Varying Your Camera’s Shutter Speed to Create Interesting Photos

The following blog post was written by a very talented photographer, Ryan Marko. Be sure to check out his bio and website, provided at the end of this post. And a big thanks to Ryan for sharing his knowledge, talent, and photos!

By varying your camera’s shutter speed you can either blur movement for an artistic look, or freeze action for fast moving subjects.  You can do this by setting your camera dial to the shutter priority mode (“S” symbol for most cameras and “Tv” for Canon users). In this semi-automatic mode, you select the shutter speed and the camera will select the proper aperture to match the brightness of the focus of your picture. Note that you may have to adjust your ISO speed depending on whether you are capturing an image using a fast shutter speed or a slow one.

Capturing nighttime long exposure photos is fairly simple. When it starts getting dark outside, choose a scene with some movement, such as moving water or cars, and set your camera on a tripod. A tripod is necessary since the camera needs to be completely motionless during the camera’s exposure. Any movement of the tripod or camera and the picture will be blurry. Set your ISO to the lowest setting (usually ISO 100) and adjust the shutter speed between 1-30 seconds. Experiment with the length of the exposures and watch the movement blur! The photo shown below of Watson’s Haunted Mill was a 30-second exposure. This allowed enough time to capture the water swirling.

Watson’s Haunted Mill, captured with a 30-second exposure time

You can also take long exposures during the day by placing a neutral density filter on your camera’s lens. A neutral density filter is a filter with neutral tinted glass which cuts the amount of light that reaches your camera’s sensor, tricking your camera into thinking that it’s dark outside. Again, you will need a tripod and some kind of movement in front of the camera. You can vary the exposure times and see what the effect is on the image. The Maui picture below was taken at 1/30th of a second, and the Pakenham Falls picture was taken at 4 seconds.

Maui, captured at 1/30th of a second

Pakenham Falls, photographed with a 4-second exposure time

Beautiful, aren’t they?

While slower shutter speeds will capture any movement taken during the exposure into a single frame, a fast shutter speed will freeze action. Fast shutter speeds are especially used with sports photography. The picture shown below of the soldier firing the old musket was taken at 1/6400th of a second (most cameras go to 1/4000 or 1/8000), which froze the action completely. Note that depending on the lighting conditions, you may need to increase your shutter speed to properly expose the photo. Most cameras also have an action setting (usually on the camera dial, illustrated as a running stickman), so all you need to do is point and shoot.

Soldier, taken at 1/6400th of a second

There you have it! A quick guide to using your camera’s shutter speed to make your pictures pop! If you have any questions about your camera and its settings, I suggest dusting off the camera manual and taking a read!

About Ryan Marko

Photography is a great hobby. I live in Ottawa, Ontario, and work fulltime during the week, but on weekends, holidays or for any occasion really, I’m out shooting pictures! I became interested in photography after my twin brother picked up a camera and started selling his pictures in White Rock, British Columbia. He obviously had a good eye for pictures, and I was curious to see if I had it too. In 2008 I bought my first camera. I took some pretty good pictures with it on some trips to the Caribbean but I felt that I could get better picture quality by upgrading to a DSLR with interchangeable lenses. In 2011, I bought a professional Canon DSRL and lens. I was blown away with the picture quality, even when zoomed in on the computer at 100 percent! Since then I have picked up a flash and some filters to bring my photography to the next level. Now I have lots of great photos and have even won some photography contests. Being able to capture memories and share them with others is a great feeling! You can see more of my photos by visiting the Ryan Marko Photography website.

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