Fundamentals of Photography-Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed:

Shutter Speed of a camera lets you control how you “Capture Motion” in your images. It is also one of the 3 elements of the exposure triangle and needs to be adjusted to get the correct exposure. If you are a beginner and just moving out of the Automatic mode of your camera, understanding the shutter speed can be a bit tricky at times but is totally worth the effort.

Before we begin to understand what exactly Shutter Speed is, let us look at a few images.      

Shutter Sppeed Examples                              

The key difference of technique used for capturing the above images is the variation in shutter speed. Let us dive into what Shutter Speed actually is and how it affects images.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed of a camera is the duration for which the camera shutter is raised (or open) from its position, allowing light to fall on the camera sensor.
Measured in seconds, shutter speed can vary from a tiny fraction of a second to a few minutes or even more. Selection of shutter speed depends on how you want to show your subject and the amount of light available.
Typical shutter speeds available on cameras are 4seconds, 2 seconds, 1 second, ½ seconds, ¼th of a second and so on up to 1/4000 th of a second along with a bulb mode.


Shutter Speed

Slow Shutter Speeds

A slower shutter speed (anything less than 1/60th of a second) will bring in some motion of the subject in the image as the sensor is exposed to incoming light for a considerable amount of time.

When using a slower shutter speed, removing camera shake is very important to maintain high image quality. Using tripods and/or stabilizers makes it possible to create high-quality images while using lower shutter speeds.

Handheld photography is mostly done above shutter speeds of 1/60th of a second, as anything less induces camera shake. Camera shake is the motion of the camera during the interval for which the shutter is open, resulting in blur in images.


Shutter SpeedFast/High Shutter Speed

High shutter speeds (anything faster than 1/60th of a second to 1/8000th of a second, or even faster) are used to freeze motion. Action photography, most of Portraiture and many other genres demand high shutter speeds be used. The problem with high shutter speed is that the sensor is exposed for a very small duration which in turn means that very little light is available to create the image. Additional lighting, a large aperture, and even high iso can be used to compensate for high shutter speed.


There is no better or worse choice of shutter speed, there is only the best choice for the type of pictures you want to click under the conditions that are present.



How Shutter Speed affects your Pictures.

Some examples of different shutter speeds and their results are shown below.

Shutter SpeedSlow shutter speeds can be very effective to show motion. As the shutter is open for a longer duration, any relative motion between the camera and the subject is recorded by the sensor. Using tripods becomes a must to get proper long exposure shots.

Shutter Speed

Variation from slow to fast shutter speed for the same moving subject. Showing motion in the subject can bring life to the image and make is a lot more meaningful.


How does Shutter Speed affect Exposure?

As we already know by now, by controlling the shutter speed, we control the duration for which our camera sensor is exposed to incoming light. Shutter Speed can also be used to control the exposure for an image.

The image below shows the variation in Exposure for an image with changing Shutter Speed when all other parameters are kept constant.

Shutter Speed

The Takeaway

To summarize Shutter Speed, it controls how “frozen” the subject in our image is, at the cost of the exposure.

“Slower shutter speed equals more motion with more light”

“Faster shutter speed equals frozen subject with less light”

As a photographer, this is one of the decisions that one needs to make all the time.
“Do you let in more light by dialing the shutter speed down a couple of stops?”  
“Is freezing motion more important than avoiding grain in the image?”
“Is a particular shutter speed fast enough to allow you to shoot handheld?”

Hopefully, with the understanding of shutter speed, it will be a lot easier to control the way your images look. Do check our article on how to nail the exposure of your images here.

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