Introduction to Shutter Speed in Photography

If you are beginning to dabble in photography, then it is essential that you understand how shutter speeds affect your photographs.

Knowing about shutter speeds can make the difference between a blurry photograph and a clear one. At the same time, you can use knowledge about shutter speeds to give artistry and diversity to your photographs.

Our introductory guide to shutter speed will help you begin to experiment and play with the shutter speeds on your camera.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed refers to the amount of time that the shutter is open.

Digital cameras have a sensor inside that is exposed to the image. When you take a photograph, the sensor is exposed to the image you want to capture. The faster the shutter speed, the shorter the amount of exposure to the sensor.

In a sense, a faster shutter speed means that the sensor “sees” the image you want to capture much more quickly and in a shorter amount of time.

How Is Shutter Speed Measured? 

Shutter speeds are measured in fractions of seconds. That can change or differ between cameras, but in most cases, the shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds. For instance, shutter speeds can be 1/30 of a second to 1/5000 of a second.

The denominator of the fraction indicated the speed. A larger denominator indicates a faster shutter speed. Therefore, 1/1000 is significantly faster than 1/15.

The slowest speeds range from 1 second to 30 seconds. Slower speeds range from 1/15 of a second to about 1 second.

Moderate speeds range from 1/250 of a second to 1/30 of a second. Faster speeds range from 1/8000 of a second to 1/500 of a second.

The very slow speeds are often used to create blurry effects of light trails. This is common for night and traffic scenes

The slow speeds are appropriate for tripod and stable pictures.

Moderate speeds are usually acceptable for handheld pictures, and faster speeds are used for action-stopping photographs.

How to Handle Shutter Speed and Exposure

Something to think about as you begin to think about shutter speed is the focal length of your lens.

Longer focal lenses will have a higher likelihood of camera shake. This means you will need a faster shutter speed to counteract the shaking of the camera that occurs when holding it.

Photographers usually suggest that you should use a shutter speed where the denominator of the shutter fraction is larger than the focal length of the camera’s lens. Therefore, if your lens is 52mm, then your shutter speed should be faster than 1/52.

Exposure Triangle

You also want to think about the shutter speed in relation to the aperture and ISO. These elements are crucially related when taking photographs.

As you increase the speed of your shutter, you are also reducing the amount of light allowed into the camera and to the sensor. That means you will likely need to either have more light.

You may need to choose a faster ISO or increase the aperture.

You cannot think about shutter speed without considering the amount of light needed and the aperture in use (Kane).

Exposure

Exposure refers to the amount of light hitting the sensor in the camera. Your photographs can serve as a good indication of the amount of exposure you need or need to reduce.

If your photographs are too bright, then then you have too much exposure. The amount of light needs to be reduced, meaning that you may need to reduce the shutter speed

If the image is too dark, then you need more exposure. This means that you may need to slow the shutter speed to allow more light into the camera to hit the sensor (Priebe).

How to Handle Fast Shutter Speeds

Fast shutter speeds are usually considered anything faster than 1/500th of a second. The top speeds are around 1/4000, but the average camera stops around 1/2000th of a second.

Faster shutter speeds are good for taking pictures of moving subjects that you want to “freeze” in time.

Higher shutter speeds require higher amounts of light when taking the photograph. This is because faster shutter speeds mean the shutter is open for a significantly shorter amount of time.

If the shutter is open for a limited amount of time, that means less light is allowed to reach the sensor to expose the picture. Without a higher amount of light, a picture taken with a high shutter speed will likely turn out dark.

You need a higher amount of light to take a clear, crisp picture at higher shutter speeds.

How to Handle Slow Shutter Speeds

Slower shutter speeds are better in low-light settings and when taking pictures where the subjects are not moving. Slower shutter speeds are also good if you want to create a blurring effect in the photo.

If you have a shutter speed slower than 1/60th of a second, then it is ideal to have something to stabilize the camera, like a tripod. This is because slower shutter speeds in combination with the shaking of the hands result in image blurring.

How to Set Shutter Speed on a Camera

It is best to read your camera’s manual to change the shutter speed correctly. Many cameras have a dial with numbers that can be turned to change the shutter.

You may need to put your camera in manual mode to change the shutter speed. Some cameras have a Time Value (TV) mode or Shutter Speed (S) mode, where you can change the shutter speed.

Once in the correct mode, you can turn the dial or arrows to select the shutter speed you desire.

Many cameras have a doubling effect regarding the shutter speed. For instance, the shutter speeds may be as follows: 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000.

This half the amount of light is allowed into the shutter with each doubling. The higher the denominator, then the less exposure to light.

Where to find Shutter Speed Settings

While the location of the shutter speed may change depending on the camera brand and model, many cameras have arrows or dials to indicate the shutter speed.

The first place you can look is on top of the lens. Often, there is a dial with numbers and an arrow to indicate the set shutter speed. This dial can be turned to change the shutter speed.

Some cameras show the shutter information near the corner of the digital screen when taking a photo. These settings may also appear after a photo has been taken.

Typically, the shutter information is located near the top left corner of the camera’s digital screen.

Some cameras also show the shutter information on the bottom left as you look through the viewfinder. This method may also be one way to find the shutter speed.

You may also look in the appropriate menus as you move through your camera’s menu options.

What is the Best Shutter Speed?

The best shutter speed truly depends on the kind of photograph you are taking. For instance, if the subject is moving, then you will need a higher shutter speed to stop the action.

If you are in low light, then you may need a slower shutter speed.

If you want the movement to have a blurring effect in the photograph, then you want to use slower shutter speed.

In most common scenarios, you will use shutter speeds around 1/60 of a second or faster. Shutter speeds slower than 1/60 of a second often will result in blur.

These faster speeds are more appropriate because humans shake as they hold the camera. At slower shutter speeds, the combination of the camera shaking and the shutter opening at a slower rate results in blurry photos.

Therefore, it is best to have a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second or faster, especially if the camera will be handheld.

What is the Fastest Shutter Speed on my Camera? 

The fastest speed on your camera depends on the model of your camera. As you look at the fractions listed either on your camera or in your camera’s shutter speed menu, find the fraction with the highest denominator.

The fraction with the highest denominator indicates the fastest shutter speed that your specific camera can achieve.

Some common cameras can reach speeds of 1/4000th of a second. However, professional cameras can reach up to 1/8000th of a second. Even more expensive cameras can reach even faster speeds.

Can I Change Shutter Speed on My Smartphone? 

Some smartphones allow you to change the shutter speed and ISO of your camera, but others do not. Some camera settings can be controlled through apps.

Some newer iPhones have a shutter speed button where you can adjust the shutter speed. However, older models do not have this feature.

Therefore, changing the shutter speed depends on the make and model of your smartphone. Many require an app to change the shutter speed.

Experimenting with Shutter on Your Camera

Experimenting with the shutter settings on your camera is a great way to get to know how a change in the shutter speed affects your photographs.

When you understand how the shutter works and the kind of effects that can be accomplished with different shutter speeds, then you can build a diverse portfolio of photographs.

As you become well-versed in shutter speeds, you can create photographs that are clear, artistic, and visually interesting.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Do I Find my Shutter Speed?

The location depends on your camera. Some cameras have dials, arrows, or knob that indicate the shutter speed in fractions.

You may also locate the shutter settings menu on the display screen of your camera.

Some cameras display the shutter speed near a corner of the screen as you take photos, but this is not true for all cameras.

What is the Slowest Shutter Speed?

Most cameras have the slowest shutter speed of 30 seconds. Most cameras do not offer an option slower than this.

How Do You Read Shutter Speeds? 

Shutter speeds are written in fractions. These indicate a fraction of a second. This means 1/100 is equal to 1/100th of a second.

The larger denominators indicate a faster shutter speed.

The slowest shutter speeds are written in full seconds, like 1 second or 2 seconds.

However, most cameras do not have fractions written on them. Instead, they show full numbers. These indicate the denominator of the fraction. If the number is a full second, then it will have a quotation sign to demonstrate a full second (like 5”).

What Do I Do If My Picture is too Blurry? 

You may need to set your camera to a faster shutter speed. You do need to remember that as you increase the shutter speed that you may need to increase the amount of light.

How Can I Get the Blurry Effect?

The blurry effects in pictures are usually achieved by slower shutter speeds. Set your camera to a slower shutter speed at a better chance of achieving a blurred effect.

Can I Use a Flash with Faster Shutter Speeds? 

You are more likely to use flash with shutter speeds below 1/200. Shutter speeds at 1/200 or above are usually to quick to sync up with the flash.

If you have a flash while you take photographs at 1/200 then you may find lines (black or other colors) through your photographs.

Most photographs taken at 1/200 or faster can only use natural light or lights already set up to illuminate the subject.

Do I Need an App to Change the Shutter Speed on my Smartphone? 

The short answer is—most likely. While some newer smartphones allow you to change the settings of the shutter, most require you to download a third-party app.

What is a Normal Shutter Speed? 

The common shutter speed is around 1/60th of a second. This speed captures most images well and reduces the amount of blurring caused by shaking hands of most photographers.

The most commonly bought cameras reach speeds higher than this, but 1/60 is the standard-setting.

Users can adjust this standard-setting to experiment with the shutter speed and its effects.