The shutter speed (the amount of time the camera’s shutter remains open when taking a photo) controls the amount of time that we capture light for and allows us to freeze or blur motion.
What is shutter speed in photography?
When we take a picture, the camera’s shutter opens to allow light to reach the recording medium, thereby allowing an image to be created. By controlling how long the shutter stays open, we can control what the resulting image looks like.
Also known as exposure time, shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second (seconds or tenths or hundredths of a second). For example, a slow shutter speed of 1/2 means the shutter remains open for half a second, while a faster speed of 1/2000 means it only remains open for one-two-thousandth of a second. Many DSLR cameras can go as fast as 1/8000 and as slow as 30” (if shooting in Bulb mode, the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter release is held).
Slow shutter speed
When using a slow shutter speed, the shutter remains open for a greater length of time. This not only allows more light to be recorded, it also means any moving objects will appear blurred. Slow shutter speeds are commonly used when photographing in low light conditions or when we want to capture motion blur. To avoid any unwanted, extra motion from camera movement, make sure to use a tripod. This helps to prevent camera movement also being captured in the image.
Slow shutter speeds can be used to achieve creative techniques such as panning, or combined with flash to capture both frozen and blurred movement. But remember, you generally shouldn’t use a shutter speed slower than your focal length (for example, if shooting with a 50mm lens, don’t go lower then 1/50, if shooting with a 200mm lens, don’t go lower than 1/200). If you do, it might be necessary to use a tripod.
Fast shutter speed
Faster shutter speeds mean the shutter remains open for a shorter period of time, resulting in light having less time on the sensor. Faster shutter speeds will also freeze movement and are often used when photographing fast moving subjects like sport or wildlife.
How to change shutter speed
If you’re shooting in Auto, the shutter speed (along with the aperture) is automatically determined by your camera. You can control the shutter speed manually when photographing in Manual or Shutter Priority (shown as TV or S) — this will allow you a much greater degree of creativity. Shutter priority is a great option for those wanting to get out of Auto, but without having to worry about the aperture (though it is also often used by professionals shooting in conditions where the light changes quickly and often).
- Manual mode: Set both shutter speed and aperture yourself.
- Shutter Priority mode: Set only shutter speed. The camera estimates the aperture.
You can see the shutter speed on the top LCD panel of DSLR cameras, on the back screen and through the viewfinder. Changing the shutter speed varies from camera to camera and some even allow you to set which control wheel does this.
Setting your shutter speed will depend on what and where you’re photographing. If you’re looking to freeze motion when photographing fast moving objects, a fast shutter speed will be the best option. However, this will limit the amount of light reaching the sensor so you may need to compensate by using a wider aperture.
From the example of the bicycle shown in the video, we can see a shutter speed of 1/30th results in a good amount of motion blur. However, at f16 the picture is too dark. To correct this, I needed to open the aperture to allow more light in. A one stop change, from f16 to f11, meant I was able to keep the same level of motion blur while lightening the image and therefore achieving the correct exposure. This is why an understanding of f-stop changes and the relationship between shutter speed and aperture is important.
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