Knowing Your Settings: Shutter Priority

TV
TV

This is the second portion of the Knowing Your Settings series. The first portion, I talked about aperture and how it was the setting I used when I first started photograph. I also discussed how it affects the photos you take in terms of depth of field. If you did not get a chance to read it, you can find it HERE.

In this tutorial I will go over the next possible setting you can use and that is TV mode. (S Mode for Nikon) No, this acronym does not stand for Television, but for Time Value. It is also often referred to as shutter priority. This mode will allow you to adjust only the shutter speed and ISO while the camera figures out the aperture to use.

What is shutter speed?

While the aperture controls the amount of light allowed to hit the sensor, shutter speed controls how long light is exposed onto the sensor. This speed is measured in fractions of a second and it is displayed as 1/250, 1/4, 1/15, etc… You can find this on both the back of your camera’s LCD screen or on the top if you have one. When you click the shutter release, the mirror flips up and the shutter curtain opens so that the image can be recorded onto the senor. The amount of time in which the sensor is exposed is based on what shutter speed you set your camera to.

Shutter open to expose the sensor
Shutter open to expose the sensor
Shutter closed and mirror down
Shutter closed and mirror down

The shutter speed will be shown inside your viewfinder as whole numbers unlike aperture, which are displayed as decimals. So keep in mind, even though you see whole numbers they are actually fractions. But if you are using your LCD to make adjustments, then you shouldn't have a problem finding out what shutter speed you are on. The only difference is when you are at half a second to 30 seconds shutter speeds. This will be shown as a number with an apostrophe such as 0.5’ or 1’ or 15’. In this case, the apostrophe represents "second."

In the examples below, you can see how the shutter is able to stop the cap from spinning or allow for the spinning motion to be more apparent.

1/250sec
1/250sec
1/60sec
1/60sec
1/30sec
1/30sec
1/8sec
1/8sec
0.5sec
0.5sec
1sec
1sec

Notice how the slower or longer the shutter speed is, the spin becomes more noticeable.

The rule of thumb when shooting handheld it is to keep the shutter speed above the focal length of your lens. For example if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, then you would want your shutter speed above 1/50 of a second, or at 200mm your shutter should be above 1/200. This is important because of camera shake or the natural shake of your hands. This shake becomes more apparent in long focal distances…unless you have super steady hands! A way around this is if your lens has Image Stabilization (IS) for Canon or Vibration Reduction (VR) for Nikon or if you use a tripod. This will help with camera shake so that you would be able to shoot at slower shutter speeds.

Why is it important?

Shutter speeds are important if you want to have sharper images or to freeze action. Let say your shooting a photo of your kids and they're running around everywhere like kids do. You would need to have a fast shutter speed like 1/125 or 1/250 in order for them to be frozen in the image. If not, you will most likely have a slight blur of your kids running across the image. Unless that is the effect what you want, you would need to adjust the shutter speed. Another example would be shooting a moving car. If you want to freeze the car, you would need a shutter speed of around 1/4000. There are techniques such as panning that you can use so that the subject will stay in focus while everything else is blurred, but we'll get to that another day!

The shutter speed, just like apertures, really depend on how much available light you have. If you’re shooting in bright daylight, then you will have a very fast shutter speeds available to use. Conversely, if you are shooting at night, you will need slower shutter speeds in order for the images to be exposed to the sensor.

Here are a few example of how shutter speed affects the outcome of an image. I will have my settings posted for each photo below.

1/10 sec f/3.5 10mm ISO 3200 This was a panning technique used to add motion, but keeps the subject fairly sharp and in focus.
1/10 sec f/3.5 10mm ISO 3200 This was a panning technique used to add motion, but keeps the subject fairly sharp and in focus.
1/40 f/9.0 18mm ISO 640 This was a panning technique used to add motion, but keeps the subject sharp and in focus.
1/40 f/9.0 18mm ISO 640 This was a panning technique used to add motion, but keeps the subject sharp and in focus.
1/2000 sec f3.5 30mm ISO 400 In order to freeze the flags in the air, a very fast shutter speed was needed.
1/2000 sec f3.5 30mm ISO 400 In order to freeze the flags in the air, a very fast shutter speed was needed.
56 sec f/22 20mm ISO 100 This very long shutter speed allow for the wave to smooth out and the motion in the cloud to be more apparent.
56 sec f/22 20mm ISO 100 This very long shutter speed allow for the wave to smooth out and the motion in the cloud to be more apparent.
13 sec f/6.3 22mm ISO 100 I used a slower shutter speed to achieve the car trails you see at the bottom of the image.
13 sec f/6.3 22mm ISO 100 I used a slower shutter speed to achieve the car trails you see at the bottom of the image.

As always, thank you for reading! Feel free to share this with anyone you know who is starting photography or is interested in learning the basic. If you do have any questions, please leave and comment or email me and I will respond as fast as I can. For the next session where I will discuss ISO and how all three are affected in this thing we call "The Exposure Triangle." Until then, keep on clicking!