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UNDERSTANDING Shutter Speed: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW [GET OFF AUTO MODE SERIES]

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Once you’ve made the decision to get off auto mode and start shooting in manual mode (or any other more advanced mode), it becomes evident pretty quickly that understanding shutter speed is a major component to getting perfect exposure.

So how exactly do you do that? Well, let’s take a deep dive into shutter speed in photography, what it does, and everything that it controls!

This post is a part of the Get Off Auto Mode series! Check out the rest of the posts in the series here:

What is Shutter Speed?

Whereas aperture is how big the hole in your camera is, letting light in, shutter speed is how long your shutter is open, letting light into the camera.

Depending on how many seconds (or fractions of seconds) the shutter remains open, the more or less light will be let into your camera, resulting in a brighter or darker photo.

Why Understand Shutter Speed?

In order to control the exposure of your image and have more creative control over your photos, you’re going to need to understand shutter speed. So basically, all of the same reasons you want to understand any other component of shooting in manual mode.

Shutter speed is a key component of learning to shoot in manual mode/get off auto mode, so it’s super important to understand!

Understanding Shutter Speed Measurements

Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of seconds, all the way from 30 seconds (or longer) to 1/28000 seconds (or shorter).

The smaller the number, the shorter amount of time the shutter is open (and the less light is let in). The bigger the number, the longer amount of time the shutter is open (and the more light is let in).

So if you have a bigger number, like 30, the shutter is open for a longer amount of time (30 seconds, to be exact).

And if you have a smaller number, like 1/25, the shutter is open for a shorter amount of time (1/25th of a second, to be exact).

Just don’t forget that when you get down to fractions, the bigger the number on the bottom the smaller the number actually is! So 1/4 is a bigger number (and therefore a longer amount of time) than 1/8.

What Shutter Speed Controls

When it comes to understanding shutter speed, you need to know how it controls 2 different things: exposure and movement.

Exposure

Exposure is how light or dark your photo is, and is a key component in taking a good photo! It’s also exactly what you’re controlling when you’re shooting in manual mode.

Exposure is controlled by shutter speed because it’s controlled by the amount of light that hits the sensor of your camera, which can be controlled by how long or short the amount of time is that light is actually hitting the sensor.

So if your shutter is open for longer, you’re going to get a brighter photo, because more light is being let in. And if your shutter is open for shorter, you’re going to get a darker photo, because less light is being let in.

You let in more light with a longer shutter speed, like 30 seconds.

You let in less light with a shorter shutter speed, like 1/25 seconds.

It’s as simple as that!

Exposure is also controlled by aperture and ISO. Learn more about aperture here and ISO here!

Movement

The other thing that shutter speed controls is how movement is captured in your photo.

If you have a shorter shutter speed, less time is available for the camera to capture movement, so things will be frozen in time, like this:

a picture of a motorbike on a road in bali, frozen in time from understanding shutter speed
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If you have a longer shutter speed, more time is available for the camera to capture movement, so things will be blurred, like this:

a blurred bicycle. you can have these creative effects when you understand shutter speed
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You get less movement with a shorter shutter speed, which is great if you’re, say, taking photos of a sporting event and want to freeze the motion in time.

On the other hand, you get more movement with a longer shutter speed, which you can use to your advantage to be creative with things like blurring the water of a waterfall.

Addie standing in front of Öxarárfoss Waterfall in Thingvellir National Park, Iceland - an artistic effect from understanding shutter speed
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Being able to control the movement gives you so many different creative options!

Understanding Shutter Speed: Using Shutter Speed

Being able to control shutter speed is super important if you want to control how much movement is captured for creative reasons.

There are two camera modes in which you’ll have complete control over aperture: shutter priority mode and manual mode.

Shutter Priority Mode

In aperture priority mode, you choose the shutter speed setting that you want. Then, then camera reads the light levels around you and sets your aperture accordingly to get perfect exposure.

If things are a little bit off, then you can change the exposure using the exposure compensation dial. Easy-peasy.

Manual Mode

In manual mode, on the other hand, you have complete control over both aperture and shutter speed, and can control exposure, depth of field, and movement.

Now, here’s the secret: You don’t necessarily need to be in manual mode all the time. In fact, aperture and shutter priority mode will almost always do the trick. You only really need to switch to manual mode when you need to override the settings that aperture/shutter priority mode gives you.

And there you have it – everything you need to know in order to start understanding shutter speed!

Read some more travel photography posts from me:

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Want to start shooting in manual mode? You'll need to start with understanding shutter speed. Learn everything you need to know about understanding shutter speed in photography in this blog post, including how it effects movement and exposure.
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MY FAVORITE TRAVEL TIPS & RESOURCES

Booking Flights: The first place I turn when I’m searching for flights is actually just Google Flights - it’s great to figure out what sort of routes are available. Then, I check Skyscanner and Kiwi for deals. I also love Kiwi for its destination: anywhere feature!

Transportation: I love Omio for figuring out the cheapest way to get from one place to another, and Trainline for booking train tickets within Europe.

Accommodations: I absolutely love Booking.com for finding great hotel deals. After you stay a certain number of nights, you get Genius discounts! For hostels, Hostelworld is my go-to, and I use Airbnb occasionally as well (click here for $40 off your first booking!)

Travel Insurance: I knew that I shouldn’t travel without insurance for the longest time, but I really learned my lesson when I got an infected cut in Bali. Thank goodness I had travel insurance! I use and love World Nomads for their extremely comprehensive coverage.

Travel Insurance: I knew that I shouldn’t travel without insurance for the longest time, but I really learned my lesson when I got an infected cut in Bali. Thank goodness I had travel insurance! I use and love World Nomads for their extremely comprehensive coverage.

Tours: I always check Urban Adventures for great day tours of cities first–I’m obsessed with them! GetYourGuide and Viator are also great options. For multi-day tours, I highly recommend Intrepid.

Camera Gear: I use a Sony Alpha A6300 camera with an 18-105 mm lens and a 35 mm lens. My tripod is the MeFoto Backpacker Air and I loooooove it! I also use a DJI Mavic Air and a GoPro and which allow me to capture everything my regular camera can’t.

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