Shutter Speed

In photography, shutter speed or exposure time is the length of time that the film or digital sensor inside the camera is exposed to light (that is, when the camera’s shutter is open) when taking a photograph.

Shutter speed is a fundamental concept in photography that refers to the amount of time the camera’s shutter remains open, allowing light to pass through the lens and strike the camera’s sensor or film. It plays a crucial role in controlling the exposure of an image and capturing various creative effects. Understanding shutter speed is essential for photographers to achieve the desired results in different shooting conditions.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of a second. Common shutter speed settings include 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8, 1/4, 1/2, and 1 second.

Additionally, modern digital cameras may have even longer exposure times, usually referred to as “bulb” mode, where the shutter stays open as long as the photographer holds down the shutter button.

A fast shutter speed (e.g., 1/1000 or 1/500) allows the shutter to open and close quickly. This is ideal for freezing fast-moving subjects, such as sports events, wildlife, or action photography. It prevents motion blur and captures sharp, crisp images.

On the other hand, a slow shutter speed (e.g., 1/30 or slower) means the shutter is open for a longer duration. Slow shutter speeds are often used in low-light conditions or for creative effects, such as capturing motion blur, light trails, or long-exposure shots of flowing water and night scenes.

Additional points to consider when working with shutter speed
  • Camera Stability: Slow shutter speeds can result in camera shake, leading to blurry images. To counter this, photographers use tripods or other stabilizing equipment.
  • Subject Movement: When using a slow shutter speed with moving subjects, the subject may appear blurred, while the background remains sharp, creating a sense of motion.
  • Panning: A technique where the camera follows a moving subject while using a slow shutter speed, resulting in a sharp subject against a blurred background.
  • High-Speed Sync (HSS): Some advanced flash systems allow for high-speed sync, enabling photographers to use flash at fast shutter speeds, helpful for balancing ambient light with flash.

Shutter speed is closely related to the other two components of the exposure triangle: aperture and ISO. Together, these three factors determine the overall exposure of an image. Mastering shutter speed is crucial for photographers to control exposure, freeze action, or capture creative effects in their images.

Shutter speed examples for different photography situations
  1. Fast Shutter Speeds (Freezing Motion)
    • 1/1000 sec – Sports events (e.g., soccer, basketball, tennis)
    • 1/500 sec – Wildlife photography (e.g., birds in flight)
    • 1/250 sec – Running or fast-moving subjects
    • 1/125 sec – Moderate action (e.g., walking or light running)
    • 1/60 sec – General handheld photography
  2. Medium Shutter Speeds (Balancing Motion and Sharpness)
    • 1/30 sec – Walking subjects
    • 1/15 sec – Panning shots (moving subject with a blurred background)
    • 1/8 sec – Slow-moving water (e.g., rivers, waterfalls)
    • 1/4 sec – Creative motion blur (e.g., car light trails at night)
  3. Slow Shutter Speeds (Long Exposures and Creative Effects)
    • 1/2 sec – Night photography with some ambient light
    • 1 sec – Capturing car light trails or light painting
    • 2 sec – Flowing water with a smooth, milky effect
    • 4 sec – Stars and astrophotography
    • 8 sec or longer – Fireworks, cityscapes, or light trails in low-light conditions

These examples are based on a standard full-frame camera, so crop sensor cameras may have slightly different equivalent shutter speed settings.

Further Reading


Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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