In simple terms, the shutter release controls the length of time the shutter is open when taking a photograph. Shutter release is expressed in seconds with the setting corresponding to the length of time the shutter is open – hence a setting of 1/500 means the shutter release is open for 1/500 of a second (a very short period of time) versus a shutter release of, say, 2 seconds (a longer period of time).
A photographer would want to use a short shutter release when they are looking to take sharp, motion-free pictures. For example, a sports photographer would typically want to take a photograph which freezes the action, hence, they would seek to use a very short shutter release.
The longer the shutter is open, the more movement is captured in the photograph. This can be used to achieve a variety of creative effects, such as:
- Blurring the movement of water;
- Capturing firework trails;
- Capturing light trails of moving lights (e.g. car headlights);
Most cameras allow shutter release settings of up to 30 seconds and a Bulb (B) function. The B function lets the photographer decide how long to keep the shutter open for by leaving the shutter open indefinitely until the trigger is released.
Where you are using a shutter release of anything longer than 1/30 of second, you will normally need to use a good-quality tripod to ensure your camera remains steady during the exposure. This is important because your picture will be ruined if the rest of the photograph is not sharp.
You may also want to use a cable release (particularly if you are using the B function) and the mirror lock-up function to minimize vibrations. These tools should ensure that apart from the part of the photograph which you wish to be blurred (e.g. the running water) the rest of the picture remains crystal-clear and in-focus.
Shutter priority can be set on most cameras, look for a “TV” option or check your manual for how to use your particular camera’s settings.
As you can see, the shutter release can play a critical role in how a photograph ultimately looks. Mastering this setting will allow a photographer to take greater control of creativity and produce better photographs. Experiment with different settings to get an understanding of which settings give the best outcomes in different circumstances.
Just enjoy taking photos!