Guide photography

Understanding Shutter Speed

Understanding how the Shutter Speed affects your photos really helps you get that desired look. The shutter speed is a very important part of the exposure triangle. It can freeze subjects in place or give you some amazing motion blur. Just by slightly adjusting your shutter speed, it can drastically change the photo. 

This is the second article on our three part planned series on the Exposure Triangle. Click here to see the first part all about ISO. Like we stated earlier, shutter speed is a very important part, some photographers even consider it being the most important..

Once you are done reading this article and with a little practice. You will fully understand how your camera’s shutter speed works and which is the best setting to use to get your desired look. Oh, did we mention that having a long shutter speed is essential for long exposure photography. Don’t worry you’ll find out more below. 

What is shutter speed 

Like always, we are going to try and K.I.S.S (Keep It Simple Stupid) this. Shutter speed is a function on your DSLR or mirrorless camera that controls how long your shutter remains open when you take a picture. This is how long light hits your sensor. The longer the shutter is open the brighter the image will be. So, as you would expect, the quicker the shutter is open the darker the image is. Of course, we will go into more detail down below.

The shutter speed is the most important part of the exposure triangle. 

Without adjusting your shutter speed you cannot capture the milky way galaxy, smooth flowing water, or even motion blur. It helps freeze the “action” if you use a fast shutter speed. Or it can capture light trails and distant stars if you use a long shutter speed at night. 

As you should be able to tell, the shutter speed you use can drastically change how your photo will come out. If your shutter speed is too slow and the sun’s out, you risk overexposing your final product. If it’s too dark out and your shutter speed is too fast, you risk not having anything show up at all. 

It’s a delicate balance that starts with the correct shutter speed. A good rule of thumb to keep in mind when setting your shutter speed is to have a faster one in bright daylight conditions (outside). Have a slower shutter speed when shooting at night or indoors. 

Of course, you will also have to keep your aperture and ISO in mind. You can’t expect to have a correctly exposed image in the middle of the day with a slower shutter speed, high ISO, and large aperture. Playing around with all three settings is what helps get you those perfectly exposed shots. 

Shutter Speed Numbers

Most modern cameras can have a shutter speed as quick as 1/4000th (1 four thousands of a second) or as slow as 30” seconds. You will want to use the faster shutter speed when freezing the action. Think of that perfectly timed punch to the face of a boxer or the moment the ball hits the bat.

f2.8 1/800th ISO800

 When using slower shutter speeds it is best to have a tripod. Anything slower than 1/100th should be done on a tripod. While some of the newer cameras do okay when hand held at 1/100th or even 1/60th. The photo will be slightly blurry. That is not something we want (all things considered).

You might think you can keep your hand completely still for a half a second. In reality, you cannot and the final image will show. You will either need to use a tripod if you “have” to use a slower shutter speed or kick up the ISO or aperture. 

If you are trying to take pictures of the night sky or catch light trails. You will need to use a slower shutter speed. Using a shutter speed this low will require you to use a tripod or another stable surface. Using a remote trigger or an app on your phone is almost a must as well. Any movement no matter how small will show up when using a slower shutter speed.

1/4000th to 1/1000th 

You would typically use a shutter speed between this range when you want to “freeze” the action. 

Image by Keith Johnston from Pixabay

If the image is too dark, increase the ISO or use a larger aperture.

1/1000th to 1/100th

This is normally used outdoors when it is overcast outside. On most objects you will not see any motion blur. 

1/100th to 1”

Many landscape photographers will use a shutter speed between 1/00th to 1” and a tripod. It can help show subtle movement of water and can create a more dramatic feel. 

1/13th of a second

1” to 30” or longer

A shutter speed longer than 1” is most often used at night with a tripod. You could also use a slower shutter speed during the day but you will need ND filters to help block out the light. 

Camera Shake

Camera shake is often not taken into consideration when taking photos. However, it is something that you really need to think about. We briefly went over why you should use a tripod when using slower shutter speeds but you can still get a blurry image and camera shake using a faster shutter speed too.

For most of us, as long as we are using a shutter speed of 1/100th or faster. We shouldn’t have any issues with camera shake. You will only really notice if you are using a telephoto lens.

A general rule of thumb to think about when it comes to camera shake and shutter speed is this. Keep your shutter speed at or faster than your lens. If you are using a kit lens of 55mm to 250mm, your shutter speed should be no slower than 1/250th if you don’t want to have any camera shake when zoomed all the way out.. Of course, if you are using a tripod, you won’t have any camera shake. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, the right shutter speed can really change the final outcome of your images. Too fast and you freeze everything in place. Too slow and you can have too much motion blur. It really is a delicate balance. 

I do a lot of shooting outdoors and like to have a shutter speed between 1/250th and 1/1000th depending on the time of day and where I am shooting. If I am shooting waterfalls or water I slow it down. If I am out in the middle of the day in an open field, I might increase it. 

There really is no “correct” shutter speed. It all depends on what you want your final image to show. Do you want to freeze the subject? Do you want to show motion? Or are you just taking snap shots just so you are out and taking pictures? 

Do you want to show that car moving fast or make it seem like it is parked? That all depends on which shutter speed you decide to use. You have the creative freedom to choose the right setting for you.

One of the most important things I can tell you is to get out there and keep practicing. In time you will have a better understanding of how your camera works and how the shutter speed affects your image. Reading guides from also helps. But getting out there in the real world is 10 times better. Just come back to reference and read the new guides and blogs. Leave us a comment if we missed anything or let us know if the tips helped you. 

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