8th Grade – Photography Unit, Lesson 3: Shutter Speed & Motion

8th Grade – Photography Unit, Lesson 3: Shutter Speed & Motion

Description of the Unit – Students learn about shutter speed manipulation, and how it affects motion and light. Students will experiment with using a variety of shutter speeds to capture still motion and motion blur. Our featured photographer this week is Sebastião Salgado.

Activity statement – Shutter speed, along with aperture and ISO, is part of the triad of settings that once mastered, allow you a fluidity and ease in setting up your shots. For this lesson on shutter speed, we want students to know:

  • What shutter speed means
  • How shutter speed is measured
  • How to adjust shutter speed on one’s camera
  • How shutter speed affects exposure
  • How shutter speed affects the capture of movement
  • Slow speeds require tripods

What is shutter speed? Shutter speed is simply how long your camera’s shutter stays open. So along with the aperture opening, shutter speed regulates the amount of light that enters your camera. A short shutter speed lets in only a little light, while a long shutter speed lets in a lot of light.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds, (and seconds and minutes for long exposures). For example, a shutter speed of 1/250 is just that, 1/250th of a second long once you press down on the shutter button.

Again, like aperture, shutter speed affects exposure. If your shutter speed is too long, your image will be overexposed. If it’s too short, it will be underexposed.

a graphic showing how image brightness and exposure is affected by shutter speed

However, shutter speed also affects motion. Let’s say you wanted to capture the blur of cascading water in a waterfall. A photographer would want to use a slow shutter speed in order to capture that motion blur. Because of the slow shutter speed, the photographer would need to ensure a few other things: the she have a tripod, because slow shutter speeds pick up on the subtlest of movement, including camera shake coming from our imperceptible hand and body movements—indeed, even pressing on the shutter button can introduce camera shake, so many photographers use a remote control to avoid that. The photographer will also want to raise her aperture setting to as small an opening as necessary to make up for the slow shutter speed, while also capturing that blurred water at a time of day when the sun is lower in the sky, and therefore not too bright out.

A slower shutter speed captures the motion of this lit amusement park ride ay night. "Lights of Alameda County Fair" © Anita Sagastegui
A slower shutter speed captures the motion of this lit amusement park ride. Lights of Alameda County Fair, Pleasanton, California © Anita Sagastegui
On this rainy day, a slow shutter speed allowed for a little blur of the umbrellas and people. "One Who is Still", Kyoto, Japan, © Anita Sagastegui
On this rainy day, a slow shutter speed allowed for a little blur of the umbrellas and people. One Who is Still, Kyoto, Japan, © Anita Sagastegui

Now if the objective is to do a still capture a fast-moving race car (without any motion blur), then the photographer will want to use a faster shutter speed. Again, depending on time of day, she may need to push the aperture way open (and of course professionals are also able to rely on powerful flashes and light reflectors to help, too).

With a fast shutter speed, one can capture a bird in flight. "Franklin's Gull", El Calafate, Argentina, © Anita Sagastegui
With a fast shutter speed, one can capture a bird in flight. Franklin’s Gull, El Calafate, Argentina, © Anita Sagastegui

Sebastião Salgado – One of my favorite photographers is Sebastião Salgado of Brazil. He has worked around the globe for decades; the website Huxley-Parlour says of the artist, “Undertaking projects of vast temporal and geographic scope, Sebastião Salgado (born 1944) is one of the most celebrated photojournalists working today. Whilst inescapably memorable for their beauty, Salgado’s photographs are laden with political purpose exposing the social and environmental problems facing our planet.” One of Salgado’s most seminal series documents both human and animal migration, and if you are a photography aficionado, I highly recommend purchasing his book Migrations.

The cover of Sebastião Salgado's book Migrations

To express Salgado’s use of shutter speed to capture motion blur, I enjoy sharing this image:

Church Street Station, 1995, © Sebastião Salgado--an image of an Indian train station capturing the blur of hundreds of people moving between the platforms
Church Street Station, 1995, © Sebastião Salgado
‘North of the Ob River, about 100 kilometers inside the Yamal peninsula, Siberia’ (2011) © Sebastião Salgado
What kind of shutter speed might Salgado have used to capture this image? ‘North of the Ob River, about 100 kilometers inside the Yamal peninsula, Siberia’ (2011) © Sebastião Salgado

Goals –Students should…

Understand:

  • What shutter speed is
  • How shutter speed affects exposure
  • How shutter speed affects motion

Know:

  • How shutter speed is measured
  • How to adjust shutter speed on their cameras

Be able to:

  • Take an image capturing still motion using their shutter speed and aperture settings
  • Take an image capturing motion blur using their shutter speed and aperture settings

Resources and materials –

  • A digital camera that can has a shutter speed, aperture and manual setting
  • A memory card with enough space for the day’s photo excursion
  • Fully charged battery
  • Examples of photos highlighting the day’s lesson (shutter speed manipulation in this case)
  • One or two photographer’s works that emphasize the day’s lesson

Practice and assignment: As with previous lessons, the second half of our class is devoted to a photo excursion where we walk off-campus and practice what we learned today. Students should practice manipulating their shutter speed setting to play with bracketing exposure, as well as trying to capture motion blur and still motion. Their homework assignment is to turn in at least one image that captures either still motion or motion blur.

Our students on their photo excursion comparing images.
Our students on their photo excursion comparing images.

Student images with SHUTTER SPEED manipulation as focus—

An 8th grade student using shutter speed to capture still motion of a drop of water
An 8th grade student using shutter speed to capture still motion
An 8th grade student used a slow shutter speed to capture the blur of moving water
An 8th grade student used a slow shutter speed to capture the blur of moving water
These cute kids were captured in motion by an 8th grade student
These cute kids were captured in motion by an 8th grade student
A student helped out another by being the blurred, running model for a shot of motion blur
A student helped out another by being the blurred, running model for a shot of motion blur
A student used a slow shutter speed to capture the rest of us walking back to campus, setting up a nicely surreal, blurry shot
A student used a slow shutter speed to capture the rest of us walking back to campus, setting up a nicely surreal, blurry shot
Pets are often a source for images focused on shutter speed.
Pets are often a source for images focused on shutter speed.
Another pet caught in still motion by a student
Another pet caught in still motion by a student
A still motion shot of a hummingbird by a student
A still motion shot of a hummingbird by a student
Students will sometimes take advantage of nighttime to take blurred shots of car lights, like this one by an 8th grade student
Students will sometimes take advantage of nighttime to take blurred shots of car lights, like this one by an 8th grade student
Another student's nighttime shots of blurred car lights
Another student’s nighttime shots of blurred car lights
Once students get comfortable manipulating shutter speed, they venture onto abstract images slowing the shutter speed and moving the cameras themselves to create blur, like this student image here
Once students get comfortable manipulating shutter speed, they venture onto abstract images slowing the shutter speed and moving the cameras themselves to create blur, like this student image here
Another image in which the student moves the camera to a slow shutter speed--colored lights abstract
Another image in which the student moves the camera to a slow shutter speed
One last image in which the student moves the camera with a slower shutter speed to create this impressionistic image
One last image in which the student moves the camera with a slower shutter speed to create this impressionistic image

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