How to take good photos: 05 Use shutter speeds for creative effect
While the aperture controls the amount of light coming through the lens, the shutter’s job is to control how long your sensor is exposed to it – from motion-freezing shutter speeds of 1/1000 sec and faster, to long, blur-inducing exposure times of a second or more.
The shutter speed you need will depend on how you want to control the movement in your photograph.
If you’re taking a seascape, for example, do you want to try and freeze each white-crested wave (with a fast shutter speed), or transform the sea into a milky blur (slow shutter speed)?
Both are possible; you just need to decide which effect you want. The easiest way of doing this is to shoot in Shutter Priority mode and experiment with the ‘extreme’ ends of the exposure scale.
As well as the creative possibilities presented by differing shutter speeds, there are also technical reasons for choosing one shutter speed over another – when you’re hand-holding the camera, for example.
As a rule, you’ll need a minimum shutter speed that is the reciprocal of the focal length (1/100 sec with a 100mm focal length, 1/200 sec with a 200mm focal length, and so on) to avoid creating the sort of blur that’s typically caused by camera shake.
Of course, sensor- and lens-based stabilisation systems make fast shutter speeds slightly less critical, but it’s still worth worth erring on the side of caution – maybe extending the shutter speed by two stops at most beyond the reciprocal (so 1/30 sec with a 100mm focal length).
Any longer than this and you’ll be much better off using a tripod for maximum camera stability.
Common mistakes at every shutter speed (and the best settings to use)
Understanding shutter speed as a creative tool
Slow shutter speed vs fast: how to maintain a consistent exposure (free cheat sheet)
What camera should I buy: pros and cons of each camera type
How to take good photos: 06 Get the white balance right
The colour of the world around us is constantly changing because of the light – whether that’s coming from the sun or an artificial light source.
Each of these light sources has its own colour temperature, measured in Kelvin: the lower the temperature, the warmer (more orange) the light, and the higher the temperature, the cooler (more blue) the light.
Most of the time we don’t notice any changes because our brain ‘corrects’ what we see to give a near-neutral result.
This is similar to the way in which your camera’s automatic white balance works, but of course your camera doesn’t know what it’s looking at.
If you look at a sunset, for example, your brain knows that the warm orange glow is ‘right’, so doesn’t completely neutralise it.
But your camera will – it simply sees a scene with too much warmth and attempts to correct it fully.
For this reason, it’s always best to use your camera’s preset white balance options (such as Daylight, Cloudy or Shade), especially if you’re shooting JPEGs that will be processed in-camera. It can be harder and more time-consuming to correct the colour later.
If you shoot in raw, you can change the white balance when you convert the files, so there’s an argument for using your camera’s Auto White Balance and correcting it later.
However, considering the white balance when you shoot is just as important as choosing the aperture, shutter speed or ISO, and thinking about the colour in your photograph when you’re taking it is much more positive than adopting an ‘I can sort it out later’ approach.
What is color temperature – free photography cheat sheet
5 color photography mistakes every photographer makes (and how to avoid them)
What is a color wheel: how to find the perfect match for your photos
Color Theory: the best color combinations for photography (and how to take it further)