Understand Shutter Speed in Photography Easy Way

shutter speed in photography

Learn to freeze and motion blur

Shutter speed is one of the most essential elements of photography. Photography is a game of light. The light controls the exposure triangle. It consists of three settings: Shutter speed, Aperture, and ISO.

These three are the pillar of photography. If you are a beginner and want to excel in it, then learn these three concepts.

Shutter speed helps in creating creative photographs. Its effects can give a sense of moment to the picture. A fast-moving car image with blur wheels gives a feeling of motion.

This article talks about the fundamentals of shutter speed in photography. And how it affects your photographs. If you are a beginner understand the concept in an easy way. Professionals are welcome to give power to their basics.

We will also talk about different photography situations. And how to control the shutter speed.

Let’s jump into the article.

Shutter Speed in photography

Shutter speed is the amount of time the image sensor is exposed to the light. The time duration of the light being captured by the camera sensor. It means for how long the shutter is open to collect light into the camera.

Let me break it further down to make it easier for you.

The camera body has a shutter in front of the sensor and before the lens. It opens with a giving command when you press the button on the camera. That button in the camera is called the “Shutter button”.

It is Like a curtain or as a door when it opens a light comes in. The shutter has the same phenomenon when it opens the light gets into the sensor.

When you press the shutter button the shutter opens for a particular duration. In that available time, it collects the light. The length of time the shutter is open to expose the sensor to light is called shutter speed.

The shutter speed is measured in seconds or in fraction of seconds e.g 1s, or 1/100s. It’s You who decide how long the sensor will get exposed to the light. You can do that by setting the shutter speed on the camera.

Once you set the shutter speed you press the shutter button. The shutter opens for that particular duration. To collect light and form the photograph.

The light captured by the image sensor is a collection of information. Which is also known as light information.

Did you understand what is shutter speed in photography? Here’s the final words.

“The duration of time the light get exposed to the image sensor”. or “The length of time the shutter is open to collect light into the camera sensor”

Shutter speed plays a vital role in photography. As discussed earlier it is one of the three pillars of photography. These three elements are known as exposure triangles. The other two are “Aperture” and “ISO”.

Shutter speeds affect your photographs in many ways. Which we will talk further in this article. It is often used by photographers to produce creative pictures. Which adds value and sense to your pictures.

To become an expert photographer you need to have command over exposure triangle. That is only possible with learning and practice. Whereas shutter speed can help you become a creative photographer.

How to use shutter speed in your camera?

Like aperture shutter speed is also controlled by camera setting. There are two ways you can set the shutter speed.

  • Shutter speed priority mode
  • Manual Mode

Shutter speed priority mode

There is a mode to select particularly shutter speed in your camera. You can find it as “S” or “Tv” depending upon the camera to camera. You can find it on the dial of the camera body.

In this mode, you can set the shutter speed as per photographs need, and rest the camera will do its job. Here you have to focus over the shutter speed.

This mode is good for people photographing unpredictable action shots. If you cannot judge the speed of the subject you can use this mode.

This mode is also good for beginners who want to practice it and get expert over shutter speed. This mode is often used by professional photographers to freeze the moments. Later in this article. We will discuss how to freeze the subjects like a professional in photography.

Manual mode

Manual mode gives you control over the entire exposure triangle. So does to the shutter speed. In this, you don’t have to set your shutter speed particularly but also the aperture and ISO.

You control the shutter speed manually. Then compensate with Aperture and ISO to get proper exposure. Which leads to producing the picture as per your needs.

To operate the manual mode you have to select “M” in the dial. Then you can jump over the Back screen LCD of the camera and set the shutter speed according to your needs.

You can find the shutter speed in the above display of the camera also. But all cameras don’t have his features. So you can view it from the viewfinder. If your camera doesn’t have the viewfinder. Then look over the LCD setting.

Now you know you can use the shutter speed in two ways. There is one more way to use the shutter speed i.e “Auto Mode”. You will find it in the dial with the symbol “A”. Some cameras might have different symbols.

If you select Auto mode in photography, you don’t have to do any setting to take pictures. You have to press the shutter button. This mode is for beginners who are using digital for the first time.

My views: To become a good photographer start using manual mode asap. This is what I did.

How does Shutter speed is measured?

Shutter speed is measured in seconds “1s” or in fraction of seconds “1/125s”, 0.125s. You will see this in your camera displayed as 125, 250. It means 1/125th of a second, 1/250th of a second. Due to space, you will see it as a full number(125,250).

You will see the seconds as 1”, 20” or 30”. The (“) symbol represents the seconds.

The fastest shutter speed goes up to 1/4000th of a second in the DSLR and mirrorless camera. In a few cameras, it also goes up to 1/8000th of a second, which is very fast speed.

The longest shutter speed in the available DSLR and Mirrorless goes to 30second. There is also a “Bulb mode” in which you can hold the shutter speed for as long as you want.

The shutter speed can be Fast, slow, and long. Let’s check it

Fast, Slow and Long Shutter Speed in Photography

The length of the shutter speed can be fast, slow, and long. lets checkout each of them.

Fast Shutter Speed in Photography

All the shutter speeds below 1/250th of a second are the fast shutter speed. As discussed earlier. The fastest shutter speed these days is 1/4000 of a second. Whereas few cameras go up to 1/8000s.

It allows the light to expose the image sensor for a short duration. Which leads to less light in the picture.

Fast shutter speed helps to freeze subjects in action. The speed of the subject will decide how fast you have to keep the shutter speed. You can see it in motorsports to capture fast-moving cars.

Any sports where the subject is very fast you have to use fast shutter speed i.e above 1/250s.

Long Shutter Speed in Photography

You must be thinking why after fast shutter speed. I am talking about long shutter speed instead of slow shutter speed. It is simple because slow and long are the same things. But for the medium speed. We are calling it Slow shutter speed.

The long shutter speed is any numbers above 1 second. It allows the light to expose the image sensor for a long time. Which leads to more light in the picture. You may use a tripod to avoid camera shake.

The longest shutter speed available in the DSLR and Mirrorless cameras goes up to 30s.

It is mostly used for creative photography. Which gives a sense of feeling in the picture. Like a waterfall. Gives a sense of motion in the water. It is also used for low light situations and night photography.

Slow Shutter Speed in Photography

The slow shutter speed can be between 1/100s to 1s. This is slow and cannot handle camera shake. You can use a tripod to avoid camera shake. This shutter speed parameter is used in portraits shoots and studio shoots.

The camera shake depends on lenses also. Few lenses like 70-200mm have image stabilisation. Which can hand the camera shake in slow shutter speed? It is also known as vibration reduction.

The image stabilisation technology helps photographers. To take images at very slow shutter speed also to avoid camera shake.

Effects of shutter speed in Photography

There are many ways shutter speed affects your photographs. But here we will discuss the major once.

  • Exposure
  • Motion Blur
  • Freeze Motion

Exposure

Exposure in photography means how dark or bright your photo is. It means how much light has exposed the photo. This is one of the most common results of shutter speed. I said it’s common because the other two elements(Aperture & ISO) also control the exposure.

The shutter speed controls the light. It decides how long the image sensor will get exposed to the light. That’s why the shutter speed is also known as “Exposure time”.

When it is fast shutter speed less light will enter. The picture will be darker. The fast shutter speed may be anything between 1/200s to 1/2000s to 1/4000th of a second. You have to compensate for the other two elements to get a properly exposed image. As per your needs.

Fast shutter speed is for capturing fast-moving subjects. Like motorsports photography. Where the cars are fast and need to freeze in the image.

When it is long Shutter speed more light will enter. The picture will be brighter. The picture here may get overexposed. You have to compensate for it as per your picture needs. To get proper exposure.

Motion Blur

Motion blur is one of the main effects, created by the activities of shutter speed. It is due to slow shutter speed. Anything in the frame which is moving will get motion blur.

If you set long exposure above 1 second, in a scene where the subject is in motion. It will form a motion blur. The best example of this is a waterfall.

shutter speed in photography
Mike clicked this long Exposure waterfall photography.

Take your tripod and set your shutter speed to 1s. You will see motion blur in the water. At this point, there will be less blur. Now increase the shutter speed. You will see a drastic change in each of the pictures.

There will be more motion blur every time you increase the shutter speed. This type of photography is used as creative shots. It adds a sense of motion to the picture. You will feel like water is moving in the picture.

The other best example can be a fast-moving car, where the tire gets blurry and the body is sharp. It gives a feel of speed in the picture. In this case you have to keep slow shutter speed between 1/250s to 1s. As the car is also moving and you have to sharpen the car body. This type of effect is called panning effects. We have discussed it below.

Understand shutter speed in photography
Mike captured fast moving lamborghini at slow shutter speed. 50mm, f7.1, 1/100s, ISO 125

Note: The motion blur takes place when anything in the frame is in motion but a camera shake can also cause a blurred image. Both look different in the picture and you can identify it.

Camera shake can be avoided in slow shutter speed between 1/200s to 1s. By the image stabilisation technology in the lens. IS comes with a zoom lens only.

Freeze Motion

Freezing anything in action is another very important role of shutter speed. The freeze means capturing the moving subject with sharpness in the image. It feels like you have stopped the subject.

Fast shutter speed helps to freeze subjects in action. It depends on how fast your subject is moving. You have to set your shutter speed according to the speed of the subject. Try to match the shutter speed according to the subject to freeze it.

Any shutter speed below 1/250s starts freezing the subject. Now it depends on how fast it is moving. According to that, you need to decrease the shutter speed. The best example of this can be sports photography and wildlife Photography.

what is shutter speed
PC: Keith. Kids playing base got freeze. Using fast shutter speed. 300mm, f2.8, 1/2500s, ISO 100

Where there is lots of action going on. Now you have to freeze the moments. In this case, you have to keep a very fast shutter speed. i.e 1/2000th of a sec or if it’s too fast you can go further down to 1/4000th of a second.

When the shutter speed is fast. The picture will get underexposed along with freezing the subject. So, in this case, you need to compensate with the aperture and ISO to get proper exposure.

Creative Effects of Shutter Speed in Photography?

As we have already discussed the effects of shutter speed. Let’s look at few of the other creative shots used in photography. They are :

  • Panning effects
  • Light painting effects
  • Ghost Effects

Panning Effects in photography

When you move along with the moving subjects it will create a panning effect. In this effect, the moving subject is still and sharp. Whereas the background will have motion blur. You can try this with a motorbike moving in the street.

shutter speed photography
PC: Fredrick. Panning effect. 24mm, f22, 1/13s, ISO100

This effect can be achieved by slow shutter speed. This type of picture shows a sense of movement.

Light Painting effects in Photography

This effects helps you to create many different types of shots. It is achieved in low light situations with some source of light. The pictures look very unique.

This type of photography is created by long exposure. Give a try to this at night, stand in a foot over bridge, and set the long shutter speed. Keep a small aperture and compensate for the ISO. now press the shutter. You will see the light painting effect in the image. This is due to the moving car with their headlights.

Shutter Speed in photography
PC:ROSS, light painting. 55mm, f13, 1.6s, ISO 100

Ghost effect in photography

This effect is again a game of long exposure. The images look like a ghost and you can use it as creative photography. How to achieve such effects in photography?

Let’s do this, ask your friend to sit in a chair. Ask another friend to stand nearby in the frame. Set the longest shutter speed available on your camera. When you press the shutter button , ask your friend to move towards you and hold your neck.

You will see a ghost coming and pressing your friend’s neck. And also compensate with the aperture and ISO to get an adequate exposed image.

There are many more ways to create creative photography using shutter speed. Take your camera and start doing experiments.

Shutter speed in different types of photography and situations?

  • Shutter speed Wildlife photography
  • Shutter speed in Sports Photography
  • Shutter speed in Portraits Photography
  • Shutter Speed in the low light situation

Shutter Speed In Wildlife Photography

The shutter speed controls the exposure, Motion blur, and Freezing of the action. In wildlife photography, the animals are in motion. So you want to freeze them. For example, if a cheetah is running you have to select a very fast shutter speed. Somewhere between 1/1000s to 1/8000s.

what is shutter speed
PC: Mathew, 600mm, f/9, 1/1250s, ISO 320

Another example is a bird in flight. Let’s freeze the bird. Set the shutter speed between 1/500s to 1/2000s depending on how fast the bird is flying. And also compensate the aperture and ISO for well-exposed photos.

Shutter Speed in Sports Photography

Like wildlife photography in sports everything, you will see in action. So you need to freeze the subject. You can do it by fast shutter speed.

For example boxing. The boxers are fighting each other and are in action. You have a fast shutter speed somewhere between 1/150s to 1/2000s. It depends upon how fast the boxer is moving.

fast shutter speed
PC: Derek. Boxing fight. 50mm, f5.0, 1/160s, ISO 1600

Further, control the light with Aperture and ISO for a well-exposed picture.

Shutter Speed in Portraits Photography

The portrait shoots depending on the shooting condition. Where it’s indoor or outdoor shoots. For indoor portraits, you can use the shutter speed between 1/60s to 1/125s. As the model will not move, you don’t need fast shutter speed.

shutter speed
Portrait shot of beautiful Girl by Alexandru.

You can also use a tripod to avoid camera shake.

For outdoor, street portraits shoot you can use shutter speed 1/125s to 1/250s as the subjects may move anytime.

Shutter Speed in Low Light Situation

In low light situations look over these things first. Is the subject moving? If yes, your priority should set the fast shutter speed. Then compensate with aperture and ISO for a good exposure.

If the subject is not moving you can set a slow exposure for proper light. And then compensate with the ISO and aperture.

It all depends on what you need according to the situation. If you are shooting a wedding function. There might be changes of low light situation as well as the subjects will be moving.

You can use flashlights to control the light. And to freeze the subject with proper sharpness you can set the shutter speed between 1/125s to 1/250s. If the image still gets blur, you can lower down the shutter speed.

You can use low light situations for creative photography using the shutter speed.

What is the Best Shutter Speed Setting in Photography?

There is nothing called the best shutter speed in photography. It all depends upon the situation of your photographing scene. You have to change the shutter speed according to the situation and your picture needs.

To freeze fast-moving subjects you will use fast shutter speed. For creating a motion blur you will use a long exposure. And in many situations for more light and sharpness you will use slow shutter speed.

Most of the time you will use a shutter speed of 1/60s or faster. Anything slower than this gets difficult to handle camera shake. Which leads to blur images.

Conclusion

So, now you know about shutter speed in photography. The effects and the controls it does in your photographs. You also know how to create creative images with shutter speed. Now that you know all these things.

It’s time to take action. Take your camera and start practicing it right now. If you are a beginner try to shift to manual mode asap. Stretch your practice level and see the difference.

If at any point you find any difficulties you can get connected to us. By any medium, you are compatible with.

If you have any query you can also comment below. I would love to reply to all of them.

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