Beginners Guide to Shutter Speed in Photography

Essential Guide to Shutter Speed in Photography

Shutter speed is one of the fundamental concepts in photography that a beginner photographer must learn. Proper knowledge about shutter speed is not only helpful in capturing crispy and sharp images but it also lets you get more creative than ever.

Irrespective of your level of photography, you will always have something new when it comes to knowing the shutter speed better. Here we are with a guide to shutter speed in order to enhance your skills further. Let us get started with a basic definition first.

What is shutter speed and how does it impact the quality of photos?

Shutter speed is basically the duration of time for which the shutter behind the camera lens is open whenever you take a shot. You have to set the time duration for which the shutter will be open.

After that, the shutter will open for that predetermined duration of time whenever you push the shoot button. Different shutter speeds have their specialty and utilities. Making the right use of them depends a lot on your style of photography. The mechanism of the shutter is quite simple.

The longer it remains open, the more light will enter the lens and fall on the sensor. Usually, the shutter speed is measured in terms of the fraction of a second. These are a few common shutter speeds that are used the most:

  • 1/125s
  • 1/250s
  • 1/500s
  • 1/1000s
  • 1/1600s, etc.

The impact of shutter speed on photography

Let us take this guide to shutter speed further and discuss the ways in which affects photos. Though there is a large number of ways it impacts photos but we will discuss the major ones. Broadly speaking, shutter speed does that in two ways i.e.

  • Alters the exposure the photo
  • Increases/decreases sharpness of the image

Let us discuss the way shutter speed controls these parameters.

How shutter speed increases/decreases exposure?

When the shutter of your camera is open for quite a long duration of time, more light enters the lens and falls on the sensor. This situation increases the overall exposure of the image, and is often called long exposure photography.

The exposure of the image decreases when you do otherwise with shutter speed. Suppose you capture the image of the same subject at 1/1000s and 1/125s, the later image would be brighter. Since the photographers are highly concerned about the exposure of the image, you need to adjust shutter speed based on the surroundings.

Taking care of the shutter speed based on the availability of light outside is highly preferred. Due to such an impact on exposure, shutter speed is one of the three exposure variables in photography.

The way shutter speed impacts the sharpness of the image

This is quite a simple concept. Images are crisper with fast shutter speeds and you can create blur motion with slow shutter speeds.

So, setting the shutter speed based on the speed of motion of the subject plays a role in making the image crisp or blurry. If you are more into action photography, you might need to pay extra attention to this concept.

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How to control the shutter speed in your camera?

Altering the shutter speed in your camera depends on two things. The first one is the model of camera you are using (which is not much important) and the second is the mode in which you are currently using that camera.

Talking of the camera brand/model, adjusting shutter speed is done with the help of a dial-in in most cases. But your control over adjusting shutter speed differs a lot based on the mode you are shooting in. Let us have a look at it closely.

In AUTO mode, the adjustments for shutter speed will be done by the camera itself. The camera will be able to make changes in the shutter speed based on the inputs from the surroundings. In this mode, you will have absolutely no control over the shutter speed. So, there is no need for any guide to shutter speed if you use the camera in AUTO mode most of the time.

There is a mode called APERTURE PRIORITY MODE. In this mode, you will be able to change the Aperture as per the surrounding. And the camera will take care of shutter speed for optimum exposure.

On the other hand, the SHUTTER PRIORITY MODE lets your control shutter speed completely while leaving the control of aperture to the camera. But those who shoot photos in MANUAL MODE will have full control over all the features of the camera.

They may use the dial to select the shutter speed and then play around with other settings to decide the right aperture and ISO.

At this point in time, no guide to shutter speed can tell you which model is the best. Two skills matter the most for photographers. First, they should be able to study the surroundings perfectly. If they fail to do so, they will be unable to use every feature of the camera the right way.

And the second most important thing is their knowledge about every feature of the camera and its impact on the quality of the photo. Once you have mastered these two, you will always be able to choose the perfect model based on the surroundings.

Long exposure in shutter speed

Step by step guide to select the perfect shutter speed

Now that you are done with the essentials, it is time to take a look at the way to set your shutter speed perfectly. This is not much of a complicated process, all you need is to focus on some important factors.

Find the minimum shutter speed required for a sharp shot

First, you need to make sure you have captured the image with its full sharpness. Sharpness is what brings detail to the image you are capturing. The minimum required shutter speed, in this case, depends on some factors.

Check if anything in the frame is moving. If it is moving, you need to have some ideas about speed because that’s what decides the right shutter speed. Here is a quick guide to shutter speed in this case.

  • Flying birds – 1/2000s
  • People walking casually – 1/250s
  • Running animals/ people – 1/500s
  • Cars passing by – 1/1000s
  • Usual movement of water/ flowing water, etc. – 1/125s

How much should you increase it for better exposure?

Now you know the threshold, you can’t go below that. You are nearly done with the sharpness of the image. It is time to focus on exposure. Have a look through the viewfinder to know whether the image is overexposed.

If it is true, increase the shutter speed until you get the perfect exposure.

Final thoughts on shutter speed

This guide to shutter speed has already told you much. One thing you have to make sure of is that you should not decrease the shutter speed further if the image is underexposed.

In that case, you can alter the aperture of the camera for better exposure. You can also play around with ISO to get the level of exposure you want. All you should know here is that decreasing the shutter speed further will affect the sharpness of the image.

About the Author

Emma Taylor is an Australian blogger and photographer, who lives in Melbourne with her two cats, where she frequents live theatre and wine bars.