Introduction: How to Use Your Digital Camera's Shutter Speed Settings

Picture of How to Use Your Digital Camera's Shutter Speed Settings

Why take a $400 photography course, when you can learn it all here! In this step-by-step Instructable, you will learn the basics of controlling the shutter speed of your camera to create both professional looking photography and unique, artistic photographs that will surely impress your friends and family.

Step 1: The 101 of How Cameras See Light

Picture of The 101 of How Cameras See Light

The first thing you need to know, is how the camera sees. But if you are easily confused, don't read this step and just pretend that there are magical elves in you camera which push buttons to make everything work.

If you actually want to understand so that you can do more advanced stuff later on, continue reading: 
This is the most simplest way to explain how cameras see light.
When you take a photo in the middle of the day in full sun on automatic mode, the camera sounds like this: CLICK. And the photo will usually be clear and in focus. But if you take a photo at night, without a flash, the camera will sound like this: CLICK CLICK. And without a tripod, the photo will look blurred and unclear. The click sound is made by the shutter opening and closing. The reason you only hear one when the Sun is shining, is because the shutter is so quick, the opening and closing of the shutter join together and sound as one. But at night, the cameras shutter speed slows down. What this does, is allows more light to be absorbed by the camera and it can make a night time photo look as if it was taken in day.

What you are going to learn in this Instructable, is how to set the shutter speed at different lengths of time to create some impressive photos. Basically, you will learn how to manipulate how much light your camera lets in, and how to use it to your advantage.

Step 2: What You'll Need.

Picture of What You'll Need.

Most digital camera's will be able to create some amazing images by manipulating the shutter speed, but if you really want to impress, an SLR camera would be better.

You'll also need a torch and a tripod, but if you don't have a tripod you can just use a solid surface that will balance your camera. 
And you will need a completely dark place for this to work properly.

Step 3: Creative Blur: Light - What You Are Trying to Achieve

Picture of Creative Blur: Light - What You Are Trying to Achieve

The first thing you are going to learn to do, is draw pictures with a torch. If you look at the photo of the stick man above, this was all done straight from the camera with a torch. This is how you do it:

Step 4: Find a Dark Place

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You'll need somewhere that is almost pitch black. Even something like a street light shining near where your camera is could ruin the photo. But it is all about experimenting.

Step 5: Use a Tripod or Solid Surface!

Picture of Use a Tripod or Solid Surface!

Set up your camera on a tripod so that it is facing where you are going to draw your picture with the torch. If you do not have a tripod, then use a solid surface, like a bench or chair. Trying to achieve this without a tripod or solid surface is very difficult. Even the slightest movement during the capture will ruin your photo

Step 6: Set It in Timer Mode

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Set your camera so that it is in timer mode. This will ensure you have enough time to position yourself before the camera starts capturing. A 10 second timer should be long enough.

If you are unsure how to do this, please read your instruction manual.

Step 7: Changing the Shutter Speed

Picture of Changing the Shutter Speed

Now you need to put your camera into the correct mode. If you have an SLR, then put it into 'TV' mode or 'M' (Manual) mode and set the 'shutter speed' for around 10 seconds. This is a good shutter speed for the first time.

If you just have a normal digital camera, try looking for a manual mode that allows you to change the shutter speed, but if you can't find one, you can use the 'fireworks' mode. The average 'shutter speed' of this mode is around 4 seconds. If you cannot find this as a mode on your camera, read through the instruction manual. You are looking for a mode that allows you to modify the 'shutter speed'.

An important note is that cameras have a universal second symbol for shutter speed. The inches symbol (") represents seconds. So don't get confused and think you are measuring the shutter speed in inches.

Step 8: Focusing

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Just skip this step if you are using a camera that does not allow you to use manual focus.

To make sure you capture the light clearly and not in a blur, turn your flash on and put your lens onto 'Auto Focus'. Get someone to stand about the same distance away from the camera as you are going to draw, and then half hold the cameras trigger button. This will make your camera trigger it's flash a few times and focus on the person. Now switch your lens back onto 'Manual Focus' and leave the focus alone. This will ensure that the main focus point is where you want it, and it will not change.

Step 9: Using the Flash....or Not

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Using the flash is completely up to you. What the flash will do, is light up what is in front of the camera when the capture first starts. So, for example, if you wanted to take a photo of someone writing their name, you would turn the flash on. But if you just wanted the persons name and not see them drawing it, you would turn the flash off.

Please note that for most digital cameras, the camera won't allow you to use the flash in fireworks mode.

Step 10: Take the Photo!!!

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Now you have set your camera up, you can capture. To start with, I suggest you turn the flash of and draw a simple stick figure. Then when you want to start getting more advanced, turn the flash on and draw fairy wings on yourself.

The longer you hold the torch in one place, the brighter it will be in the end result.
You can try putting coloured cellophane on the end of the torch to create pictures!
JUST EXPERIMENT!!!!!!!!!!!

Step 11: Using This in Nature

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Now that you know how to change the shutter speed and what it does, why not take this method and use it to create some stunning images? You can change the shutter speed to make water falls blurred, fill the sky with fireworks, or capture the stars moving through the sky in one image.

Step 12: For a Good Waterfall Shot...

Picture of For a Good Waterfall Shot...

To make an ordinary water fall, or even some rapids, look foggy, the best shutter speed is around 3 seconds. But it really depends on the light.

The best waterfall shots will come just before the sun is rising, or after it sets. If you try a slow shutter speed when the sun is brighter, the photo will just turn out as a white blur.
To make the waterfall shot work the best, use a tripod and set the camera on a 1 or 2 second timer. This is just to ensure that you don't shake the camera as you push the capture button.

Step 13: For Good Fireworks or Any Other Light Source...

Picture of For Good Fireworks or Any Other Light Source...

Again, definitely use a tripod.
For fireworks to look good, or even car lights lights, set the shutter speed for around 4 seconds. The longer the shutter speed, the more firework or car light movement in the photo.
Make sure that the camera is not picking up too much other light from street lamps, or city offices. Or else it could ruin the photo.
In the above photo, you can see the red lines. These are actually the lights from the back of a car as it drove past. The problem with this photo is the lights on the left side. They are too bright and ruin the photo. 
Make sure you watch out for this.

Step 14: Good Luck!

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Have fun and enjoy taking photos. And remember that with digital, you can never take too many!

Comments

Statonwest made it! (author)2015-11-08

Thanks!!

aascvd01 (author)2014-12-30

I have a similar tutorial at https://www.instructables.com/id/How-to-Take-Beautiful-Slow-Shutter-Speed-Pictures/.

animeshg made it! (author)2014-10-04

Thanks for the valuable walk-through. I have attached a sample of what I achieved on my Nikon Coolpix l820 (P&S) camera.

TheGeek1984 (author)2012-12-24

And here I thought I could only do this with my SLR, thank you for the info! I love taking these kinds of photos!

Phil B (author)2012-12-24

I do not have a DSLR and my more basic digital camera has very limited long exposure settings. I wish it had something like the B (bulb) setting film cameras have. It also does not have anything like a fireworks setting. :-(

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