Take great pictures of your kids! Part 2: Shutter Speed

So you’ve nailed aperture. You know how to adjust your f-stops to give you the depth of field you want in your image. Let’s dive into shutter speed. I told you this was a fun one and it really is.

Shutter speed is the measurement that determines how long your shutter is open, controlling how much light is let in. Shutter speed and aperture work together to determine how much light hits your sensor, controlling the exposure of your image. Shutter speeds are expressed in fractions of a second or whole seconds. With each shutter speed increment, the amount of light that is let in is halved.

Generally speaking, the faster the shutter speed, the crisper the image. A fast shutter speed will stop motion, giving you a tack sharp image. A fast shutter speed will allow you to capture splashes as your son jumps into the pool, or your daughter’s hair bouncing as she jumps on the bed. As you slow your shutter speed down, you introduce motion blur. Done correctly, this can be fun too. Photograph a subject on a sidewalk in front of a busy street. If the subject stands still, a slow shutter speed will allow you to capture the person in focus while the cars blur in a streak behind them.

ISO 800 f/2.5 1/250
ISO 800 f/2.5 1/250

This image was taken with a shutter speed of 1/250.  You can see some detail in the water, but there is still motion blur. The shutter speed would have to be closer to 1/1000 to completely stop the motion of the falling water.

ISO 400 f/ 3.5 1/60 sec
ISO 400 f/ 3.5 1/60 sec

This time the shutter speed was slowed to 1/60 and the water almost looks smooth because of the level of blur.

ISO 400 f/22 1/40
ISO 400 f/22 1/40

A slow shutter speed can create the appearance of something moving fast. This can help tell a story in your images.

ISO 200 f/2.5 1/4000
ISO 200 f/2.5 1/4000

While, a shutter speed of 1/4000 will completely freeze the motion and capture the expression on your child’s face.

Generally speaking, you don’t want to drop below 1/60 without a tripod. This is the slowest shutter speed you can use without causing motion blur from camera shake. 1/125 is good for portraits, or slow moving subject. 1/250 is going to be your golden spot for freezing children. If at all possible, I try to keep it even faster than that because my little guys are FAST! 1/1000 is a good place to start for sports photography, and if you are trying to catch something moving super fast then 1/4000 is a safe bet.

As I said, aperture and shutter speed work together to expose your image. You can monitor this using your camera’s light meter. Look through the view finder and change your shutter speed. As you do this, you’ll see the a bar across the bottom of your view finder shift to the left and right. When that bar reaches the center your lighting is perfect, at least according to your camera. As you move toward the plus sign you are over exposing, as you move towards the minus sign you are under exposing. Trust it, but not completely. You will find that you may need to take a few test shots and adjust your settings to get the look that you are trying to achieve.

light meter

What’s next? You guessed it, get out your camera and practice. This time you can set your camera to shutter priority mode if you aren’t quite ready to tackle manual. (S for Nikon users, and Tv for Canon.) In shutter priority mode, you choose your shutter speed and your camera will adjust your aperture and ISO for you. Good luck!

Up next, ISO and the exposure triangle.

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