A Beginner’s Guide To Shutter Speed

6 August 2021

Are you ready to venture out of automatic mode? Before you switch to manual, take the time to learn the ins and outs of shutter speed. One of the pillars of professional photography, shutter speed is essential to producing well-exposed images while you’re shooting in manual mode. Once you’ve figured out how it works, you can start to get creative with it for dramatic results.

Let’s talk about the effect of shutter speed in photography and how to manipulate it to get the image you want.

What is shutter speed, and how does shutter speed affect exposure?

When you go to capture an image, the shutter on your lens or camera opens up to let light in. The length of time it’s open is called the “shutter speed,” and it’s measured in increments of a second, such as 1/60 second or 1/500 second. 

With a slower shutter speed, your shutter stays open for longer and lets in more light. On the flip side, a faster shutter speed means your shutter closes quickly. They suit different goals and styles of photography, and we’ll get into that soon.

A Beginner’s Guide To Shutter SpeedA Beginner’s Guide To Shutter Speed

The exposure triangle: Every photographer’s balancing act

Your shutter speed doesn’t operate on its own. As we touched on earlier, it’s one of the three camera settings that make up the “exposure triangle,” and changing it affects everything else. So, if you tweak the shutter speed, you’ll also need to tweak the aperture and ISO. Aperture adjusts the size of the opening at the front of your lens to change your depth of field, while ISO refers to your camera’s sensitivity to light.

That’s why we like to say that capturing well-exposed images is a balancing act. For example, if you decide to use a slower shutter speed to create an intentionally blurry image, you’ll need to play around with a smaller aperture for your lens as well as a lower ISO. Otherwise, your image will end up overexposed.

How to use shutter speed creatively

You’re probably wondering: what’s a good shutter speed? Choosing the right camera shutter speed for your image depends on two things: what you’re photographing and what you want your finished image to look like. 

Let’s look at sports photography, where your goal is to freeze fast-paced action so you can capture a specific moment of time in a clear, sharp way. To do this successfully, you’ll need a fast shutter speed of around 1/500 second.

In contrast, with waterfall photography, you’ll want to experiment with blur to highlight the movement of the water. Using a slow shutter speed of 1/8 second or 1/2 second will help you to achieve that dreamy, misty effect of cascading water. And don’t worry, a slow shutter speed only blurs movement, so the other objects in your image (like rocks or trees) will remain sharp. Just remember to use a tripod if you’re using slow shutter speeds, otherwise you could end up with unintentionally blurry, jarring images.

A Beginner’s Guide To Shutter SpeedA Beginner’s Guide To Shutter Speed

Your shutter speed cheat sheet

Heading out on a shoot? Here’s a quick breakdown of when to use different shutter speeds.

What you’re capturing Recommended shutter speed
Extremely fast action (e.g. birds flying) 1/2000 second
Fast action (e.g. sports games) 1/500 second
General action or slow-paced subjects (e.g. people walking) 1/125 second
Panning with subjects 1/125 - 1/15 second, depending on the pace of the subject
Blurring (e.g. waterfalls or the ocean) 1/8 second - 1/2 second

There are no shutter speed frame rate “rules,” just guides. Like most photography skills, practice makes perfect, and the more you play around with shutter speed, the better you’ll get at choosing the right shutter speed.

Get the gear you need to master shutter speed

Now that you’ve brushed up on frame rate and shutter speed, it’s time to start perfecting your exposures.

Shop the best DSLRs, mirrorless cameras and lenses online now, and earn free shopping on all Australian orders over $100. We offer a 14-day exchange on all orders, and our team is on hand to answer any questions you have.

A Beginner’s Guide To Shutter SpeedA Beginner’s Guide To Shutter Speed

Save $10*

When you subscribe to ClubTed today!

Save $10*

When you subscribe to ClubTed today!