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Photographing Interiors and Products Part 2: Shutter Speed and ISO

This is part 2 of my Photographing Interiors and Products series. This series is designed to help you get your DSLR camera off automatic mode and start taking beautiful photos! Part 2 focuses on shutter speed and ISO basics for photographing interiors and products. This post contains affiliate links, which helps me provide great free content for you all! You can read more about that here. Thank you!

Photographing Interiors and Products Part 2:

Shutter Speed and ISO

In part 1 of my photographing interiors and products series, I talked about exposure basics and gave you a run-down of aperture, the first of the three elements of exposure you can use to capture great images. Today we’re tackling some more photography basics: shutter speed and ISO.

The Second Element of Exposure: Shutter Speed

Your camera’s shutter speed is another setting that helps you control exposure. Think of the shutter like a curtain for your camera’s sensor: the longer it is open, the more light it lets in. Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. An image captured with a shutter speed of 1/60 will let in more light than 1/800 will. If fractions are hard for you (guilty, I hate fractions), you’ll get the hang of it with some more exposure to them (heh, exposure).

But wait! There’s more. Since shutter speed controls how long your shutter is open, faster shutter speeds are best when you are shooting things that are moving. For example, kids or sports. A slower shutter speed can result in blurry targets since they move during the time the shutter is open—even if it’s only a fraction of a second.

Here’s an example of my daughter shot with a slower shutter speed. In the fraction of a second (1/50) that I had the shutter open, she moved just slightly. See the blur?

blurry baby in a pink outfit

Here’s Ramona in that same setting with the shutter speed just a bit faster—fast enough to freeze her in motion and not have her move while the shutter is open (which is hard for a kid, seriously).

happy baby in a pink outfit

Sometimes we want a blurred effect, such as when taking a photo of a cityscape and wanting the car lights to appear moving. Or a ceiling fan, like in the photo below.

clean modern nursery

Other times we want everything clear and crisp.

Let’s refer back to the living room example. In the end of part one, I used an f-stop of f/22 to shoot the living room because I wanted a super crisp image where everything was in sharp focus. But everything was dark. I can probably compensate for the lack of light by using a slower shutter speed (leaving my shutter open for longer) to let more light in.

However, even if the subject isn’t moving—like a room—anything lower than a shutter speed of 1/40 usually ends up blurry for me due to even very minor hand shakes. And 1/40 is still too dark. “How slow is too slow” can depend on you personally, what you’re shooting, and what lens you’re using. What’s a girl to do?

Long exposure, that’s what.

Grab a tripod and leave that shutter open for longer! Let’s look at the following example. It was darker when I shot this image, later in the day on a very cloudy, rainy day. I set my f-stop to f/16, but the slowest I could have my shutter speed while holding my camera is 1/40. Even with cranking the third element of exposure (ISO, chatting about that below), this is the image I got.

almost black dark room
Omg, literally stunning. What do you think? Would you share this image on Pinterest? Yeah.

Obviously not gonna work, so I put my camera on my tripod and slowed my shutter speed waaay down to 30 seconds. That means I kept my shutter open for a whole 30 seconds. I generally prefer light, bright photos, so I leave my shutter open for longer than some might.

Here’s the stunning result.

bright living room with a Christmas tree

But what if you want to take a picture of something that’s moving? Well, you need a faster shutter speed. But crap! A faster shutter speed will let in less light, meaning the picture might be too dark. I can supplement with some extra light (like umbrella light stands, which I used on a super dark day to shoot Tootie’s dollhouse bookshelf project), or I could see if changing my ISO setting would help. That brings us to the third element of exposure: ISO.

The Third Element of Exposure: ISO

Your camera has a sensor that can be made more or less sensitive to light by changing the ISO setting. A higher ISO like 1,600 will lead to a brighter picture because the sensor is more sensitive to light, where as a lower ISO like 200 will be darker. The higher the ISO, the grainier the photo, though. That’s because your camera is trying to compensate for the lack of light. (Think of pictures you take at night on your cell phone. Similar concept.)

Let’s look at this photo shot at ISO 100:

small black ceramic bear

And then look at a closeup of the bear shot at ISO 100 vs. ISO 4000. Do you see the difference in detail and grain? Especially around the legs. The grain will before more pronounced as you lighten a photo when processing and editing, too.

image comparing the amount of grain on two different ISO settings

The amount of grain your ISO setting leads to can depend on your camera’s sensor. More expensive cameras tend to have better sensors, but the technology is constantly improving. I generally don’t like shooting above an ISO of 1000 on my Nikon d7100, but that’s mostly because I strongly dislike any grain. Grain can also be a stylistic preference—some photography looks really cool with some grain introduced (like a grainy film look). Personal preference is huge here.

Making All Three Elements Work Together

There’s no magic formula to making all three elements work together to create the perfect exposure, but that’s part of the fun. Once you understand how they all work together, you can play around with your settings to grab the perfect image. A lot of the time you can get the perfect shot just by finding the right combination of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO settings.

Let’s go back to the living room example. I would have tried to compensate for the lack of light by increasing my ISO. But, as I said, I really don’t like grainy photos—it’s just a personal preference—so I don’t like to go above ISO 1000 on my particular camera. That’s why my tripod is such a valued member of my family. (Not really, but kind of.)

(Note: I’m not going to be talking about bracketing your exposure because I don’t do that. It’s very big in landscape and other types of photography and is essentially taking a shot at multiple different exposures and then bracketing the best of each together. I do not personally like doing this, but it’s a viable option if you want to explore it!)

Next up…

Photographing Interiors and Products Part 3:

Essential Photography Tools

But sometimes you may need to bring in outside help to get exactly what you want—like a tripod, a remote, a light kit, or a reflector. I’ll be chatting about some tools to help you get the perfect shot next, and they are well worth the investment.

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