Slow Shutter Speed for Abstract and Painterly effects
To create abstract or painterly effects you need to use a slower shutter speed to blur some of the sharper details in your subject or chosen scene. This way the photo you take will resemble a painting or an abstract shape.
Trees can make a great subject when using a slow shutter speed. If you would like to create a photo of painterly trees, set your camera to a shutter speed of around a 30th of a second to start. As you are taking the photo, tilt the camera upwards in a smooth motion following the line of the trees. You will need to experiment a lot to get just the shot that you want, but that is half the fun of taking these types of photos. If a 30th of a second is too fast, then slow your shutter speed even further.
If you prefer the idea of an abstract photo, try moving your camera from the left to the right instead during the shot. This way the trees will seem to merge and the image will be more about the tones and shape than the subject.
If you have a tripod you can often isolate the subjects in the shot that you want blurred. For example, if you want to take a picture of a waterfall and for the water to be soft looking, mount the camera on your tripod and set the shutter to around half a second. The subject will be sharp, apart from the water, as it will have been moving during the shot. The water should have a dreamlike almost glowing look to it.
Of course you don’t have to use trees or water in your photos. Whatever you decide to shoot, make sure you take plenty of shots, as this type of photography is as much about trial and error as it is about being creative with your shutter speed.
Freezing Fast Action and Moving Subjects
Taking shots of subjects that are moving and freezing the action means using the faster shutter speeds on your camera. This can be a challenge if you are in a low light situation, as the camera may need a slower shutter speed just to get a correct exposure. Professional sports photographers’ use what are called “fast lenses”. A fast lens is one that has a large aperture (f4 and higher). Setting a large aperture (which allows in a lot of light) means you can set a faster shutter speed.
Sports photographers also set their cameras to a burst mode (continuous shooting mode) so that they can capture a lot of shots in a short space of time. This increases their chances of getting that perfect shot, where all the elements are in the right place at the right time.
To freeze people in a shot, 125th to 500th of a second is normally a good starting point. If they are moving fast you will need to set an even faster speed. Setting anything from 1000th of a second and higher should work well.
If you are using a telephoto lens then you will generally have to shoot at a faster speed than if you are using a standard lens such as a 50 mm, as motion is exaggerated by a longer focal length.
There are so many variables that affect the shutter speed you need to set (speed of the subject, subject crossing the frame or coming towards you, focal length etc) that it is impossible to specify one speed for all the shots.
Practicing the same shots over and over and recording the speeds that get you the best results, is probably one of the best things that you can do, to really get a grip on using shutter speed for creative effect. So follow these simple guidelines to get you started, but above all experiment and enjoy taking photos!