Shutter speed is the length of time the shutter stays open to expose the camera’s sensor to light, also controlling the motion in the photo. Shutter speed is measured in seconds or fractions of a second. A shutter speed of 1/100 is 1/100th of a second and exposes the sensor to less light (or faster) than a shutter speed of 1 which is one second. Slower shutter speeds expose the sensor to more light and capture more motion blur.
Fast Shutter Speeds
* Shutter speeds of 1/1000 or faster are great for very bright or very fast-moving subjects
* Most photos are taken with shutter speeds between 1/500 -1/60 because it captures a sharp focus of moving objects and is typically safe without a tripod. As you will see later in the article, you can get sharp photos at shutter speeds slightly slower than 1/60, but you start to get into the “it depends” territory. Depending on several variables including lighting, focal length and movement, your photos may or may not be blurry without a tripod.
Slow Shutter Speeds
* When you use a slower shutter speed, the shutter stays open longer and exposes the sensor to more light. Shutter speeds of 1/4 of a second, 1 second, 2 seconds and beyond can be used for creative effects or to get a brighter exposure.
When to use a slower shutter speed
Create Motion Blur
Motion blur can give a sense of movement, direction, speed, a sense of chaos in a city, or a sense of serenity in nature.
Low Light Settings
Night scenes, astrophotography, indoor photography, caves, and caverns may be poorly lit and require a longer shutter speed to achieve proper exposure.
I took a photography tour (which is no longer offered) through Antelope Canyon so I was allowed to bring a tripod into the canyon. In fact, it was a requirement because the caves are dark and need a slower shutter speed to get proper exposure. Most of the photos taken that day were between 2 and 4 seconds. This photo was taken with a 2-second exposure. If I had used a faster shutter speed, my photos would have been too dark.
Tips for slow shutter speeds:
Use a tripod or sturdy place to set your camera
The camera needs to remain still to avoid blurry photos at longer shutter speeds. Don’t have a tripod? No problem! Use rocks, ledges, or benches, just make sure the camera won’t move.
Use a 2-second timer or a remote.
Pressing the capture button causes slight movement when using longer shutter speeds. Timers and remotes capture an image without touching the camera so you can avoid the slight shake caused by pressing the capture button.
When To Use Fast Shutter Speeds
Freeze Fast Moving Objects
When photographing a fast-moving subject and don’t desire motion blur, such as kids, sports, or wildlife.
Longer shutter speeds could lead to overexposed photos when shooting well-lit subjects. If you are using a slower shutter speed to capture motion blur, try using a narrower aperture or reducing the ISO. Another option is neutral density filters, which act as sunglasses for your lens and reduces the amount of light that reaches the sensor.
The formula “1/focal length” helps determine the slowest handheld shutter speed without causing motion blur. For example, if you are shooting with a 17 mm lens then your slowest handheld shutter speed should be no less than 1/17th of a second; round up to the next fastest shutter speed. In this example, the slowest handheld shutter speed is 1/20. If the lens lacks an image stabilizer, then increase the shutter speed by an additional stop. Check out ImprovePhotography’s blog for a full chart of effective handheld shutter speeds at different focal lengths.
I did not use a tripod or any other stabilizer in the above photos and neither was well lit. I used the slowest possible shutter speed for handheld shots. The photo on the right was taken with a 40 mm focal length and I used a shutter speed of 1/40. The photo on the right was taken with a 50mm focal length and I used a shutter speed of 1/50.
To master shutter speed, I would suggest using shutter priority while shooting a body of water (waterfall, river, water fountain). Change your shutter speed up and down as you take pictures and study how it affects movement in the water and exposure. I learned how shutter speed works by sitting near a water fountain for an hour or two while playing with the settings. I didn’t intend to keep the photos, it was just practice. Thats the best advice for beginners – practice taking pictures when you don’t care about the result.