Understanding Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is one of the three critical pillars of photography. The other two are ISO and aperture. Shutter speed is the reason behind the creative effects, which it achieves by freezing action or blurring motion. It is imperative to learn the technical aspects of photography to capture amazing pictures.

The understanding of the shutter speed completes the task of mastering one of the pillars of the photography. Shutter speed handles the exposure that the sensor receives in the camera. It controls the sharpness of the image and introduces creative effects. Therefore, it is crucial to understanding the importance of shutter speed and its use in different conditions.

What is Shutter Speed?

The shutter is a barrier or a small flap located directly in front of the camera sensor. While capturing a view, the shutter opens and closes to allow the light to reach the sensor. This process enables the sensor to create the image.

The speed at which the shutter opens and closes determines the outcome of the picture. When the shutter speed is fast, it opens for a short period and allows a fraction of the light to drop on the sensor. When the shutter speed is slow, it opens for a prolonged time and allows ample amount of light fall on the sensor.

The amount of light that falls on the sensor captures the subject with the right amount of exposure and sharpness. Furthermore, the time for which the light falls also determines the operation of the sensor in capturing the subject. For instance, faster shutter speeds result in freezing the motion of the subject. Slow shutter speeds result in lowering the motion of the subject.

Measurement of the Shutter Speed

The measurement of the shutter speeds is in seconds or fractions of a second. For example, the shutter speed of 1/100 means 1/100th of a second. The other name to shutter speed measurement is the exposure time. Exposure time is the amount of light that the sensor receives due to the opening of the shutter.

The shutter speeds in cameras vary according to their building and construction. For instance, DSLRs have a broad range of shutter speeds in comparison to compact digital systems. SLR’s are capable of offering a few thousandths of a second up to several seconds. They also even contain the bulb mode, which allows the photographer to control the time for which the shutter remains open.

The long opening of the shutter is useful in capturing subjects that move very slowly. In other cases, the use of the bulb mode is also appreciable in capturing creative images. The use of the shutter speed is dependent on the creative outlook of the photographer, the conditions, and the subject.

Selection of the Shutter Speed

All the currently available cameras in the market offer automatic mode. In the automatic mode, the camera adjusts the shutter speed, ISO, and aperture according to the condition and the movement of the object. However, the automatic mode does not get it right always. The photo can end up blurred or poorly exposed.

A better option to avoid under or over exposure is by selecting manual focus. The manual focus provides complete control over the camera. Users will gain individual control over temperature, ISO, and shutter speed. However, it is important to learn about the co-relation between the three to ensure that the outcome is a perfect image with the right amount of exposure and sharpness.

Manual focus and handheld conditions result in camera shake. Although the latest technologies arrive with image stabilization, they have limitations for processing images captured with the camera shake. To avoid the intrusion of camera shake, choosing faster shutter speeds is preferable. Slow shutter speeds required mounting the camera on a tripod.

The camera shake is noticeable when using the long focal lengths. Accordingly, there will be an increase in the shutter speed based on the total focal length of the lens. As the rule of the thumb, the minimum shutter speed for a lens is 1/focal length. Therefore, for a telephoto zoom lens of 200mm, the minimum shutter speed is 1/200th. At the same time, it is also important to calculate the effective focal length of the lens. Multiplying the crop factor of the camera by the focal length of the lens gives the effective focal length.

Motion Blur

Motion blur occurs while capturing a moving subject. For example, let us consider capturing a runner. If the shutter speed of the camera is set to slow, the runner moves across the frame while the shutter is still in its open stage. As the sensor is still capturing the light, the movement of the subject results in motion blurs.

Avoiding motion blur is possible by selecting a faster shutter speed. When this happens, the movement of the subject is less and within the frame while the shutter opens and closes. Due to this, the sensor captures the faster movement of the subject as a freezing action. Further increase in shutter speeds makes the motion blur unnoticeable.

However, control over the speed of the shutter provided an opportunity for photographers to capture views in an unusual manner. The use of slow shutter speeds is helpful in creating and conveying relation between speed and movement of the subject.

Before beginning to use faster shutter speeds, it is preferable to understand the essence of motion blur for that particular scene. The presence of motion blur conveys speed of movement in a scene. It is also helpful in keeping the focus on the subject while defocusing the background. It not only helps in generating a creative image but also provides a clear explanation of the subject and its momentum.


Shutter speed is also responsible for providing the exact amount of exposure required for the scene. For instance, slower shutter speeds allow more light to fall on the sensor, which at times overexpose the image. On the other hand, faster shutter speeds allow less light and result in underexposed images. It is preferable to choose a shutter speed that allows the right amount of light to give the photo the needed brightness, contrast, and sharpness. A good photograph with balanced values of the three elements ensures a proper level of detail in critical areas.

However, it is also important to make the point that exposure is also dependent on aperture and ISO speed. To get the best picture, it is important to set the shutter speed according to the desired amount of blurring and then adjust the ISO and aperture.

Creating Effects

Freezing movements or inducing motion blur is the best way to produce creative effects. It all depends on the control of the shutter speed. Long exposure is the stage where the shutter remains open for a longer time than the prescribed time. It can be from a few seconds to several minutes. The long exposure is useful for creating blurred crowd shots, creating fog like appearance for moving water, and capturing the light of cars and stars.

Alternatively, faster shutter speeds are also useful in capturing and adding frozen motion such as sportsmen in action, birds in flight, and water splashing. It is crucial to remember that capturing the moving object and freezing the motion is the outcome of a lot of trial and error procedure. There is no particular criterion for capturing the movement of the subject instantly. Therefore, capturing images at different shutter speeds will be helpful in viewing whether the picture meets the requirement. It is also the result of individual preference.

There are endless possibilities that photographers achieve through shutter speeds. Experimenting with the shutter speed along with the adjustment of aperture and ISO will provide a chance to bring a new perspective to a common subject. The addition of motion or blurring is a perfect way to add the needed uniqueness in an image.

The best way to understand the shutter speed is by choosing the manual focus or setting the camera in shutter mode. The trial and error method is preferable to experiment, as it is challenging to say the exact requirement. Capturing the subject at different shutter speeds will be helpful in acquiring the needed perspective that the photographer requires. The adjustment along with ISO and aperture will be a perfect way to add a new level of creativity to the photos.

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