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Keys to Properly Exposing a Photograph 1: Shutter Speed

20 02 2012

Welcome to Part 1 of “Keys to Properly Exposing a Photograph.” To start at the beginning, CLICK HERE

Shutter speed is the most straight forward and simple of the three kings. You’re camera needs light to create an image. The way it get’s light is by opening it’s eyelid (the shutter) so it’s eye (the sensor) can send what it sees to the brain (you’re the brain, congratulations.) The longer the shutter (eyelid) stays open, the more light you get on the sensor. Eventually, all that light starts to pile up and your image turns white. It will start with the parts of the image that are already fairly bright turning completely white but leave the shutter open long enough, and eventually everything turns white. We don’t want this to happen. White pictures don’t look that impressive framed on your wall and worse yet, no one seems to want to buy them.

On the flip side, if the shutter isn’t open long enough, you don’t get enough light. If your exposure is too quick the darker parts of the image will be black. Don’t even leave it open close to long enough, most of your image will be too dark to see any details. People don’t want that on their wall either.

In a normal, reasonably bright environment. You can leave the shutter open just long enough to get a nice balance for a well exposed image. If it’s exceptionally bright, you will want to use a shorter exposure time to compensate. If it’s pretty dim, you may want to use a longer one. The problem is, when you start leaving the shutter open too long, you can see motion. Motion doesn’t look good in a “still” image like a photograph, it just turns into a blur.

You’re going to run into two different kinds of blurs when you’re shooting pictures; Camera Blur and Motion Blur.

  • Camera Blur:This happens when your shutter is open so long, the tiny movements of your hand make your entire image blurry. It’s less of a problem if you aren’t zooming a long way, but the more you zoom the more pronounced camera blur will be. Imagine trying to touch a pinhead with a toothpick. You can control the tip of the toothpick because it doesn’t really amplify the tiny motions of your hand. Now imagine trying to do the same thing with jousting lance. The tinniest motion at the handle and the tip moves a lot. Same principle, if you’re zooming 300mm, whatever you’re looking at is going to be moving a lot. A good rule of thumb is using a shutter speed with the denominator (bottom number) bigger than your focal length. Shooting with a 50mm, 1/60 will do fine. Shooting at 100mm, step up to 1/125, etc.
    • You can beat camera blur by using a tripod and you can reduce it by using an image stabilizing lens.
  • Motion Blur: You run into motion blur when you take a picture of something that’s moving fast. Like a mud racing car, water drops, or a butterfly. When dealing with these things you’ll have to sacrifice some of your light to get a crisp image. We’ll learn in the next part how we can offset that faster shutter speed and get some more light in the picture. Some things look cool when you incorporate motion blur though. A busy street looks interesting when the cars are streaks of light and river rapids can get a nice smooth blur to them, remember to use a tripod though.
Here’s an interesting point to remember for your next lesson. Shutter speeds, on most cameras double for every increment on the camera, i.e. 1/60, (one sixtieth of a second,) 1/125, 1/250, 1/300 etc. This means every click faster, you get half as much light…

Up next we’re taking a good long look at f/stop. It’s super complicated but we’re gonna break it down into manageable chunks and try to dodge the fancy jargon. 🙂

I would love to hear your feedback in the comments or on Twitter! If you enjoyed this post, consider clicking a share button below to let your friends know. The last one got “Pressed” several times and I met some great new people who hadn’t seen me yet. If you learned something here and think your followers could use it to, please consider pressing it!

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19 responses

20 02 2012
Sonali Dalal

Simply explained.once again.

20 02 2012
96arley

Thanks Sonali, I appreciate your feedback 🙂

20 02 2012
nickbarban

Fantastic. Just the stuff I’m looking for. I’ve caught the bug and I’m already looking how to experiment and even thinking of themes to follow. I’ve just started digitalphotographyforbeginners blob on WP to share thoughts and tit bits of info I find, but if it’s alright, I would love to share your blogs such as this one. There’s no point of an uneducated amateur such as myself trying to give advice but I’ve seen your photos and would love to share them and your knowledge in addition to the bits I do and whatever else anyone shares on there. Thanks for the info. It will be put to use very soon.

20 02 2012
96arley

You are more than welcome to share my blog posts as a whole, or to use pictures or excerpts, remember to link back to my blog or the original article and I’ll have to stop in and check out your blog

20 02 2012
nickbarban

Will do – ill probably have the link direct back to the article. I might create an additional page for resources and put you in there as well if that’s okay. Thanks. Nick

20 02 2012
96arley

Yeah, you’re more than welcome to it, The more places you put my info, the more link backs, the merrier 🙂

20 02 2012
kocart

There’s lots of technical jargon out there, but very few straight forward explanations–this is a really good idea and will attract some interested photographers. I will be back to see the rest of your tips–especially as you get into a bit about depth of field, which you use in such interesting ways. Thanks.

20 02 2012
96arley

I’ll touch on DoF in the next tutorial on f/stop but I realize that I should really dedicate a full post to the concept I litter my blog posts with so regularly 🙂

20 02 2012
Andra Watkins

Arley, I’m in a blogging group on Facebook. I’m not sure if you’d be interested in being added, but they have a number of resources there for growing readership through offshoot groups. I’ve only joined the one. Message me if you want to join, and I’ll add you.

20 02 2012
96arley

I messaged you 🙂

21 02 2012
Judy

Great stuff! Thanks Arley!

21 02 2012
victoriaaphotography

You have a great way of explaining things, Arley.
Makes it so much easier when photographers don’t use too many technical terms.
Some people are technology nerds and that’s ok.
I just want to take good photos that I (& others) can enjoy.
I am a little slow thinking in retirement, so I want photography lessons to be in layman’s terms, not a foreign language.
Thankyou.

21 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome and I’m glad my approach made it easier for you. Thanks for dropping in!

22 02 2012
Monk

Great stuff!!! Even i got it. Thanx for keepin it simple & easy to understand.

22 02 2012
96arley

You’re welcome, glad it was easy!

22 02 2012
Mona

Arley, intellectually, I understand all of this; however, transferring it from head knowledge into proper exposure in the field is a challenge for me. Thank you for a excellent, easy-to-understand article.

22 02 2012
96arley

That’s a great thing about digital. You can play around with it till it works. Once you get the feel for what works it will start coming naturally

22 02 2012
Mona

Yes, usually I can fix just about any problem in Lightroom.

3 07 2012
The World Is My Cuttlefish

Thanks for this. It’s just what I need with some handy little tips to memorise. Onto the next one…

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