This article is dedicated to controlling the shutter.
On older cameras, the shutter speed dial is engraved with numbers. Youd turn the dial and line up a number with a mark on the camera body. Today, you have an LCD to display the numbers, usually on the top panel of the camera and inside the viewfinder.
On the older cameras, the series of numbers went something like this 4, 2, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60, 125, 500, 1000. Notice that the three numbers on the left are red. Ill get to those in a minute.
The rest of these numbers represent time in fractions of a second. Put a one over each. Two becomes , four becomes 1/4, 60 becomes 1/60, and so on. As the numbers on the dial get bigger, the time becomes shorter. Remember the pie analogy from school? A half (1/2) piece of pie is bigger than a quarter (1/4) of the pie.
The numbers in red represent whole seconds. Cameras with LCD readouts represent whole seconds with what looks like a quotation mark following the number. So 2 equals two seconds.
Do you notice anything special about this series of numbers? What would come after 1000 (1/1000 second)? Youre right its 2000. Each setting represents either twice the time or one-half the time of the setting next to it. For example, in the series 8, 15, and 30, 15 (1/15 second) is half the time of 1/8 second and twice the time of 1/30 second. This means the 1/15 second setting lets in half the light of 1/8 second and twice the light of 1/30 second.
Remember this doubling and halving of the light. You’ll see it pop up again.
On newer cameras, not only will you have the series of shutter speeds shown above, you’ll have in between values too. A typical series of numbers (remember, these are really fractions) will be 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 13, 15, 20, 25, 30, and so on. Your camera may be different, so check your manual.
Now weve established that the shutter controls exposure by setting how long the light is striking film or sensor. What else can it do for you? Well, the shutter controls the apparent motion recorded on film or sensor. This means we can use the shutter in creative ways.
To stop motion, use faster shutter speeds. To show motion, use slower speeds. A wildlife or sports photographer may want to freeze the action. A shutter speed of 1/250, 1/500 or faster will do that.
A landscape photographer may want to create a silky waterfall and show the flow of water by using a longer shutter speed such as 1/2 second or longer.
On the other hand, the wildlife or sports photographer may wish to convey the power of movement, using a slower shutter speed, such as 1/15 second, to capture a bit of blur that will suggest that movement. A landscape photographer might want to show the power of Yellowstone Falls by using a fast shutter speed, such as 1/60 or 1/125 to stop the motion of water and capture that sense of power.
Get out your camera and use the manual mode to go through the range of shutter speeds. Which direction do you need to turn the dial for a faster shutter speed?