What you should know about: Shutter Speed

What is Shutter Speed and how to use it?

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3 minutes 30


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Camera settings

What is a shutter?

First of all, what is precisely a shutter? Simply put it’s a curtain controlling whether or not if your camera sensor is exposed to the light. When you press the button, this curtain opens for a certain amount of time then closes;


However, nowadays electronic shutter has come to life, and although they have the same purpose, they function differently. To learn more about the different kind of shutters, you can read this article: “Differences between mechanical and electronic shutter.” (coming soon)


What is shutter speed?

Its function is in the name; Indeed, it’s the speed at which your shutter opens, exposes the camera’s sensor to the light, then closes. By doing so, it has two purposes: First, it allows you to make your image brighter or darker. Moreover, it allows you to create artistic effects by freezing or blurring the movement.

Your camera’s shutter speed is one of the three key components when it comes to achieving proper exposure. Indeed, in manual mode, when adjusting it, you will most likely need to adjust the Aperture and ISO. You can read this article : “Exposure triangle: ISO, Aperture ans Shutter Speed working together!” (coming soon)

How Is Shutter Speed measured?

It appears as a fraction “1/n.” The higher the “n” number, the faster the shutter, the darker the picture and finally the sharper the subject.

Opposingly, with a small denominator, the speed decrease and the shutter stays open for a longer amount of time. Your picture is then brighter but your subject (if moving) blurry. Here is the perfect example:

Notice in the example above, with the 1/500 the subject is sharp, but notice with a speed of 1/30 (and below) how the subject gets “motion blur.” However, nothing is wrong with motion blur, and it’s often used as a creative effect in photography:

Choosing the right speed

For that, you need to know what kind of photo you are going for. Indeed, if you are a landscape photographer shooting with a tripod, then shooting at low speed won’t be a problem. However, if you plan to shoot movement – like wildlife – the chance is you will need a minimum of 1/250. Sports photographer even shoot at 1/1000 and higher to be sure to have the sharper action as possible.

If you are a portrait photographer working with models, then you most likely want a clear photo with no “motion blur.” Set your speed to 1/125 and see how that suits you.

It is essential to set your shutter speed to the ideal number for your style of shooting, then adjust the f/stop and your ISO.

Manual mode allows you to set the shutter speed, ISO and aperture all by yourself. However, if you are a beginner and you want to get used to shutter speed without having to think about the others settings you can use your camera “Shutter priority mode” (S or Tv on your camera wheel) which allows you to set the shutter speed, while the camera does the rest.

I said that a fraction “1/n” designates shutter speed, however, to make it shorter on the camera most of the time only the “n” appears – so 1/500 is 500 on camera. In the case of speed faster than a second, you can see n” – 2 seconds is 2″.

Different kind of blur!

Although blurring the subject by using motion blur with a slow speed can be used for an artistic purpose, it exists another type of blur which isn’t artistic: The camera shake blur!

Camera shake blur happens when the whole camera moves when you take a picture at an insufficient speed. In this case, not only the subject is blurry but the entire picture. Tripods can prevent camera shake, but if you don’t have one or can’t use it here is a rule of thumb to choose the right speed:  Don’t use a shutter speed that’s slower than 1/focal length. Simply put, if you use a 500mm lens, keep your shutter speed at a minimum of 1/500.

Recap: Shutter speed is the speed at which your camera’s shutter opens and closes when capturing a photo. The lower the speed, the longer your exposure, resulting in a brighter photo. The higher the speed, the shorter your exposure, resulting in a darker photo.

Here’s something you can practice right now

Go outside and find something that is moving (ex: cars, animals, trams, etc.). Shoot them with different shutter speed and notice the effect it creates. Playing with this setting is really interesting, and you can end up with really artistic pictures.

Keep in mind that while adjusting your camera’s shutter speed, you will most likely need to adjust your camera’s aperture (f/stop) as well as the ISO. However, if you don’t want to bother with the other settings use your camera “Shutter priority mode” (S or Tv on your camera wheel).

Don’t forget, practice is the key!