Knowing shutter speed and how to troubleshoot your way through this camera setting will boost your product photography. And it is not as difficult as it may first seem.
It is time to refresh our minds on some essential camera basics. 90% of what photographers need to know is these three settings and how to balance them for the effect they want. So it is worth getting used to thinking about them as you take pictures and troubleshoot your way through your photoshoots.
All things photography come down to light, and how we manipulate it. There are many ways we can manipulate light with our cameras and with our set up but there are 3 core techniques that are essential and foundational to everything else we do.
Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO are the 3 core settings required for all photography.
Also don't think if you just shoot with your phone this doesn't apply - most phones if not all these days allow manipulating these settings too. So let's get to the nitty-gritty of exposure - Shutter Speed, Aperture & ISO.
Shutter speed 101:
Shutter speed is the setting we use to determine how much time is spent to capture the image. It is the measure in seconds, often fractions of seconds - 1/100th of a second for example.
Cameras have a curtain that opens and closes. When we set out shutter speed we are telling the camera to open and shut this curtain in a specific timeframe. This process has two key consequences - how much light is allowed in and how motion is captured.
Shutter speed effects:
Shutter speed controls the light in an intuitive way. The shorter the time the curtain is open, the less light that can enter the lens and vice versa. The longer the curtain is open, the more light that can enter the lens when the photo is captured,
But the other effect - how motion is captured is why shutter speed is a good setting to master.
If we have a dog running from our left to right, and we want to capture this with our camera. We want to capture the dog in sharp focus, we will need to use a fast shutter speed. So when the camera curtain is open the dog only moves a little across the camera view. However, if you want to capture some of the motion, then if you leave the shutter open longer, the dog will have more time to move across the camera view.
Practice tip - it is hard to explain but a great experiment you can do at home takes a photo of something moving. If you have a willing sibling or partner - get them to wave at you as you take pictures of them at different shutter speeds and you will see how the hand motion is captured differently across the shutter speeds.
When you shoot on sports mode on phones/cameras - a common preset, you are in effect shooting on shutter speed priority where it will prioritize the shutter speed settings to capture the motion. But it will always default to sharp images which can be limiting when you want to get more creative.
When I was capturing Maya (the cute white fluff ball) on I wanted to capture the fluff in full motion, so I used a slower shutter speed so the movement will have more time to travel during the capture creating some pleasing motion blur. However when capturing Daks (the handsome chocolate gent) running on the beach, I was trying to get it fully sharp so used a faster shutter speed, so he would travel less during the image capture time.
Shutter Speed for product photography:
So for my product photographers out there, you might be wondering what this has to do with you as product shots rarely have motion in the set-up. But the motion also comes from the photographer and camera as the shutter button is captured.
Even the steadiest of hands shakes a bit, and some with caffeine withdrawal will shake a lot. This motion can be seen in photos when the shutter speed is slowed down too much. A lot of this is countered by increasing your shutter speed or better yet by using a tripod.
So if your shots are lacking the sharpness you desire, check your shutter speed, it could be an easy fix of just speeding up your shutter speed a bit.
A good tip: When shooting product shots to increase the sharpness with ease focus on using a faster shutter speed and use a tripod as much as possible.
So that is shutter speed, one of 3 core settings that is essential to know to master all types of photography including product photography. Next up is aperture followed by ISO. If you want to continue to develop your photography knowledge, download the free cheatsheet of camera basics to have at hand when using your camera!