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Photography 101: Introduction to shutter speed

In one of our previous posts, we had given an introduction to aperture in digital photography. In this article, I shall explain what is shutter speed and its significance in digital photography.

Read: Introduction to Aperture

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is basically the amount of time a camera’s sensor is exposed to light.  So it controls the light coming into the camera. Apart from aperture and ISO, it forms an important element which is required to make a good exposure. This how shutter speed works with aperture in getting a good exposure — it controls the amount of time the camera’s sensor is exposed to a particular volume of light (determined by aperture)

tram in motion blur

Photo Credits: Grant Brummett via Flickr


How it is measured?

Since shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is left open, it is measured in seconds/or fraction of seconds. Ex. 30 sec, 2 sec, 1/250sec, 1/4000sec. Different camera models offer different shutter speeds. Some point and shoot cameras offer 30sec as the slowest shutterspeed, but DSLR  cameras has a feature called the ‘BLUB’ mode. In blub mode, one can leave the shutter open as long as they want — from seconds to hours.

What type of shutterspeed one should use?

There is no straight answer to this question. As I mentioned before, there are various shutter speeds available on your camera — from 30sec to 1/8000s. Like in aperture, changing shutter speed in 1 stop halves or doubles the amount of time the sensor is exposed to light.

1/250s, 1/200s, 1/160s, 1/125s, 1/100s, 1/80s, 1/60s — The numbers in red color are the basic stops and the numbers in between are one third stops.

However, the choice of shutter speed depends certain situations viz

  a.Moving or still subject

If you are shooting a moving subject and you want to freeze its motion, then you should choose a faster shutterspeed. Faster the subject’s movement, faster the shutterspeed should be inorder to freeze its motion.

b.Using a longer focal length lens

If you are using a longer focal length lens, you would have to select appropriate shutterspeed to reduce blur.

Read: 14 tips to prevent blurry photos

  c.Low light situation

In low light situations, you have to use a low shutter speeds (1/5s, 1/2s, 3s, 15s etc) to expose the sensor for a longer time.

3 bikers on the sky

Photo Credits: Amar Alothman/Flickr

What is its significance?

Shutterspeed, along with aperture and ISO, determines the exposure. Apart from that, it’s one of the creative tools in photography.  You can use it to convey motion, freeze action (the above picture), give flowing water a smooth and silky appearance, shoot star trails, capture fireworks, light painting  etc. There is a lot to talk about ‘How to use shutterspeed?’ So, we shall be addressing that question in one of our future posts. Below are some examples of the creative use of shutterspeed.

Fireworks in america

Photo Credits: Moniza* /Flickr

Long shutter speed water

Photo Credits: Yury Prokopenko/Flickr

Light painting  photo

Photo Credits: H Matthew Howarth/Flickr

Star trails and light house

Photo Credits: Yury Prokopenko/Flickr




Vidhu S

Vidhu S

Editor/co-founder at Shutterstoppers
Vidhu is an enthusiastic photographer from Kerala, India. His desire to share his knowledge and experience on photography was the motivation for creating Shutterstoppers. His dream is to provide a platform for people all around the world to exchange ideas and information on everything related to photography. In addition to photography, he also has a keen interest in traveling, philately and science.
Vidhu S
Vidhu S
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  1. 13 tips to improve your photography - ShutterStoppers | Digital Photography Tips and Tutorials says:

    […] basics straight: Learn different technical aspects of photography — aperture, exposure, ISO, shutter speed etc. Learn composition (the placing of the subject within the frame), post production, lighting […]

  2. […] equipment where focusing will be very slow and you may need to increase your ISO to get a decent shutter speed to capture any kind of action. Fortunately, with the improving digital camera technology, dealing […]

  3. […] basics straight: Learn different technical aspects of photography — aperture, exposure, ISO, shutter speed etc. Learn composition (the placing of the subject within the frame), post production, lighting […]

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