Shutter speed is one of the most important settings on your camera, and it makes a huge difference when it comes to light and motion in your photos. Here’s what you need to know about shutter speed:
What is Shutter Speed?
Shutter speed is the amount of time the camera’s shutter is open when taking a photograph. Shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds, representing the amount of time the digital sensor or the film in the camera is exposed to light.
The longer the shutter is open, more light makes it into the shot. A shutter speed of 1/15 is much slower and lets in more light than a shutter speed of 1/1000.
By changing the amount of light in the shot, you can use shutter speed to change how clear and focused the image looks. A higher shutter speed allows in less light, which helps to “freeze” the motion in images. A lower shutter speed cuts off light, which may cause more of a blur effect on moving subjects.
But shutter speed alone won’t necessarily do the trick—you will also need to adjust your aperture to get the right amount of light to hit the sensor, and check your ISO to change how sensitive the sensor is to light.
How to Pick the Best Shutter Speed for Your Photo
The right shutter speed depends on two things: the subject of the photo and your creative vision.
The subject of the photo may dictate the shutter speed you need to use, or at least a range of shutter speeds. You can still take creative liberties and use a mixture of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO to get the right exposure in your photo, but certain situations need the right shutter speed to be effective.
Situations that require a faster shutter speed might include:
- Working with children, where you expect some cute wiggles and squirms from the stars of the show.
- Photographing sports, especially team sports where groups of people move quickly and huge plays happen in a matter of seconds.
- Shooting detailed nature shots, like fine water droplets on a leaf, the buzzing wings of a hummingbird, or a running deer.
Starting with a higher shutter speed for action-packed shots will give you a good start. From there, check your shots and see what’s working. If you’re happy with the clarity of the details, but you still need more light, adjust the aperture to attract more light, or change the ISO to make the sensor more sensitive to light.
Your creative vision is a key part of picking the perfect shutter speed. The same exact subject, shot two different ways, will result in an entirely different image. Consider what you’re shooting for and what you want to do with the final images as you adjust your settings.
If you’re shooting a junior high soccer match, your goal is probably to capture the kids in action as clearly as possible. You’re hoping to capture faces, jersey numbers, grass stains, the ball—everything! That probably means a higher shutter speed, like 1/1000, depending on your aperture and ISO.
If you’re taking portrait shots, there is less movement to worry about and you can afford to leave the shutter open longer and take in more light. Start with a shutter speed like 1/250 and adjust from there.
If you’re shooting landscape photos, you have plenty of different options depending on the scenery and your vision. Use a fast shutter speed like 1/2000 to capture fast-moving animals or water in crisp detail. Try a slower shutter speed like 1/150 for slower moving animals. Use something a little slower, like 1/125, to show slight movement in the sky, the grass, or the water.
You can experiment with very slow shutter speeds to achieve a dreamy, blurred effect in moving subjects. Try a shutter speed of 5+ seconds to blur the movement of rivers, clouds, and waterfalls.
The slower the shutter speed, the more the movement of the camera will affect the final shot. Be sure to use a tripod or something to stabilize the camera when you try longer exposures to avoid too much blur.
See Shutter Speed in Action
I enjoy tweaking my settings and experimenting with new effects in my own work. For example, I used shutter speed to capture the movement of the water in Ocean’s Lace, giving it a dreamy, surreal quality that I love. Check out my gallery for more!