Shooting In Manual Mode: Shutter Speed / Exposure Time

Note: This is part 3 of a 5-part tutorial series for beginners. Articles are as follows:

In my opinion, Shutter Speed is the easiest concept to understand in regard to capturing images. Normally, the sensor (“film”) is completely covered; it stands by in the dark, waiting to be called upon to capture the light when the shutter is opened.

If your exposure time is one second, it will literally open the shutter for one whole second and let the light in to the sensor during this time. While this long exposure time allows plenty of light to reach your sensor, your image will most likely suffer from a large amount of blur. This is because no human can keep their camera (or subjects, as the case may be) still for a whole second. I have my own personal rule of thumb regarding handheld shots. I can barely hold still for a 1/100s exposure time. I know people can hold their camera relatively still for 1/50th of a second, but I am not one of them. Maybe if I can brace myself on a tree or something, I can attempt a few 1/60s or 1/80s exposures.

Now, let’s say you are blessed with ideal shooting conditions. Nice, bright, partly cloudy day with the sun behind a cloud. In these conditions, you can easily push your exposure times to 1/500s or maybe even 1/1000s. These exposure times are used to “stop time”–those photos where you can see every drop of water that someone has splashed into the air. If people could use 1/500s for every picture they took, they probably would. Unfortunately, lighting conditions dictate everything about photography, and lighting conditions typically warrant longer exposure times.

If your camera is on a tripod and your subjects are stationary (landscape photography, inanimate objects like statues), then all bets are off. Any shutter time is acceptable in those conditions. Most professional landscape shots use very long exposure times (>20s) to achieve the desired effect for landscape photography.



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