Photography basics: Understanding shutter speed

30 November 2016

Photography basics: Understanding shutter speed

Shutter speed is one of the three pillars of photography, the others being aperture and ISO. These three make up the basics to be able to use your camera out of auto mode and be a lot more flexible with your photography, so understanding them is key to taking your photos to the next level.

As simply as possible, shutter speed is how long the camera sensor is exposed to light, or how long the light blocking shutter is open for.


How do we control shutter speed?

Shutter speed is controlled and measured in seconds but in most cases fractions of seconds. Shutter speeds vary greatly for example 1/2000s is a lot faster than 1/30s and each would be used for different purposes.

In most cases you will be using a shutter speed of 1/80 of a second and faster, this is mainly due to the fact that speeds below this will usually require a tripod or you will end up with a blurry picture.

Some cameras allow you to use extremely long shutter speeds like 10, 20 or even 30 seconds. This would be used in very low light situations or if you are trying to get a special effect in your picture with a lot of movement.


What is shutter speed used for?

Shutter speed is used to control the amount of movement in your photo and also the amount of light. Here is what different shutter speeds effect:

  • Extremely fast shutter speeds (something like 1/1000s and faster) would be used to freeze all movement in a scene, but this can only be done in brighter lighting conditions due to the fact that the camera sensor is only exposed to light for a very short amount of time.
  • Extremely slow shutter speeds (something like 1s and slower) would be used to add a lot of movement into a picture, but this can only be done in darker lighting conditions otherwise your image will come out overexposed and bright.

Another thing to consider when choosing a shutter speed is the focal length (or zoom) you have your lens set at - If the focal length is higher this will accentuate any movement and vibrations so you will need a higher shutter speed to combat this.


So that's shutter speed, it is probably one of the easiest of the three pillars to understand but it plays a very big part in getting the photo you want.

Go and have a play with the shutter speed setting on your camera to see how it affects your photographs.

Learn photography

Jordan Mann

About the author

Jordan is the owner and founder of Uncoated Website Design. He has a background in marketing for nationwide businesses and startups. Uncoated create uniquely beautiful yet functional websites for creative businesses.

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