At a basic level, shutter speed is used to control exposure, but it can also be used as a creative tool that freezes action or adds dramatic blur to moving subjects. However, whenever we venture outside our comfort zone, this is where we encounter problems.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t do it. All famous photographers will tell you they wouldn’t have achieved anything without leaving their comfort zone.
So in this tutorial we’ll explain some of the common mistakes you might encounter while trying to achieve the five classic shutter speed effects of freezing movement, blurring action, using blur creatively, long exposures and night photography.
After we look at some of the common problems within these shutter speed ranges, we’ll suggest the best shutter speeds for you to use to achieve these effects and offer our best tips for overcoming these errors.
If there are any we’ve missed, please do let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!
Freeze Movement – 1/250sec and faster
With all the movement frozen, fast shutter speed shots can look too static. You can try tilting the camera for a more dynamic photo composition, but the best option is usually to use a panning technique.
If you have unwanted blur, then the subject was either out of focus, or it was moving too fast for the shutter speed.
Check that the subject hasn’t moved from your AF point. If the blur is down to subject movement, you’ll need a faster shutter speed.
Suggested shutter speeds for freezing action
- Fast-moving cars, motorbikes or animals: 1/1000sec
- Mountain bikes: 1/500sec
- Waves: 1/250sec
What you can do
Shooting as many frames as possible isn’t always the best approach. Instead, try to shoot in short bursts when the action is at its peak.
This provides the best chance of capturing the best images, while allowing the camera enough time to write the images to your memory card without locking up.
44 essential digital camera tips and tricks
First Camera Crash Course: simple solutions for mastering your new DSLR
99 common photography problems (and how to solve them)
10 common exposure problems every photographer faces (and how to fix them)
10 quick landscape photography tips