Behind the Lens: Incorrect shutter speeds cause blurry photos


Using a tripod enabled me to use a slow shutter speed of a fourth of a second for this floor scene Feb. 3 at the new Hollywood Casino at the Kansas Speedway. Stationary subjects are captured motionless while others walking by are blurred. If you have a lot of blurred photographs your shutter speed setting is too low.

Advances in camera technology have made capturing decent photographs fairly easy.

The point-and-shoot world of auto-focus and auto-exposure provides photographic prowess to everyone. It’s become so easy that sometimes we don’t pay attention and mistakes are made. Why is my photo blurry? I get questions like these often.

In the next couple of columns, I’ll go over common user errors and provide tips on how to avoid some of these photographic blunders. I’ll look at shutter-speed issues this week.

“When I take pictures indoors they always turn out blurry.”

Your shutter-speed setting is the main control that enables you to arrest motion, freeze action or eliminate the effects of an unsteady hand operating the camera. If your photographs are mostly of stationary objects or people sitting around the house, and you have blurring, your shutter speed is too slow for you to keep your camera steady during the exposure.

The solution is to change to a faster shutter speed or use a tripod. Most people find it difficult to keep a camera steady at shutter speeds of 1/30th of a second or longer.

If you see blurring, but your subjects aren’t moving fast, you have reached your threshold.

If you use a tripod you can solve your problem with stationary subjects without any other camera adjustments.

Without resorting to a tripod, the method to eliminate this problem is to set your camera control to the “S” “T” or possibly “Tv” setting. These represent Shutter Priority and Time or Time Value Priority.

Choosing these settings allows you to select and lock in a specific shutter speed of your choice.

If you know you can’t hand hold a camera steady at 1/30th, select “S” and dial in 1/60th for your shutter speed. The camera will now change the camera’s aperture and possibly the ISO (the camera’s light sensitivity) to adjust for exposure but will leave the shutter speed locked at 1/60th.

One other factor can unknowingly affect subject blur and camera shake: your lens choice. At any given shutter speed, wide-angle lenses will always be easier to hand hold steady than telephoto lenses. Any movement on the photographer’s part is magnified when using longer lenses. A simple solution is to limit your low light, indoor and low shutter speed photography to a wide-angle lens and use your telephoto lenses outdoors where you can set higher shutter speeds in brighter light.

If your subjects are blurred because they are moving, like a running soccer player, your problem is solely a slow shutter speed and not because you have unsteady hands. No tripod will help you. In this situation select the Shutter Priority setting and choose a faster shutter speed. When I photograph outdoor sporting events I use 1/500th or faster shutter speeds. Even for indoor sports like basketball, 1/400th is about as slow as you can go without risking a lot of blurring. A good phrase to keep in mind for eliminating blur in photographs is “fast and steady.”


overthemoon 10 years, 5 months ago

can you set shutter speed manually on a point and shoot digital camera?? I've never found anything on mine that relates to shutter speed.

David Reynolds 10 years, 5 months ago

Try pressing your menu button & scrolling to find the shutter speed menu. Under your menu button you may also find an ISO setting menu. Setting this to a faster setting say 400 or higher may help as well. On point & shoot cameras this may lead to some grainess. ISO is the digital equivalent of film speed.

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