Chapter 2: What Is Shutter Speed? – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide

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Welcome to the second chapter of Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide.

As mentioned in Chapter 1: Introduction To Photography there are three most important and fundamental camera settings every photographer should know. One of which is Shutter speed and the other two are aperture and ISO.

So, in this second chapter of The Ultimate Beginners Photography Guide course we will go in depth detailed information on Shutter Speed. In next Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 we will look at aperture and ISO respectively so stay tuned for that. Now, let’s get started.

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Table Of Contents For Chapter 2

  • What is Shutter Speed?
  • Relation Between Exposure And Shutter Speed.
  • How Is Shutter Speed Measured?
  • Fast, Slow And Long Shutter Speed
  • How to set Shutter Speed?
  • Where To Find Shutter Speed?
  • What Is The Best Shutter Speed?
  • Relation Between Shutter Speed And Lens Focal Length
  • Summary Of Chapter 2: Shutter Speed
  • Self Assesment Questions (SAQ’s)

What Is Shutter Speed?

In photography, shutter speed or exposure time is the length of time when the film or digital sensor inside the camera is exposed to light, also when a camera’s shutter is open when taking a photograph. The amount of light that reaches the film or image sensor is proportional to the exposure time.

In simple words, Shutter speed is the length of time the camera shutter is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor. What I mean by this is that it is a duration of time your camera spends taking a photograph.

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Shutter Speed has many effects on a photograph one of which is Motion Blur. Having a long shutter speed will create a motion blur in your photograph. If your shutter speed is long, moving subjects in your photo will appear blurred along the direction of motion.

One of the most popular example of using long shutter speed for motion blur is advertisements of cars and motorbikes, where a sense of speed and motion is communicated to the viewer by intentionally blurring the moving wheels. Below image is an example of it:

Another popular example of using long shutter speed for motion blur is when landscape photographer use it to create sense of motion in waterfalls and rivers. Below image is an example of it:

As I mentioned above, shutter speed has many effects on your photograph – one of which is motion blur and another big effect of shutter speed is quite opposite to it which is Freeze Motion.

By using fast shutter speed you can eliminate motion even from fast-moving objects, like birds in flight, or cars driving past. If you use a fast shutter speed while taking pictures of water, each droplet will hang in the air completely sharp, which might not even be visible to our own eyes.

Below image is an example of fast shutter speed:

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Relation Between Shutter Speed And Exposure

As metioned above, there are many effects of shutter speed such as motion blur and freeze motion. In this section of Chapter 2 we will take a look at one of the most important effect of shutter speed, which is exposure.

Shutter speed is one of the three fundamental camera settings which controls the overall exposure of your image/photograph. The other two being Aperture (Chapter 3) and ISO (Chapter 4).

The longer your shutter speed is, your camera is exposed to light for a long amount of time which means the longer or slower shutter speed is, more light is coming into the camera’s digital sensor and results in high exposure. In simple words, the longer or slower shutter speed is the brighter the image/photograph will be. Below image is an example of slow shutter speed.

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The faster your shutter speed is, your camera is exposed to light for a small amount of time which means the faster your shutter speed is, less light is coming into the camera’s digital sensor and results in low exposure. In simple words, the faster your shutter speed is the image/photograph will be dark. Below image is an example of fast shutter speed.

Now that you know the relation between sutter speed and exposure and how it effects your overall exposure of your image/photograph. Now it is time to take a look at the next topic of chapter 2.

How Is Shutter Speed Measured?

As you can see in the image example’s I have mentioned above some number like 1″, 1/2000, 1/60, 1/1250. Now what does that actually means? The answer for it is, it is the measurement of the shutter speed.

Shutter speeds are measured in seconds, or fractions of a second. For example, a shutter speed of 1/100 means 1/100th of a second, or 0.01 seconds. This is also known as the “exposure time”, because it’s the amount of time the sensor is exposed to light. Here’s another example, 1/4 means a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means one-two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second (or four milliseconds). 1″ marks 1 second.

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Most cameras offer a wide range of shutter speeds, starting at just a few thousandths of a second and going up to several seconds. SLRs also have a “Bulb” mode where you can hold the shutter open for as long as you want.

Modern DSLR’s and mirrorless camera’s can handle shutter speeds of up to 1/4000th of a second, while some can handle much quicker speeds of 1/8000th of a second and faster. On the other hand, the longest available shutter speed on most DSLRs or mirrorless cameras is typically 30 seconds. As mentioned above in bulb mode some might even go as slow as whole 1 minute and some might go even slower than that.

Bottom line is that your camera will determine how fast or how slow you can go with your shutter speed.

Fast, Slow And Long Shutter Speed

A fast shutter speed is typically whatever it takes to freeze action. If you are photographing birds, that may be 1/1000th second or faster. However, for general photography of slower-moving subjects, you might be able to take pictures at 1/200th second, 1/100th second, or even longer without introducing motion blur.

Long shutter speeds are typically above 1 second – at which point, you will need to use a tripod to get sharp images. You would use long shutter speeds for certain types of low-light / night photography, or to capture movement intentionally. If anything in your scene is moving when you use long shutter speeds, it will appear very blurry.

In between, shutter speeds from 1/100th second to 1 second are still considered relatively slow. You may not be able to handle them without introducing camera shake from your hands, especially close to the one-second mark.

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How to set Shutter Speed?

Most cameras handle shutter speeds automatically by default. When the camera is set to “Auto” mode, the shutter speed is selected by the camera without your input (and so are aperture and ISO). However, you can still set the shutter speed manually if necessary by the following methods:

  1. By setting the camera to “Shutter Priority” mode, you choose the shutter speed, and the camera automatically selects the aperture.
  2. By setting the camera to “Manual” mode, you choose both shutter speed and aperture manually.

Within both of these modes, you can choose to set ISO manually or automatically.

My recommendation to a beginner photographer would be to start by auto mode and let the camera decide the shutter speed but keep and eye on that the camera is not introducing motion blur if you don’t want it and vice versa keep an eye on that camera is not introducing freeze motion when you don’t want it. If it happens do it manually yourself but in most cases camera’s do a decent job.

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Where To Find Shutter Speed?

Now that you know how to set a shutter speed and how different shutter speeds effects your image, let’s see how to find shutter speed. How to know at what shutter speed is your camera capturing images?

Well, the answer for that question is, It is typically very easy to find it. On cameras that have a top panel, the shutter speed is typically located on the top left corner. If your camera does not have a top LCD, like some entry-level DSLRs, you can look through the viewfinder, where you will see the shutter speed on the bottom-left side. And if your camera has neither a top LCD nor a viewfinder, like many mirrorless cameras, you can see your shutter speed simply by looking on the back screen.

On most cameras, the shutter speed will not show up directly as a fraction of a second – it will typically be a regular number. When the shutter speed is longer than or equal to one second, you will see something like 1” or 5” (with the quotation sign to indicate a full second).

If you still cannot find the shutter speed, set your camera to “Aperture Priority” mode, and make sure that you have turned “AUTO ISO” off. Then, start pointing around your camera from dark to bright areas. The number that changes will be your shutter speed.

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What Is The Best Shutter Speed?

This is one of the most frequently asked question and I will be honest and blunt to you that there is no such thing as the best shutter speed. It just depends on what you are trying to take a photograph of and totally depends on the situtaion.

Don’t worry this section is not just to disappoint you. Here, I will give you examples of most common used shutter speed used for certain things. So, lets get started.

Shutter speed between 1/4000 or above is common for freezing fast movements, this will freeze of things like high speed trains, shutter speeds between 1/1000 to 1/2000 is common for freezing movements of things like flying birds, sports and quickly moving people, cars and motorcycle, etc.

Example: Panning Shot of Cyclist.

Shutter speed around 1/250 is usually common for portraits and slow moving objects and people. Shutter speed around 1/150 is common for general wildlife, especially slow moving animals. Shutter speed around 1/125 is common for general landscape and panning cyclists, automobile, etc.

Example: Astrophotography

Shutter speed around 1/15 is common for panning running athletes and animals and shutter speed between 1/8 to 5+ seconds is common for blurring waterfalls, rivers and panning people. Shutter speed around 20+ seconds is common for astrophotography and shutter speed around 10+ minutes is common for start trails.

Remember again, this will not work all the time as I mentioned above there is not such thing as best shutter speed.

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Relation Between Shutter Speed And Lens Focal Length

Something to keep in mind when choosing your shutter speed is that the longer your shutter is open, the better the chances of camera shake blurring your photos. This is especially true when shooting with a longer lens.

As a rule of thumb, your shutter speed should not exceed your lens focal length when you are shooting handheld. For example, if you are shooting with a 200mm lens, your shutter speed should be 1/200th of a second or faster to produce a sharp image.

If your shutter speed will be slower than the length of your lens, it may be time to break out the tripod. Image stabilization in your camera or lens may also help negate some of this shake.

Summary Of Chapter 2: Shutter Speed

Learning to select the proper shutter speed may seem like a daunting task. Once you understand how shutter speeds impact images, it is a powerful tool. Get out of your camera’s automatic modes and experience more creative control.

This is the end of Chapter 2:What Is Shutter Speed? of the Free Online Photography Course – The Ultimate Beginner Photography Guide. Click here if you missed the Chapter 1: Introduction To Photography or if you want to revisit it. Stay tuned for more upcoming chapters of this free online course.

Before you go here are some Self Assesment Questions (SAQ’s) for you:

Self Assesment Questions (SAQ’s)

  1. What is Shutter Speed?
  2. How to achieve motion blur in an image?
  3. How to freeze motion in an image?
  4. How is exposure effected by the shutter speed?
  5. How to set Shutter Speed?
  6. How is Shutter Speed measured?

This is it for this post. Thank You! for visiting The Black Light Studios, I hope you find this article helpful to you and got the information you were looking for. Stay tuned for more posts like these by subscribing to The Black Light Studios website. If you have any suggestion or feedback comment down below or contact us through the contact form via contact menu.

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