Shutter Speed & Aperture – Their Relationship by Ron Kness, Professional Photographer

June 19, 2009

Many of today’s compact digital cameras have both shutter and aperture priority modes which if properly used, takes your creativity and imagery to a new, higher level. But first, we must understand what shutter speed and aperture control and the relationship between the two.

Shutter speed controls motion and you can show in three ways: blurred, frozen in time and panned. On the other hand, aperture controls depth-of-field, or how much of a scene is in focus from the front to rear.

Shutter speed priority:

If your program shooting modes are positioned around a thumb wheel, the shutter priority icon is the one marked Tv (Time value). Turning your selection wheel to Tv tells your camera you will set the shutter speed and the camera will select an appropriate aperture so your images are properly exposed.

On some cameras you may have to go into your menu system to choose the shutter priority mode. Common shutter speeds go from bulb (where the shutter is held open for long exposures) to 1/4000th of a second or faster.

As an example of how to use shutter priority, let’s say your child is swinging back and forth on a swing set and you want an image of your child stopped at the high point of the swing. With your camera set to Tv, select a shutter speed of 1/500th sec. That should be fast enough to stop the motion. If not, use 1/1000th sec and shoot again. If your camera doesn’t have shutter priority mode, use the sports icon setting on your wheel.

If you want that same shot blurred, use a shutter speed of 1/125th sec or slower. After each shot review the image on your LCD back screen and adjust for the next image. The correct shutter speed varies greatly according to how fast or slow the subject is moving.

The last way to show motion is with panning where the subject is frozen-in-time, but the background is blurred. Let’s say your child is riding a bike and moving from left to right. To pan, face to the front. Now turn at the waist toward your child. With your camera set to a shutter speed around 1/125 sec. track the child in the viewfinder.

When he/she is in front of you press, the shutter button. The trick to panning is to not stop tracking when pressing the shutter button.

The effect is quite nice. Experiment with different shutter speeds to get the effect you want.

Aperture priority:

If your camera has adjustable shutter speeds, then it will also have adjustable apertures also known as f-stop. Choices usually run from
f2.0 to f22. With aperture priority, you choose the aperture and the camera selects the correct shutter speed. The aperture priority icon is shown as Av on the mode dial.

With aperture, the smaller the number, the larger the opening in the lens and the less of the scene is in focus from front to back. Viewer’s eyes go to what is in focus, so you use this tool to selectively focus on the subject. Use an aperture of around f4 when you want just your child in focus and the background blurry.

Aperture/Shutter Speed Relationship:

There is an inter-relationship between aperture and shutter speed. As you move one setting, the other setting moves in the opposite direction to compensate and maintain the proper exposure.

Let’s say the camera selects f8 at 1/125th second for a scene we are about to photograph. However, I want more of the scene in focus than what f8 gives me, so I stop down the aperture two stops to f16. By doing this I created a smaller opening for the light to come in and record the scene on the camera’s sensor and the resulting photo would be too dark.

To compensate for this, the camera slows down the shutter speed by two stops down to 1/30th second. Now with my aperture set at f16 and the shutter speed at 1/30th second, the same amount of light hits the sensor as it would with my settings at f8 and 1/125th second.

Understanding shutter speed, aperture and their relationship helps you capture images of your child in a more creative and interesting way.

Until next time enjoy shooting images of your child!

Professional Photographer

Professional Photographer

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