Continuing the series of tips for beginners, now a bit more detailed explanation about shutter speed.
It all depends on the situation and goal of the picture.
There’s the classic case of “it’s a dark scene and you have to leave the shutter opened for a long time”. In this case you have no option. Tripod and long exposure. If you don’t have a tripod, or cannot use it (like in a church in France – if the church is in Italy they will not even allow you in with a camera, so don’t bother), then you have to hand hold.
Normally you can hand hold a camera down to a shutter speed at least as fast as the focal length you’re using. Ex: if you are at 50mm you could hand hold a shot as slow as 1/50s, if you’re at 100mm then you could get off only with 1/100s. But lower than 1/50s is quite hard to do it. Then comes some tricks like leaning back on some hard object like a wall or a lamp post, fixing the camera against your shoulder and rolling your finger over the shutter release instead of pressing it downwards can also help having a more stable camera while shooting. Even using the self timer or a cable release instead of pressing the shutter should help. Increase the ISO and open the lens as much as you can to get a holdable shutter speed. Laying your camera over something should do a nice trick!
OK, suppose you can have all you need to do what you have to do.
When would you need a very fast shutter speed? When shooting things that move and you want them tack sharp! For example you’re shooting sports, you want the players to be sharp, but they move, so you need a fast shutter speed. Sport photographers shoot at least a 1/1000s. For that you need a lot of light. So a fast lens and high ISO helps.
But if you’re shooting a race car, you don’t want the car to seem parked in the track. You want a not so fast shutter speed, so that you can notice the wheels spinning. Then you have to pan the shot! Follow the car with the camera a go shooting. You get spinning wheels, bluried background and, as long as you pan as fast as the car goes, a sharp shot. Needs practice. A lot of practice.
Now, let’s suppose you’re shooting water. Water looks nice when it’s silky. The classic silky water fall shot! Or a silky see on a pier shot. For that you need long exposures. From some seconds to a some minutes. See the example of the shutter speed in the two shots above. One short and one longish.
Depending on the amount of light, a daytime shot, even at the smallest aperture a couple of seconds will be too much and you’ll have a totally blown out image. For that you need a Neutral Density filter (ND filter, for short). It’s a dark piece of glass you put as a filter. What does it do? Makes the scene darker! For example, you get a 1-stop ND, your shutter speed of 0.5 second, becomes 1 second! You get a 8-stop filter and this shutter speed becomes 128 seconds (2 minutes, more or less).
If you don’t have an ND filter at hand, a small trick is to take several shots, as slow shutter as you can get, and combine them with MEDIAN in photoshop. It’s not the same thing, not gonna get you that landscape photography prize/portfolio thing, but does the trick.
An extreme example of low shutter speed is when you want to photography the front of a building when there’s too many people simple walking on the sidewalk in front of it. Make a 30 seconds exposure and you’ll have the building and no one else, provided no one stops in front of it and that the building (or your camera) doesn’t move!!
Those are example of creative use for different shutter speeds. Each situation requires one, as does for the aperture. Which we’ll see later on