Have you ever wondered why the shots that you take with your smartphone at the pub late on a Friday night almost always come out blurry? That is because of the darkness of the setting, and because the people in the photo don't necessarily want to be identified. Sadly for those people, the phone is still trying to choose a setting that lets in enough light to make the photo usable. Very often that setting is shutter speed - and in those cases it is very very slow.
There have been many many books, tutorials, videos, and I'm sure blog posts produced about camera and photography technique, including on how to adjust your shutter speed. So what could I possibly offer that is new? Pretty much nothing, but I thought it would be worth sharing the techniques we in particular use in our trade. First here is a picture of an actual camera shutter.
Here is a picture of not-a-shutter, but what people think a shutter looks like, and is actually the diaphragm in your lens, which controls other very important aspects of a photo (depth of field for one), as well as affecting the shutter speed we choose:
One of the things that we think a lot about is the purpose of each photo, whether we're photographing a wedding, a corporate, lifestyle, or commercial portrait, or taking a photo of a product. And the purpose of each picture guides how we use the shutter speed, aperture, sensor sensitivity (or ISO), focal length, direction and quality of light, etc. etc.. For example, a corporate portrait is meant to really highlight a person's business persona, and to do that, the image needs to be sharp. On the flipside of that, while sharpness is usually desired, a photo whose purpose is to evoke the energy of a dancer may benefit from a little motion blur. One of the differences here is the shutter speed. Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of a second from infinitely long (many minutes or hours), down to 1/8000th of a second. That's how fast those little curtains can go! So here are a few guidelines we follow when photographing various things:
Live events with no flash:
between 1/100th and 1/400th of a second when people's features are important - depending on the lens. A shorter/wider lens can tolerate slower shutter speeds and still seem sharp, while a longer/tighter lens needs faster shutter speeds
between 1s and 1/60th of a second when we want to show a bit of the action to tell the story of the event
includes things like weddings, events, brand lifestyle both outdoor and indoor, product lifestyle
Live events with flash - between 1/100th and 1/160th of a second
Using flash really helps us keep things sharp, because the flash goes off even faster than the shutter goes. It's important not to use a shutter speed faster than 1/200th of a second when using flash.
includes same things as above except usually indoors
Any time we're using studio lighting: about 1/125 of a second, but it can be slower (i.e a larger fraction like 1/60th) due to how quick the flashes are
Applies to corporate or commercial portraits, product photography, headshots
Of course, to be able to use the shutter speeds we want, we have to adjust all the other settings, which means setting the aperture and the ISO, both of which also affect the look of the image. It is a balance that we make decisions on for almost every single shot (more accurately, every single set of shots).
Hopefully that's interesting! If you have any questions feel free to email us or leave a comment! Til next time.