Understanding Shutter Speed

fast shutter speed

Shutter Speed is one of the three elements of Exposure Triangle that are responsible for correctly exposing the photos. Shutter speed decides whether to freeze the subject in your frame or to capture a long exposure moment. In this blog post, I am going to shed some light on what exactly the shutter speed is and how you can control it to click various kinds of photos.

What is shutter?

The shutter in the camera is a device used to allow light to enter and hit the image sensor or the film, after passing through the lens and the aperture diaphragm. Imagine the shutter to be a door, the moment you open it the light from outside enters the room and when you close it, the room becomes dark. The duration for which the shutter remains open is defined by the shutter speed.

What is shutter speed?

Shutter Speed is the length of time for which the shutter is open to expose the image sensor/film. The shutter speed is denoted in seconds or fractions of a second, e.g. 2 sec, 10 sec, 1/50 sec, 1/250 sec, etc.

When you press the shutter release button on your camera, the shutter opens and exposes the image sensor to light for the duration of time defined. The faster the shutter speed is, the lesser the duration of time the image sensor will be exposed to light. Similarly, the slower the shutter speed is, the more the duration of time the image sensor will be exposed to light.

A faster shutter speed can be used to freeze the subject in your frame, whereas slow shutter speed can be used to capture the subject in motion or a long exposure shot.

NOTE: To fully explore the use of shutter speed, switch to the Manual Mode so that the camera does not define the other two elements of the exposure triangle (aperture value and ISO) on its own.

slow shutter speed

How to measure the shutter speed?

Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of a second, which range from 1/8000 (in modern day DSLRs) to 30 seconds. Beyond 30 seconds, you can use the ‘Bulb mode’ to expose the image sensor for minutes.

While clicking handheld shots, try and set the shutter speed at minimum 1/60 second or faster to avoid any shake. Ideally, shutter speed below 1/60 second is best suited to capture the motion of the subject or to click long exposure photos.

The focal length at which you are shooting is also one of the factors affecting minimum shutter speed required to shoot a shake-free image. So, while shooting at 35mm focal length 1/60 second would be the minimum shutter speed to avoid shake, whereas 1/200 would be the minimum shutter speed at 300mm focal length.

slow shutter speed

Types of Shutter Speed and when to use them

As I mentioned it earlier, the shutter speed decides whether to freeze the subject in the picture or to capture a motion effect. I have classified shutter speed into three categories: Fast, Slow and Very Slow.

1) Fast Shutter Speed:

Ideal for Sports and Wildlife photography, fast shutter speed freezes the moving sportsperson or the bird/animal to capture the moment in action. Using a shutter speed of 1/500 second or faster will result in a sharp photo where the subject is captured steady in action.

2) Slow Shutter Speed:

Trust me, you can experiment with slow shutter speed to click creative frames using lights, clouds or even water. For example, you can click a frame wherein a car appears to be sharp and stationary and the background is in motion by using shutter speed of 1/15 second (try this using a monopod/tripod for better result).

3) Very Slow Shutter Speed:

Using shutter speed in seconds or shooting on Bulb Mode at the right moment can result in awe-inspiring photos. Colorful fireworks all over the sky, some name captured on a photo using a torch or star trails that appear to be circular lines can all be captured using long shutter speed. Make sure you mount the camera on a tripod to avoid shake.

slow shutter speed

Controlling Shutter Speed using the Shutter priority mode:

Shutter Priority mode gives you the power to control the shutter speed as per your need, whereas, the aperture value will be automatically defined by the camera.

If you have turned off the auto ISO option, the camera will also define the required ISO sensitivity as per the lighting in the frame. My advice would be to set the ISO at 100 to avoid grains in your final image.

Here’s an example explaining how you can use the shutter priority mode at its best:

Suppose you want to capture a moving car and want to freeze it in the image, you must choose a fast shutter speed (say 1/1000 second) and the camera will on its own choose an appropriate aperture as per the available light.

On the other hand, if you wish to show the car in motion (motion blur effect), set a slow shutter speed (say 1/30 second).

NOTE: Considering the same lighting conditions, as we increase the shutter speed (e.g. from 1/50 to 1/100 second) the aperture value will decrease (wider aperture) in order to let more light in and vice-a-versa. To sum it up, the faster the shutter speed, the shallower will be the depth-of-field (using the shutter priority mode), considering the same lighting conditions.

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About Author

Kunal Malhotra
Kunal Malhotra, a photography enthusiast whose passion for photography started 6 years back during his college days. Kunal is also a photography blogger, based out of Delhi. He loves sharing his knowledge about photography with fellow aspiring photographers by writing regular posts on his blog: The Photography Blogger. Some of his favourite genres of photography are Product, Street, Fitness and Architecture.