Life & Work Skills

Photography 101: Shutter Speed


Shutter speed is the amount of time that your shutter is open for. When looking at your camera your shutter speed is written as 1/(a number). This means that your shutter is open for 1/(whatever the #) of a second. With people and especially children, try not to go any slower than 1/125 (and that is on the low side). This will help to prevent a blurry picture. Sometimes 1/125 is not fast enough and you still get some movement in your photo but it is a good rule of thumb. If shutter speed gets too slow (such as 1/40) then “camera shake” may affect the sharpness of your photo. You shake your camera whether you mean to or not, which is why you want to keep your shutter speed as high as possible. Camera shake happens to compensate for natural movement.

The lower the bottom number the more light will come in because your shutter is open longer. The higher the bottom number means less light will be coming in because it is open for less time. If you are in a low lighting situation and you are taking a picture of something stationary, you can lower your shutter speed to something crazy (such as 1/20) but just make sure you use a tripod. Shutter speed gives you the control of less or more light and blurry or sharp images. Shutter speeds are usually listed on your camera as fractions or real numbers. Such as: 1/600 is a fast shutter speed where as 1 or 1/10 is a lot slower. Some common shutter speeds are 1/1000 s, 1/500 s, 1/250 s, 1/125s, 1/60 s, 1/30 s, 1/15 s, 1/8 s, 1/4 s, 1/2 s, 1 s.

This is common for weddings where you can’t use flash and you are in a dark church or if you are trying to shoot without a flash at night. Bring a tripod, crank up your iso to a good limit, have your aperture as low as possible, slow your shutter-speed, and place the camera on a tripod. This will allow you to get the image without having to use flash. Typically the newer and more expensive the camera, the more capabilities that you will have with playing with all these different components.

This image was photographed at 1/4000sec. It was about an hour to sunset so the light was nice and soft. To achieve the look I was going for I shot at f1.8—I had to have a high shutter speed to counter balance.

This image was photographed at 1/640sec with a 50mm f1.2 lens. This photo was taken at f 2.0 and it was shoot in the middle of the afternoon with full sun. In order to get the look I wanted I placed the flowers in the shade to avoid hot spots. My shutter-speed for this image was 1/640 sec. 


This was shot as the sun was setting so I used the sun as a backlight—and used the light to help frame the image. Because I was directly into the sun (although it was soft) I used f2.0 with a shutter speed of 1/800 sec.

This image does a great job of showing what shutter speed is all about. This image was at night and the camera was placed on a tripod. It was shot with a shutter speed of 1.3 seconds—it was a long exposure. While the couple drew a heart with their sparklers the shutter was open, which is how I could capture the movement in an image with a slow shutter speed.

Remember, lower shutter speed equals more light, but your subject might be blurry if you go to slow. Higher shutter speed equals less light but possibly a sharper subject because it freezes the frame faster.

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