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What Is Shutter Speed In Photography?

What Is Shutter Speed In Photography?

If you are a beginning photographer, one of the most important aspects of taking quality photos is understanding exposure controls. A camera’s exposure controls are the shutter speed, ISO and aperture.

Not only do you need to understand each concept individually, but you also need to know how they work together to create a well-balanced photo.

ISO and aperture are critical aspects of photography, but shutter speed is particularly important if you are interested in action photography. Shutter speed controls the length of time your camera's sensor is exposed to light and dictates how motion appears in the photo.

Shutter Speed Definition

Shutter speed simply refers to the length of time that your camera's shutter is open

Essentially, the shutter speed definition is how much time your camera spends taking a picture. The speed has an impact on the quality of your images. It affects the brightness of the photo and controls effects like freezing and blurring.

If you use long shutter speed, you expose your sensor to light for a long time, resulting in a motion blur. This effect is often used in sports photography and advertisements for cars and motorbikes.

How Is Shutter Speed Measured?

Generally, shutter speeds are measured in fractions of a second. For instance, one-fourth converts to a quarter of a second. Most digital cameras are equipped to handle speeds of up to 1/4000th of a second. Most specialised cameras can handle speeds of up to 1/8000th of a second.

Most DSLR and mirrorless cameras have a maximum available shutter speed of 30 seconds. You may need to purchase extra equipment such as a remote or external trigger if you want to use a longer shutter speed on a photograph.

What Shutter Speed Should I Use?

Many beginners wonder what shutter speeds are appropriate for certain types of photographs. There are many things about the desired outcome of the photograph that should be considered before deciding on the appropriate shutter speed.

First, are you shooting a moving or stationary object?

If your subject is moving fast, your shutter speed should be quick to ensure the focal point looks sharp. If the subject is moving from side to side, a fast shutter speed is particularly important to produce a sharp image. You can set a low shutter speed when shooting still objects and the image will still look clear.

Next, what focal length are you using?

The length of the zoom you are using impacts the blur of the image. If the shutter is open for a long time, there is a greater chance the image will be blurry. To avoid this, ensure your hand is steady or situate the camera on a tripod. Generally, the shutter speed should equal one for every focal length. For example, if your camera is equipped with a 500-millimeter lens, set your shutter speed to 1/500

Lastly, are you using a tripod or image stabiliser?

Tripods and stabilisers are great tools for reducing blur. Your shutter speed is not important when using a tripod because blur is virtually eliminated because of the steadiness of tripods. Image stabilisers are not quite as effective as tripods, but you can set a slow shutter speed and still get a quality image.

If you are taking photos at night or in low light conditions, choose a slow shutter speed. Slower speeds allow more light to come into the camera. When using slow speeds, a tripod or image stabiliser is essential to avoid a blurry image.

What Shutter Speed Do I Need A Tripod For?

As a general rule you should use a tripod if the shutter speed is longer than the focal length. For example if you were shooting on a 50mm lens and your shutter speed was 1/30th. This is because at these longer focal lengths any slight shake introduced by your handling of the camera will be exaggerated, which may create motion blur in your image when shooting those focal lengths handheld

While many cameras now have what is known as In-Body Image Stabilisation (or IBIS) and many lenses may also feature some form of Image Stabiliation to compensate for this, they are generally only effective for shutter speeds faster than 1/10th.

A popular technique when using a tripod is to have all the moving parts of the image (people, clouds, cars, water etc.) be blurry but the stationary parts still remain sharp - this is virtually impossible to acheive if using the camera handheld.

Other times you may need to use a tripod include:

  • Professional photographers shooting portraits, still images, macro subjects or landscape photos
  • When using a telephoto lens
  • When shooting nature subjects
  • If you plan to make a large print of the photograph
  • When shooting sunsets or when it is dark
  • When doing sports photography or taking action shots
  • Astrophotography

A tripod is a good investment because it ensures your photographs turn out clear and symmetrical.

Simple tripods can be purchased for under $150, while higher-quality devices usually cost a few hundred. It is best to invest in a more expensive tripod if you are looking for durability.

What Shutter Speed Should I Use for Portraits?

You should set your shutter speed at around 1/200 of a second when shooting a portrait. Most professional photographers utilise this same shutter speed because it is the maximum synch speed of flash units used in many photography studios.

Most photographers use manual mode rather than shutter priority mode. With shutter mode, you can select the shutter speed while allowing the camera to automatically set the aperture. You can only control both the shutter speed and the aperture by using manual mode.

Besides choosing an appropriate shutter speed, there are other things you can do to take a quality portrait.

First, focus on the subject and get the pose right. Select the correct lens and make sure the lighting is soft and natural. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes and take lots of frames so you have lots of options.

C.R. Kennedy is one of Australia’s leading distributors of cameras and photographic equipment. We offer a wide range of DSLR cameras, mirrorless cameras, tripods, gimbals and more.

If you need more information on different camera models and options, check out more articles on the C.R. Kennedy blog.