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Photography Basics: Shutter Speed Explained
A camera’s shutter is a device that allows its lens aperture to open to let light in and expose the film in film cameras or the sensor in digital cameras. Your camera shutter can move the same way every time you take a photo but may not necessarily move at the same speed each time. Why? Because different situations and actions by your subjects can create the need for them to be captured differently and at various shutter speeds. You may use a specific setting to get a sharp image and use a different speed to create an artistic blur. But if you are new to photography or need a quick recap, this blog takes you through how it is measured, how you can adjust it, and how you can work with different shutter speeds to get the images you want.

What is Shutter Speed in Photography

Infographic stating shutter speed is the amount of time between the opening and closing of your camera's shutter

The length of time or the exposure time for which the film or the camera’s sensor is exposed to light or sees the scene you intend to capture is your shutter speed. In simple words, it is the amount of time between the opening and closing of your camera’s shutter. A faster speed will naturally give the camera sensor and your image a shorter exposure, whereas a slower one will give it a longer exposure. Both these scenarios have different effects on your image. You will be able to either freeze an action to get a clear and sharp picture or make it blurry to give your audience a different viewing experience.

How is it Measured

Shutter speed in photography is typically measured in fractions of a second. When your shutter speed is 1/4, it means the shutter will open and close within a quarter of a second, whereas 1/250 would mean four milliseconds or one-two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second. Many modern mirrorless cameras and DSLRs can handle a speed of as fast as 1/8000 and can offer speeds as slow as 30 seconds. Also, if you are shooting in Bulb mode, the shutter will remain open for as long as you press the shutter release button (usually found on the right-hand top corner of your camera).

Related Read: 3 Custom Camera Settings To Speed Up Your Shoots

Fast & Slow Shutter Speed

Infographic stating freeze movements or capture motion blur with different shutter speeds

A fast shutter speed means the shutter remains open for a short time leading to light hitting the camera sensor for a lesser amount of time. When you don’t want motion blur to be created by subjects moving at a fast pace, such as in sports, wildlife, or while dancing, you can freeze the movement and photograph with a fast speed. Whereas a slow shutter speed means your camera shutter will remain open for a longer time and record more light. They are primarily used when taking images in low light conditions or capturing motion blur. You can also use it if you want to achieve creative results by camera panning or combining it with flash to capture a mix of frozen and blurred movement. However, such experiments can result in you capturing unwanted motion from your camera movement. 

To avoid motion blur, keep your shutter speed higher than the value of your focal length. For example, when taking images with a 200mm lens, keep your shutter speed higher than 1/200. You can also use a tripod to keep your camera steady.

How to Adjust Shutter Speed

Infographic stating set shutter speed through different modes on your camera

You will see the shutter speed mentioned in the top panel in most LCD cameras. If your camera does not have a top panel, you can look through the viewfinder and find it mentioned on the bottom-left side. If you are using a camera that neither has a top panel nor a viewfinder, you will be able to find it on the back screen. To be sure, you can half-press the shutter release button and move your camera towards a brighter or well-lit area. When you do that, you will see a number change. This is your shutter speed.

You can either shoot in Auto, Manual, or Shutter Priority mode. In the Auto mode, your shutter speed, as well as the aperture, will be controlled by your camera. In the Manual or Shutter Priority mode, you will be able to make adjustments. To be specific, in the Manual mode, you will be able to set the shutter speed and the aperture, whereas in the Shutter Priority mode, you will only be able to set the shutter speed. The camera will determine the aperture for you. In both of these modes, you will be able to adjust the ISO manually or automatically. 

The Connection Between Shutter Speed & Exposure

Infographic stating get the right exposure in your photograph by adjusting ISO and aperture

When you change the shutter speed, it affects the exposure, which is related to the brightness in your image. A slow speed will allow your camera sensor to gather more light, thus, making your image brighter compared to the one taken when the speed is fast. To ensure you don’t get overly bright or dark images every time you change your shutter speed, you can adjust the aperture and ISO, which are the other two factors that affect the exposure. If you want to learn more about combining these factors to correct the overall exposure, you can check out this chart here.

Further Read: Understanding Exposure In Photography: A Complete Guide

Understanding shutter speed is crucial for photographers, and using it effectively could help enhance your photography skills and also encourage you to experiment. From freezing movements and achieving that artistic blur to capturing light trails – this and so much more can be done when you learn how to control it. However, considering it as a solo factor affecting images can keep you from getting the perfect results you want. Combining all the three elements of the exposure triangle is how you will really get those results that make an extraordinary photograph from an ordinary scene.

At ShootDotEdit, we love sharing tips that help you hone your wedding photography skills. To help you dedicate more time to your craft, we offer professional photo editing services to lessen your post-production workload. To learn more about our services, you can take a look at our pricing plans.


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