Understanding Shutter speed

Author: Gaurav Birla August 26, 2010 No Comments

Shutter speed plays a very important role in defining your photographs. You can either choose to capture the motion or keep the frame frozen as per your wish and all it this is possible with the help of shutter speed controls available on your camera.

A very simple definition of shutter speed is: The effective length of time the shutter is open. In other words, the duration for which the camera sensor (in case of digital) or the film (in cameras that use photographic film) is exposed to light coming through the lens is the shutter speed. So obviously the shutter speed is measured in seconds. Faster shutter speeds can capture a very small fraction of time so that every subject appears to be completely still and sharp. On the other hand slow shutter speeds can create motion blur which depending on the requirement can be good or bad for the picture.



This image shows the same object moving at the exact same speed but captured by the camera at different shutter speeds. The image on the left is taken with a fast shutter speed which has frozen the movement. The image on the rightis captured with a very slow shutter speed which introduces a huge amount of motion blur and gives the surreal feeling to the image. The centre image however has been taken with an intermediate shutter speedso it displays little bit of motion blur and also maintains the appearance of the fan blades.

The common shutter speeds available in increment of double of half of previous. That makes it easier for calculating correct exposure. In photography, the term one “f-stop” or just “stop” is used to determine the change in the shutter speed. “Stop up” means doubling the shutter speed, and “stop down” means the shutter speed has been slowed to half.  There is also a setting which lets the photographer take the full control of the shutter speed as the shutter not only opens when the photographer wishes, it also closes only when photographer decides to do so. This is usually called the bulb. Common shutter speeds are as follows.

Higher shutter speeds also help you in compensating for camera shake. When using longer lenses or the lenses with large magnification the slightest movement while holding a camera will be multiplied and affects the output of your photographs. Usually this is compensated for by using tripods. Using tripods may not be practical or applicable in certain conditions. At these times switching to higher shutter speeds gives you better photographs because it reduces the chances of registering a blurred image. Even with extreme close-ups photography or macro photography same problem arises and can be compensated with high shutter speeds.

Let’s discuss shutter speed in little more detail. We will talk about individually what these shutter speeds can be used for and why.

1/4000 seconds


This is one of the fastest shutter speed are available in the entry level dSLRs. This particular shutter speed is so fast that it can freeze almost any moving object in its path, whether it is a running athlete, raindrops splashing on the floor, a flag fluttering in the wind or just a fast moving vehicle. Since the shutter speed is very fast, there is very little time for the light to pass through the lens. That requires one very important condition that the light falling on the subject should be very bright. That means we need to have a very bright sunny day or to have very bright artificial lights whenever we are shooting. So that means this particular shutter speed can be used on a very sunny day, with very high ISO settings. shutter speed used to capture these two images is actually much higher. Shutter speeds which are used for freezing the action which is extremely fast such as a bullet shooting through an egg, as shown in the first image and the explosion of a balloon filled with color in the second image can generally be not achieved in a basic camera.

High-Speed-Photography-05 The aperture setting also in this case should be such that it allows maximum light to pass to it. Usually a lens with very wide aperture is used with this particular shutter speed. This particular speed is enough for most of the users, although high shutter speeds like 1/8000 also available on high-end dSLRs. Those high shutter speeds may be required by photographers who are into shooting very fast action sports such as car racing. But even these speeds are not fast enough to photograph a speeding bullet.


1/2000 seconds.

4332890883 1f25108252This is one of the most favorite shutter speeds of lot of sports photographers. That is because this is optimally fast shutter speed, which allows enough light to enter the camera still allowing some choice in aperture settings. Very high ISO settings are usually not required except in case of cloudy days. This is a very good shutter speed to be used on a bright sunny day in shooting sports photographs. Another advantage of the shutter speed is taking hand held photographs using long telephoto lenses. Since the shutter speed is fast, in this particular case, the handshake problem is almost eliminated. This shutter speed also allows you to take photograph with selective focus by using a wider aperture. But this is only limited to very bright light situations.

1/1000 second.

11112850-lgThis particular shutter speed was the fastest shutter speed available during 1936 Summer Olympics. It could stop a racing horse in its track. This is a wooden of speed for shooting school sports like cricket basketball football and of course it allows use of selective focus, because of a lot more possibilities in aperture settings.

1/500 second.

4278801-mdAround the year 1960 this particular shutter speed was common in a lot of cameras. While taking photographs of children, this shutter speed is good enough, but still it is not fast enough to take photographs of an Olympic athlete. This is a good shutter speed to choose when you want to show motion blur in fast moving object. This shutter speed will keep most of those things in sharp focus and allow motion blur only one very fast moving object.

1/250 second

172719This particular shutter speed is one of the most commonly used shutter speed. Although it is not able to freeze most of the fast moving objects, but this is a good speed, when you want to take picture in bright light. This is a good shutter speed to take family photographs on a picnic or to take photographs of buildings and this can be used to create Pan Blur. Use it on fast objects when you want them to leave behind motion traits. This can also be used while using long telephoto lenses to reduce or eliminate the handshake problem.

1/125 second

This is another shutter speed that can be used on both sunny and cloudy days although the effect of this particular shutter speed is not different from 1/250 second. This is a good speed to take photographs of landscapes and buildings and other stationary objects which are not in a very bright light. This particular shutter speed allows you to use low ISO settings so that you can get very smooth pictures and eliminate noise.

1/60 second

123640339 69c535f1dcWhen you are using the shutter speed it is most likely that the sun has already set or you are in an environment where there is not sufficient light. Again this particular shutter speed can be used to take photographs of stationary objects present in a low light condition. This particular shutter speed can be used creatively to purposely introduce some blur. The sunset photographs in this particular shutter speed usually come out great.

1/30 second

This particular shutter speed and anything below this counted under the slow shutter speed. Slow shutter speeds can be used to take photographs of stationary object or to creatively introduce different kinds of blur.

1/8 second to 1 second

Shutter speed waterfallThese are the shutter speeds at which all the moving objects that are slow or fast will be blurred. The use of these shutter speeds is very much limited. These are used to take photographs of stationary objects and environments when there is very less light present. And other use of these shutter speeds is to create motion blur and to take amazing photographs which have light trails, motion blur and other creative effects.

1 second and slower

800px-M3 at Night 1The use of such slow shutter speeds is usually during night time or in the environment where there is very less amount of light present. Some examples of such cases would be inside a cave, your room during night time when all the lights are switched off and only the illumination from the street light illuminates your room. 800px-Wave Swinger 0

These particular shutter speeds are also used to create special effects which are called painting with lights or light painting.

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