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What is Shutter Speed in Photography – Everything you Should Know

Adjusting the shutter speed along with other parameters tactfully will enable you to take great, unique images. Whether you want a sharp image, a “flowing” one, a blurry one, or somewhere in between – it’s all possible with the shutter speed.

This speed, coupled with ISO and Aperture make up for an image’s exposure. By the way – exposure, ISO and aperture is not a concern for understanding shutter speed, so don’t worry if you don’t know them!

In this article, you will learn how to adjust your shutter speed and how adjusting it drastically changes your images!

What is Shutter Speed in Photography

By definition, the amount of time a camera takes to capture an image is known as the shutter speed.

Perhaps you don’t want to worry about this. In which case, you can set the camera mode to “AUTO” and the camera or DSLR will set it’s shutter speed automatically depending on the situation.

However, if you want highly personalized photos, adjusting this speed is important. Especially in scenarios where movement is involved.

Video: Shutter Speed Explanation

How Shutter Speed is Measured

This specific amount of time to open and close a camera’s shutter is expressed in terms of seconds or fractions of a second.

For example, a 1/200 shutter speed means the shutter will be open for 1/200 of a second (0.005 seconds) and then close to finish taking the picture.

Setting lower values (higher denominator) means a faster shutter speed. Higher values (lower denominator) means a slower shutter speed.

How to Set Camera Shutter Speed

There are three ways in which you can set a camera’s shutter speed.

  • Shutter priority mode
  • Manual mode
  • AUTO mode.

How to Set Camera Shutter Speed

Shutter Priority Mode

In shutter priority mode, the camera’s ISO and aperture is selected automatically according to the shutter speed you use. This mode is great for when there’s proper lighting and you just want to focus on the image’s movement.

To enable shutter priority mode,

  • Rotate the mode selector (a circular dial on the top left or right on the camera’s body) to shutter priority (S or Tv) mode.
  • Select the shutter speed using the camera’s selector buttons.

Nikon and Sony use an “S” symbol for this mode, while Canon and Pentax use a “Tv” symbol. If you have other brands, the symbol will be listed in the camera’s manual.

This type of photography where the shutter speed is given importance is commonly referred to as shutter speed photography.

Manual Mode

In manual mode the shutter speed, aperture and ISO are all selected manually by you. This mode is the best if you want a highly customized setting and a picture-perfect image.

To enable manual mode,

  • Rotate the mode selector (a circular dial on the top left or right on the camera’s body) to Manual (M) mode.
  • Select the shutter speed, aperture and ISO using the camera’s selector buttons.

Most brands, if not all will use an “M” symbol for this model. If you do not see this symbol anywhere on the mode selector, the symbol will be listed in the camera’s manual.

Use manual mode if you have the scope to learn about ISO and Exposure through some study and experimentation or you already know how these settings work.

Auto Mode

In auto mode, the camera decides the setting for you. This mode is great if you want to take pictures spontaneously, without having to worry about changing settings every time.

To enable auto mode,

  • Rotate the mode selector (a circular dial on the top left or right on the camera’s body) to auto (Auto or A+) mode.

Although the pictures in AUTO mode will be great, learning to use Shutter priority mode or Manual mode will enable you to take even better photos!

Fast, Slow and Long Shutter Speeds

Now that you know how to change shutter speed, let us understand what difference changing the shutter speed setting actually makes.

A shutter speed chart like this will give you a general idea of what to use in which situations. This chart isn’t a fixed rule, and we will discuss the actual applications for varying shutter speeds below.

Fast shutter speed

Fast shutter speed photography is quite common, especially by professionals. The situations in which you can use fast shutter speeds are –

Faster Shutter Speed

Handheld photography

Not all photographers can carry a tripod around all the time. Even if you hold your subject and camera very still, minor natural vibrations from handheld photography will result in some blur. A fast shutter speed will almost completely eliminate this.

Handheld photography

There is a rule which I call the “golden equation” for handheld shutter speed.

For this, you just need to know your focal length. The value of the focal length is etched on the lens’ body.

The golden equation for handheld photography is,

  • Shutter speed = 1 / focal length of lens

Thus, if the focal length of your lens is 54 mm, use a shutter speed of 1/54 or higher (1/60, 1/100). Once again, this equation is useful if you want to take handheld images without any blurriness or movement.

Action, sports or fast moving photography

Another common use of a fast shutter speed is to capture an instant of a very fast moving object. Photos of a flying eagle, a moving car or a jumping athlete can all be frozen in time with fast shutter speeds.

You can use a reasonably high shutter speed (1/1000 or above) to capture images like these. The speed may vary depending on the pace of your subject, so experiment a bit in order to determine it yourself.

Slow Shutter Speed

Slow Shutter Speed

Slow shutter speed photography is becoming more common thanks to improved cameras. Motion blur used to look pixelated and color-distorted in cameras from the previous generations.

But in modern cameras, the right amount of blurriness can rather make the viewer “feel” the subject’s movements, without any image degradation whatsoever.

For this effect, a slightly slow shutter speed is appropriate. The suggested range for this is 1/4 to 1/20, but your mileage may vary.

When you use a tripod, still objects remain still and moving objects turn out blurry. This gives a characteristic, “flowing” effect to the image.

Long shutter speed

Long shutter speeds refer to using an extremely slow shutter speed. This setting can be used for a variety of purposes.

To add an artistic, blurry effect to a photo a long shutter speed can be used. For this, you just keep on walking in one direction with the camera. You’ll see long streaks of color on the image, resembling a painting.

If your camera is still and your shutter speed is shorter than the speed of the subject, there won’t be any subject in your image! Your camera shutter completely misses what you’re trying to capture. Experimenting with the speed will help you ensure the appropriate value.

Electronic shutter vs Mechanical shutter

Most cameras utilize the mechanical shutter, i.e. metal plates clicking with each other in the camera’s sensor. However, newer cameras have introduced an electronic shutter technology to further increase the shutter speed than to what’s already possible.

Instead of two plates clicking against each other like the mechanical shutter, the electronic shutter feature is basically the camera sensor being turned on and off. This eliminates noise and micro-vibrations generated by the mechanical clicking of a mechanical shutter, resulting in a clearer image.

However, electronic shutters can result in some banding issues from artificial light sources.

All lights flicker, invisible to the human eye. But a superfast electronic shutter can actually pick up that flicker, resulting in a poorly defined image.

It also captures one end of the photo slightly later than the other end, which tends to result in a skewed subject. This only happens when the subject moves incredibly fast, e.g. guitar strings or wheels of a racing car. The skewed effect can be desirable or undesirable, depending on your taste/need.

But when these factors are considered for, electronic shutters are the best for super high shutter speed.

A high mechanical shutter speed works great too. The most practical application of an electronic shutter would be it’s silent, shake-free operation.

FAQs

What’s the best shutter speed?

As explained in this article, the best speed varies on the photo scenario and your intended effect.

For a safe choice, the AUTO mode or a relatively fast shutter speed is best. You can simply resort to the golden equation too.

Which camera has the fastest shutter speed?

These cameras have an incredibly high shutter speed of 1/8000 seconds, the highest available. Some of these models offer even higher electronic shutter speeds.

  • Nikon D5
  • Canon EOS 7d Mark II
  • Fuji X-T2
  • Panasonic GH5
  • Samsung NX1
  • Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II

What is the best shutter speed for portraits?

If you use a tripod, a shutter speed of 1/15 or higher is suitable. For handheld, use the golden equation as described in the fast shutter speed section above.

Increase your shutter speed depending on the movement of your object. Kids generally tend to move around a lot, so a high shutter speed may be necessary for them.

What is the best shutter speed for low light?

For low light photography or night photography, it’s best to switch to manual mode. That way, you can adjust all the parameters as needed.

Yet, it all depends on your environment and subject. Generally, a fast shutter speed is preferred because low light images tend to be blurry by default.

However, if you adjust your ISO and aperture accordingly, you can get away with slow shutter speeds and achieve the blurry, “flowing” effect even at night.

Final Verdict

Now you know everything there is to know about shutter speed, camera shutter types, electronic and mechanical shutter and so much more!

Feeling like a pro yet? You should! Knowing how to manipulate shutter speed will add numerous benefits and effects to your photo. Happy photography!

Amy Grace

Amy Grace

Amy Grace has been engaged in commercial photography for a long time. She has enough proficiency and skill set in photography and has nailed the task up to the mark and has helped a lot of entrepreneurs create a brand. Aside from photography, Amy has passion for travelling.
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