What is shutter speed? It’s one of the three most important settings to understand in the world of photography. Shutter speed is just as important as aperture and ISO. But just what does shutter speed do and how does it affect your photographs?
Shutter speed is responsible for changing how bright your photo is and for creating different dramatic effects by blurring motion or freezing action. Shutter speed has to do with the actual shutter on your camera. Think of it like a curtain that stays closed over the sensor of your camera until you take a picture.
Once you take a picture, the curtain opens and the sensor is fully exposed to the light passing through your camera lens. The shutter will close immediately once the sensor has collected sufficient light. This is how taking pictures works. It’s also the reason why you leave the shutter open for longer at night and close the shutter faster when it’s bright outside.
As a side note, it’s also important to note that the button you push to take the picture is also called the shutter button. This is because it triggers the shutter and tells it when to open and when to close.
What is Shutter Speed?
Shutter speed is the length of time for which your camera shutter remains open while exposing the camera sensor to light. In other words, the shutter speed is the length of time your camera spends to take a photograph.
What is Slow Shutter Speed?
You might be wondering why you should change the shutter speed at all. By manipulating your shutter speed, you can practice many different types of photography. For example, if you have an extremely slow shutter speed, this means that you will expose your sensor for a prolonged period while taking a photograph, and this creates a motion blur effect.
Because your sensor is exposed to light for so long, anything that’s moving while your camera is taking the picture gets blurred in the final photograph. The blurring will always happen in the direction of the motion. Slow shutter speed is a fun technique for things like moving water or moving clouds.
You may also use slow shutter speed when photographing the night sky or the Milky Way. This is often done using a tripod to negate any potential shaking in the camera. A slower shutter speed can capture more light over a longer period, and thus make pictures of space appear far more vibrant.
What is Fast Shutter Speed?
Changing the shutter speed from slow to fast makes a huge difference in what your photos look like. A faster shutter speed freezes motion instead of blurring it. Lightning-quick shutter speed essentially stops time. You can freeze a hummingbird, a sports car, or anything else that’s moving fast, thus creating a beautiful still image.
With faster shutter speeds, you can catch every droplet of water hanging in mid-air. You can also see tiny details that you wouldn’t ordinarily see with your naked eye.
How Do I Measure Shutter Speed?
The shutter on your camera opens and closes so fast that the actual speed is measured in tiny fractions of a second. Most normal DSLR cameras can handle a shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second. Other, higher-end models of DSLR can handle speeds of up to 1/8000th of a second, which is absolutely insane. These fractions are so fast that your eyes could never catch anything moving that quickly.
Of course, there are different shutter speeds for different things. On most DSLR and mirrorless cameras, the longest shutter speed is going to be 30 seconds. If you’re planning on taking a long exposure photograph with the shutter open for 30 seconds and up, you likely need to set the shutter speed manually using external remote triggers.
How Does Shutter Speed Change Image Brightness?
Shutter speed changes the exposure of your photograph, which essentially means the brightness of your picture. Because the shutter speed determines how much light is gathered by your camera sensor, the result can be either very dark or very bright.
For example, when you use a fast shutter speed, your camera sensor receives just a tiny pinch of light, which ultimately makes a darker photograph.
But here’s where things get tricky. There are other variables that can affect the brightness of a finished image. You also have to consider the aperture and the ISO, as well as the physical brightness of the scene you’re photographing. This means that when mastering exposure and brightness, you need to experiment with all three settings to get it right.
It also means that changing the settings depending on the natural brightness of the day is critical. Clouds, sunlight, shadows, and all other external factors play a huge role in just how long to keep your shutter open. Once you’ve mastered this, you’ll be able to quickly adjust your shutter speed depending on the light available to you.
When Do I Need to Use a Tripod?
You should never need to use a tripod until you begin to play around with long shutter speeds. Typical shutter speeds are going to be anywhere from 1/1000th of a second to 1/100th of a second. These are all incredibly easy speeds to deal with when holding your camera in your hands.
The issue comes at about ½ a second. If you need to keep your shutter open for anywhere between half a second to one second, it’s ideal that you pull out the tripod. Because your sensor is open for so long, any slight movement on your part can result in a blurred photograph.
When doing long exposure photographs that last longer than one second, you definitely need to have your camera anchored to a firm tripod and secured in a place where there won’t be any disturbances from outside forces, such as passing cars or moving people.
How Do I Find My Shutter Speed Settings?
Now that we know what shutter speed is, it’s time to learn how to actually set different speeds. If you have no idea how to find your current shutter speed on your camera, it’s actually very easy. With most cameras that have a top display, the shutter speed will be located at the very top left corner.
If you don’t have an LCD, you likely have a viewfinder. When looking into your viewfinder, you’ll find the shutter speed located on the bottom left. But if your camera doesn’t have an LCD or a viewfinder, as is the case with a lot of mirrorless cameras, the shutter speed should be viewable on the back screen.
The trick here is that shutter speed is not displayed as a fraction of a second. Instead, you will see something like ‘500’ being shown on your display. What this actually means is 1/500th of a second. If the number is 8000, it means 1/8000th of a second. The larger the second number is, the faster your shutter speed. And when you go over 1 second, the number will be denoted like this: 1”. The quotation denotes seconds instead of fractions.
How Do I Change My Shutter Speed?
Almost every camera shutter speed is set automatically by default. What this means is that when you have your camera set to automatic mode, the shutter speed will be detected by your camera without needing to be set. This is the same for the aperture and the ISO.
If you would like to change your shutter speed manually, which is definitely recommended for taking more serious photographs, you need to go into shutter priority mode. In this mode, you can choose your shutter speed. The camera will select your aperture automatically.
But then you have full manual mode, in which you can change the shutter speed and the aperture speed to your liking. When using either shutter priority or manual, you can choose to set your ISO manually or to have your camera set it automatically.
To be quite honest, most situations in everyday photography don’t require you to select your shutter speed. Modern cameras are very smart and can do this on their own. The only reason to set the shutter speed yourself is if you want to play around with your camera and take unique photos, or if you want to get the motion blur effect or the frozen effect, using either extra-fast or extra-slow shutter speeds.
Today we’ve answered the question: “What is shutter speed?” We know that the shutter speed is the amount of time that the shutter on your camera remains open. The longer your shutter is open, the more light is collected by your sensor. Understanding shutter speed and the effects it has on your pictures is critical to becoming a professional photographer.
To master the art of the shutter, be sure to experiment both day and night with different shutter speeds and different targets. Try freeze-framing a bird or an insect buzzing through the air and then try bringing the Milky Way to life at night in a spectacular way using a tripod and an extra-long shutter speed!