What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed determines how long your camera’s shutter stays open when you’re taking a photo. Changing shutter speed effects the exposure of an image, as well as our ability to freeze or blur motion.

What is shutter speed in photography?

When we take a picture, the camera’s shutter opens to allow light to reach the recording medium, where an an image is created. By controlling how long the shutter stays open, we can control what the resulting image looks like.
What is shutter speed in photography? Infographic explanation

Also known as ‘exposure time’, shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of a second (tenths, hundredths, or thousands). For example, a slow shutter speed of 1/2 means the shutter remains open for half a second, while a faster speed of 1/2000 means it only remains open for one-two-thousandth of a second.

Some DSLR cameras can go as fast as 1/8000 and as slow as 30”. If you’re shooting in Bulb mode, the shutter remains open for as long as you press the shutter release.

Slow shutter speed night time photography

Shutter speed: 18 minutes | Aperture: f8
Interested in night photography? Click here.

Slow shutter speed

A slow shutter speed keeps the shutter open for longer. This not only allows more light to be recorded, it also means any moving objects will appear blurred. Slow shutter speeds are commonly used for photographing in low light conditions, or to capture motion blur. To avoid any unwanted extra blurring caused by camera movement, be sure to use a tripod when shooting with slow shutter speeds.

Slow shutter speeds can be used for creative techniques such as panning, or combined with flash to capture both frozen and blurred movement. 

A good rule of thumb is to avoid using a shutter speed value below that of your focal length. For example, if you’re shooting with a 50mm lens, don’t go lower then 1/50. If you’re shooting with a 200mm lens, don’t go lower than 1/200. If you do, it might be necessary to use a tripod.

Slow shutter speed - 4 sec | Aperture: f22

Shutter speed: 4 sec | Aperture: f22

Slow shutter speed - 13 sec | Aperture: f13

Shutter speed: 13 sec | Aperture: f13

Fast shutter speed

Faster shutter speeds keep the shutter open for a shorter period of time, allowing less light to reach the recording medium. Faster shutter speeds will also freeze movement and are often used to photograph fast-moving subjects like athletes or wildlife.
Action motor cross photograph using fast shutter speed

Shutter speed: 1/1000 | Aperture: f5.6
Interested in action photography? Click here.

How to change shutter speed

If you’re shooting in Auto, the shutter speed (along with the aperture) is determined automatically by your camera. 

If you want to get out of Auto mode and experiment with shutter speed without worrying about aperture, you can use Shutter Priority mode (shown as TV or S). Great for beginners, this mode is also used by professionals shooting in conditions where the light changes quickly and often.

In Manual mode, you set both shutter speed and aperture yourself. On DSLR cameras, you can see the shutter speed on the top LCD panel, on the back screen and through the viewfinder.

How you set the shutter speed varies from camera to camera. Some cameras even allow you to set which control wheel you use.

Viewing shutter speed on the camera LCD

The optimum shutter speed for a given image will depend on what and where you’re photographing. If you’re photographing fast moving objects and looking to freeze motion, a fast shutter speed will be best. However, this will limit the amount of light reaching the sensor, so you will likely need to compensate by using a wider aperture.

From the example of the bicycle shown in the video, we can see a shutter speed of 1/30th results in a good amount of motion blur. However, at f16 the picture is too dark.

To correct this, Karl needed to open the aperture to allow more light in. A one- stop change, from f16 to f11, meant he was able to keep the same level of motion blur while lightening the image and therefore achieving the correct exposure.

Adjusting exposure from camera settings.Changing exposure

This demonstrates why understanding f-stop changes, and the relationship between shutter speed and aperture, is so important.

WATCH NEXT: Class 4: Camera Focus

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