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Understanding Shutter Speed

Updated: Feb 14, 2023

Shutter Speed

Understanding shutter speed is important because it is involved in achieving proper brightness and proper exposure. Also, an incorrect shutter speed can lead to motion blur and lack of sharp images.

What Is a Shutter?

A camera shutter is the part of a mirrorless camera (also DSLR camera) which covers the digital sensor. The camera shutter opens and closes in order to be exposed to a certain amount of light.

Camera manufacturers have shifted towards making mirrorless cameras. These digital cameras have mechanical shutters and also electronic shutters. Mirrorless cameras can capture more images per second compared to DSRL cameras.

A mechanical shutter is the actual physical part that opens and closes. A long shutter speed means that the mechanical shutter takes longer to open and close. Adjusting the shutter speed settings to a faster shutter speed means that the mechanical shutter takes less time to open and close.

What Is Shutter Speed?

shutter speed

Shutter speed in photography is the amount of time in which the camera sensor gathers light information. In other words, a camera's shutter speed refers to the amount of time in which the camera sensor is exposed to light. Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of a second.

The longer the exposure time (slower shutter speed), the brighter the photograph (more light). The shorter the exposure time (faster shutter speed), the darker the photograph (less light). In other words, when the camera shutter is open for a long amount of time, more light is let in. When the shutter is open for a short amount of time, less light is let in. Halving the shutter speed will allow half as much light in. Doubling shutter speed will double the amount of light let in.

Manual mode and shutter priority mode are two modes which allow you to have full control over shutter speed in photography. Manual mode allows full control over shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. Shutter priority mode allows full control over just shutter speed and ISO, while the camera automatically sets the aperture in order to achieve a proper exposure. Adjusting the shutter speed dial will adjust shutter speed in these two modes.

Best Shutter Speed for Different Situations

shutter speed

There is no one best shutter speed in photography, but there is a right shutter speed for certain situations.

For example, in order to freeze motion of fast moving subjects, faster shutter speeds need to be used. Remember the following: fast shutter speeds freeze motion.

In order to capture fast moving sports action, such as a race car for example, adjust your camera settings for shutter speed manually to around 1/2000th. This is a quick shutter speed that will freeze motion.

Also, the faster the shutter speed, the less you need to worry about camera shake. If you were to use a slow shutter speed, as opposed to a fast shutter speed, then camera shake becomes more of an issue. At slower shutter speeds, motion blur can be caused by camera shake. If using long shutter speeds, a tripod can be very beneficial for reducing motion blur.

Capture Motion

shutter speed

It is possible to creatively capture an image to capture motion by intentionally blurring the background. If there are moving objects, setting shutter speed to a slow shutter speed and panning the camera with the moving object can create a sharp subject with a blurred background. This creates the look of motion in a photograph.

Shutter Speed Rule

shutter speed

There is a general rule of thumb which states that the shutter speed in photography should be at least 1/(focal length used) in order to avoid hand shake motion blur. A shutter speed chart can be found online which display these different shutter speed values for different focal lengths. For example, a higher shutter speed should be used with longer focal lengths, and a slower shutter speed may be used with shorter focal lengths.

Slow Shutter Speed Photography

shutter speed

Slow shutter speeds are required for certain types of photography, such as astrophotography. Long exposures are needed in order to photograph the stars in the sky at night. A slow shutter speed is required in these dark situations in order to allow the camera sensor to capture enough light.


Different shutter speeds can be used to achieve creative results. Playing around with different shutter speeds when photographing can achieve unique and creative images. Try using the fastest shutter speed to completely freeze motion in an image. Change shutter speed to the slowest shutter speed in order to achieve a creative motion blur in an image. Understanding shutter speed in photography is an essential component of being a photographer.

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