Choosing a shutter speed to freeze the subject

Choosing the right shutter speed takes practice to gain the experience. Here are some really rough guidelines that can help you get the shutter speed setting in the ball park to freeze motion for certain situations.

©Trevor Awalt_Shutter Speed Examples

The blue bar in the graphic above shows a range of shutter speeds from 1/4 of a second on the left through to 1/2000 of a second on the right. The 1/4 of a second represents a slow shutter speed and as we move to the right the shutter speeds get faster.

You may remember from our original discussion on how shutter speed affects exposure, as the shutter speed increases there is less light reaching the camera sensor which means, in automatic mode, the camera will adjust the aperture and/or the ISO to allow enough light as we use higher (faster) shutter speeds.

Choosing shutter speeds to freeze motion depends on the movement of the subject. If the subject is not moving we see from the above graphic that a setting of 1/50 would be adequate to photograph a subject who is standing or sitting still. When a boy is jogging with a kite, a setting of 1/400 may be adequate to freeze the motion to achieve a sharp image. As we continue to move up the scale, using faster settings, we see our subjects in faster moving situations and as a result require faster shutter speeds to to achieve a sharp image. At the faster end of the scale, at the 1/2000 setting, we would use that shutter speed setting to capture fast moving wildlife images such as birds in flight.

Sometimes we use a slow shutter speed on purpose to achieve a desired blur in an image, for example at 1/4 of a second it’s possible to show motion in water. In our next lesson we will discuss how to use slow shutter speeds to achieve desired image blur, which is the creative aspect behind the shutter speed setting.

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