Everything you need to know about shutter speed from a professional sports photographer.
Shutter speed is widely considered one of the three pillars of photography, along with aperture and ISO. When it comes to your camera, the shutter speed value is used to describe the amount of time the camera is exposed to light when it’s taking a photograph. Shutter speed is especially important in sports photography, as well as other types of active photography.
Shutter speed is one of the deciding factors when it comes to exposure. If the shutter in the camera only opens for a small amount of time, it doesn’t give way to lots of light, thus resulting in a darker photo. A slower shutter speed will leave the shutter open for longer, resulting in a brighter image.
But, shutter speed is not the only camera setting that can affect brightness. There are other values that you need to take into account, such as aperture and ISO. If you want a bright photo but cannot risk a long shutter speed because of motion blur (more on that later), you can use aperture and ISO to balance the setting out. You have some wiggle room, so choose your values carefully.
One major issue with photography is motion blur. As a photographer, you are constantly trying to catch the moment and make the image as sharp as possible. The more time the camera has to absorb the light, the higher the chance of your image ending up looking blurry. You can avoid that by using a tripod or stabilizer, which is common practice with smartphone cameras nowadays. Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. In sports photography, for example, you have to move with the athletes. You cannot afford to stand still with your camera when you’re trying to catch an athlete mid-jump or kick.
You can avoid motion blur by choosing the right shutter speed. That’s what the setting is there for! Strive for quicker shutter speeds if you want your image to look sharp. Shutter speeds above 1/250 second will generally be able to provide a high quality of image. Of course, the final result will depend on your camera and other settings. Play with your shutter speed to find the optimal value for your type of photography.
Keep in mind that a blurry image is not always undesirable. If you want to achieve a blurry look in your photos, you can choose a slower shutter speed to help you out. There is only one way to find out what’s going to work for you!
Fast vs slow shutter speed
A fast shutter speed means that the camera’s shutter only stays open for a short time. As a result, only a small amount of light hits the lens, thus making the photograph darker. At the same time, because the shutter only opens for a short moment, the camera is able to obtain a sharper image. You will be able to appreciate this if you’re trying to catch a subject that just won’t stop moving. Try this when you’re photographic little kids laughing, birds flying, animals running, waves crashing, or athletes jumping on the field.
Naturally, a slow shutter speed does the exact opposite. The shutter of the camera stays open for longer, giving your camera more time to capture the shot. As a result, more light hits the lens, increasing the brightness of the image. Because the camera has so much time to capture the photo, it will also reflect any motion. Trying to take a sharp photo of a bird flying across the sky with a slow shutter speed will be nearly impossible. The bird will quite literally have enough time to fly across the frame while the shutter is open.
Additionally, the camera will be more susceptible to motion blur resulting from shaky hands with slow shutter speeds. Just for comparison, it’s relatively easy to hold the camera still for a split second. Doing so for 5, 10, or even 15 seconds becomes increasingly difficult. You can combat this issue by setting your camera up on a tripod or using a stabilizer.
Shutter speed in sports photography
In sports photography, you are constantly playing with motion. The ultimate goal is to freeze that motion and capture a single moment in time. Athletes rarely stand still on the field, so you need to run after them. You won’t always be literally running (though there will be days like this), but you will certainly be moving your camera quite a lot.
Motion blur is very undesirable in sports photography. To avoid it, you have to use quick shutter speeds. Play with aperture and ISO to gain greater control over your image brightness. Most times, you will have to base all the other values on your shutter speed though, as motion blur is absolutely unacceptable.
Once you’ve gotten all the shots you need, you can play with the setting and explore your options. Longer shutter speeds allow you to capture motion in a very unique way. While sharp images freeze a moment in time, blurry images can show motion in a picture. That’s not always desirable, but it’s an interesting way to look at sports photography.
When it comes to photography, there is no right or wrong. Photography blogs will try to get you to follow their camera settings to achieve the perfect image. If you try it, you will soon find that there is no universal perfect image. Each type of photography is very different and requires its own unique settings. The same applies to different camera brands and models. Finally, even seemingly insignificant details like shaky hands or slightly brighter sunshine can have a great effect on the final result.
My advice is, don’t try to control the individual settings on your camera. Instead, work with them as a unit. The shutter speed will inevitably have an effect on your aperture. Work with all the values together and notice how they affect each other.