For those of you who are aspiring to get your DSLR onto manual mode (why bother? Have a look at this post) and have more control over your photography options, I've been trying to help with some photography tips for very beginners. Have a look at this post on aperture if you haven't read it already.
Today, I'm going to be talking about shutter speed. Having control over your shutter speed allows you to capture passing moments in a dynamic way (see the photo above of the mother-of-the-bride having her hair done!). Shutter speed is a bit more intuitive than aperture (or, at least, I think so!). So, here are the basics:
1. What is shutter speed? Shutter speed tells you how long the shutter in your camera will be open. If it is open for a short time, it will let less light in. If it is open for a longer time, it will let more light in.
2. Fast shutter speed. If you have a short shutter speed, your image will be sharper as you are only capturing that incredibly short moment in time. This is great for taking pictures of moving objects or people. The picture above is Elliott who, essentially, is never still! He was running after a ball and I wanted to capture that sweet, excited expression without any blur, so my camera shutter speed was set to 1/2000th of a second. That means my shutter was only open for a small fraction of a second and only captured 1/2000th of a second in time, so there wasn't much room for blur. This works brilliantly if you are outside or have a lot of natural light, as 1/2000th of a second doesn't leave much time to let a lot of light into your camera. If there isn't enough natural light, your photo will be under-exposed (too dark) and it'll be difficult to see details and will feel sort of gloomy. The disadvantage of a shorter shutter speed is that photos can work out looking quite static as there is no movement at all in them.
3. Slow shutter speed. The advantage of a slow shutter speed is that it lets in lots of light. If you are working in low light conditions, you want to let in as much light as possible. This is great if your subject is very still, like a dreamy, sleeping newborn. This was an indoor shoot on a cold, wintery day so there was some natural light, but not very much. I put my aperture up to f1.8 (low f/stop number = large aperture hole, remember?!) and shutter speed down to 1/160th of a second. I then had to have a very steady hand to make sure the camera didn't wobble so I could still get a nice crisp image.
4. Balance. Sometimes, if you are working with natural light, you have to make choices about how to balance the shutter speed with the amount of light available. This picture of Evie-Rose coming down the stairs required a faster shutter speed, as she was moving, but there wasn't a huge amount of natural light. I set my shutter speed to 1/320th of a second (which sounds fast, but actually isn't ALL that quick) and then waited for her to be on a step, where she was likely to be slightly more still than when moving between steps. Her slight trepidation about the 'big' stairs and childlike, pigeon-toed stance make for a great image but it wouldn't have been so successful if she had been moving more at the time. There would have been a definite blur.
5. Blur isn't always bad. Sometimes you want a bit of movement in your image. In this photo, I used a slow shutter speed (1/30th of a second) to my advantage to capture motion. I was standing as still as I could (feet firmly planted, wide apart!) when the man on his bike cycled past. I kept my camera as steady as possible and tracked the man through my viewfinder so that he stayed in focus while the background blurred. This technique takes a bit of practice and I don't use it very often, but it can be really effective.
I hope that's helpful to those exploring your camera functions. Let me know if you have any questions and good luck!