Cameras and photography can be quite confusing. I mean there is a lot to think about all at once; adjusting your settings to suit the light, thinking about your depth of field, getting the shot in focus (der!), not to mention all the artistic things you need to worry about, like framing, the rule of thirds, backgrounds, composition, colour, scale, the use of props...... the list goes on.You can, of course, make it as confusing, or as simple as you like. A simple 'point and shoot' camera will take care of a lot of this for you, at least the technical details, so all you need worry about is creating pretty pictures. A smartphone will do a similar job. But sometimes you want to have just a bit more control over your camera because there is a specific photo that you want to capture. Whether it be for a blog post, for work or just to capture you kids soccer match, sometimes you want to be able to get the shot you want when you want it. Shutter speed is one of those things, if you break it down, you can simplify it to cause yourself WAY less of a headache and still get the end result you were after.
The first thing is to not be scared of your DSLR camera. While it is very easy to take photos with the automatic settings switched on, and there is no problem with that of course, try giving the other settings a go. Have a play with it! To change your shutter speed the setting you are looking for is the one marked 'TV'. This is the shutter priority setting and the 'TV' stands for Time Value. By using this you can control the shutter speed, but don't need to worry about anything else...your camera will choose the correct aperture to suit the brightness of the subject.
Now, you can adjust your shutter speed by using the full manual settings on your camera, which is where you have to adjust everything, so the aperture and ISO as well, but to keep it simple, and to just concentrate on your shutter speed for the moment, lets just work with the 'TV' setting.
Now in the photo above the shutter speed was set to a faster time; therefore a higher number. The higher the number the faster the shutter opens and closes, therefore you are able to freeze the action. This is seen with the horse above that I photographed at the local harness racing. As the shutter was set to a very high speed the horse has been captured in this photo in such a way that he has all feet off the ground and he effectively looks like he is frozen in mid-air. When taking photos of sporting events particularly, people want to see the action, not a blur, so having a faster shutter speed is highly desirable.
This photo of my husband, clinging for dear life to his horse (this was the very first time he had ridden Sabre after buying him that morning....and the saddle was WAY too small....so forgive the slightly terrified expression....), is another good example of motion frozen in time. What's great about the use of a faster shutter speed here is it really has captured the tension of the moment. My husband is a very good rider, but here he actually was a bit apprehensive and unsure because this was the first time he had ridden this particular horse.
Often when you read anything about shutter speed it is illustrated by the use of waterfall photos. I'm sure you know what I mean. If you don't I will explain. There will be two photos; one with a photo of a waterfall with the water perfectly frozen, so you can see the water drops clearly, then the other shot will show one where all the water is just one big blur. The first is taken using a fast shutter speed, the second a slow shutter speed. Simple. By slowing down the speed of your shutter, therefore having it set to a lower number, you are leaving the shutter open longer when you click it.....so.....whatever moving object you are taking a photo of will appear blurred. But wait...Why would you want something in your photo to be blurry? Surely we want to have nice, in focus photos. Not necessarily, and not always. Having blurred objects in our photos, and by this I mean a moving objects (not just a whoopsie and something that is accidently out of focus...!), will give the feeling of movement within you photo. I could have showed you a typical waterfall shot...but instead I have chosen another farmy type photo and used this shot (above) of the rouseabout throwing the fleece in the shearing shed. You do see fantastic shots of wool being thrown, and they are perfectly frozen in the air, the shot taken with a fast shutter speed, but I quite like this photo. The fleece really is moving in this shot. To me the photo has life, it has movement and I was happy with it.
As discovered above, lowering the speed that our shutter goes off isn't always because of the motion going on in front of us. Sometimes there is not enough light on our subject and a way to capture the photo is to let in more light by opening up the shutter of the camera for a longer period of time. Here I am reading a book. Well actually I'm staring wistfully out the window. It wasn't overly dark inside but the camera was having to adjust to the light coming in through the window and me being in shadow, so setting up my camera on a tripod and slowing down the shutter speed was a great way to get the photo I wanted without resorting to using a flash. Personally I dislike flash photography and will go to great lengths to avoid it. For a shot like this you MUST use a tripod, or rest your camera on something flat and secure.
These are just some simple points, like all things to do with photography you can go into much more depth on the subject, but I hope these have been helpful.