Shutter Speed


The shutter speed of the camera indicates how long the shutter remains open to let the light through to the film or the digital sensor.

The number series for shutter speed in seconds are as follows:

30, 15, 8, 4, 2, 1, 2, 4, 8, 15, 30, 60, 125, 250, 500, 1000, 2000, 4000, 8000, 16000

In the above series, the numbers to the left of 1 second are whole seconds and to the right of 1 second are in fractions of a second.  They are not expressed on your shutter speed dial as fractions because of space limitations but they are in reality fractions as follows:

30, 15, 8, 4, 2, 1, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, 1/2000, 1/4000 ,1/8000,

Again, each number moving to the right in the table is half the value of the preceding number, and represents half as much light getting to the film or sensor as the previous number, which is the equivalent of one stop of light.

Slower shutter speeds will give a more blurred image and faster shutter speeds will help eliminate camera shake. A good rule to reduce camera shake is to use a shutter speed faster than the focal length of the lens in use.  For example with a 100mm lens use a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second or shorter.

Most cameras limit the slowest shutter speed to around 30 seconds, however remote control units are available to extend the range of shutter speeds beyond 30 seconds. For Nikon cameras one of the best remotes is the Nikon Remote Cord MC-36.

Some high level cameras may give a shutter speed range higher and lower than those indicated above.

Sometimes you may want to deliberately cause blur in images.  In capturing subjects such as waterfalls or flowing rivers it can sometimes enhance the image by using a slow shutter speed to cause the flowing water to have a velvet type look.  A neutral density (ND) filter over the lens can assist greatly to use long shutter speeds and cause this blur effect.  I have managed to create some very interesting effects using slow shutter speeds and ND filters.

When using longer lenses greater than 100mm fast shutter speeds are desired to help freeze the action, this is where high ISO capable cameras are great to give more capability to use higher shutter speeds.

The current day cameras have far greater capability and flexibility to provide more options in relation to giving photographers greater access to a wider range of shutter speeds.

So start being creative and try some long exposure images.  Bear in mind that when using long shutter speeds and ND filters you will need to use a tripod and a remote release to help stabilise the camera.

All of the following points below will sum up most aspects of the use of shutter speed with you camera:

  • The Shutter speed is the length of time the camera shutter is open, thus exposing light onto the camera sensor.
  • Shutter speed has important effects on how your images will appear after the shutter operates.
  • The effect of a long shutter speed is that it can cause motion blur, both blur of the subject moving and possible blur if the camera may move during the exposure.
  • The Moving wheels of motor vehicles may be purposefully blurred to indicate a vehicle at speed.
  • Slow shutter speeds can also be used to photograph the Milky Way or other objects at night in dull light using a tripod.
  • Landscape photographers may intentionally use long shutter speeds to create a sense of motion on rivers and waterfalls while keeping everything else extremely sharp.
  • Shutter speed is also used to freeze motion.  If you use an especially fast shutter speed, you can eliminate motion from the fastest moving objects.  I regularly photograph birds and birds in flight, fast movement freezing shutter speeds are required to freeze the images of these fast moving birds.
  • If you take fast shutter speed images when raining the water droplets will appear frozen in time.
  • Shutter Speed has an important effect on the image exposure, which relates to the brightness of an image.  Fast shutter speeds generally require wider apertures to let more light to the sensor.  If you use a long shutter speed, your camera sensor gathers a lot of light, and the resulting photo will be quite bright.  By using a quick shutter speed, your camera sensor is only exposed to a small fraction of light, resulting in a darker photo.
  • Shutter speed is not the only variable that affects the brightness of an image.  There are also Aperture and ISO, along with the actual brightness of the scene.  You do have some flexibility when you’re deciding on a shutter speed, but you need to pick all your camera settings carefully.
  • Shutter speed can be a vital tool to capture a photo with the correct brightness.  On a sunny day, you may need to use a fast shutter speed so that your photo isn’t overexposed.  If it is dark, a long shutter speed may be necessary to avoid a photo that is too dark (which, in turn, could require a tripod, due to motion blur from hand holding the camera).  For many people, this is the main reason to adjust the shutter speed to make sure your photos appear to be correctly exposed. 
  • A fast shutter speed is typically whatever it takes to freeze the action. If you are photographing birds, that may be 1/1000th second or more.  However, for general photography of slower moving subjects, you might be able to take pictures at around 1/200th second, or even longer without introducing motion blur.
  • Long shutter speeds are typically above 1 second, here 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 and you may need a tripod.
  • Some of the more recent lenses have image stabilization or vibration reduction technologies within the lens which do help to reduce the effect of any camera movement or vibration.
  • Most cameras will handle shutter speeds automatically.  When the camera is set to “Auto” mode, the shutter speed is selected by the camera without your input as are the aperture and ISO.  However, you can override the camera control if required.
    • By setting the camera to “Aperture Priority’ mode you choose the aperture and the camera automatically selects the shutter speed.
    • By setting the camera to “Shutter Priority” mode, you choose the shutter speed, and the camera automatically selects the aperture.
    • By setting the camera to “Manual” mode, you choose both shutter speed and aperture manually.
    • Within all of these modes, you can choose to set the ISO manually or automatically.  I do use my camera very often with the Auto ISO setting to on.
  • The main modes to beware of in setting your camera are as follows:
    • Shutter Priority,
    • Aperture Priotity,
    • Manual,
    • Auto ISO.

See more information on shutter speed selection;