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What is Shutter Speed and Why Does it Matter?

workshop

August 25, 2021

Shutter speed is the length of time that a shutter is open when taking a photo. It’s one factor in how much light gets into the camera and onto the sensor, which can affect how bright or dark your photos are. In this blog post, we’ll talk about it, what it does to pictures, and how you can change shutter speeds on different types of cameras!

shutter speed woman holding camera

What is shutter speed?

It is defined as the length of time that a shutter is open when taking a photo. When the shutter opens, it lets light into the camera and onto its sensor. The shutter closes after some amount of time (depending on your shutter speed setting).

It can be slow enough for capturing motion blur or fast enough to freeze action in a sharp image in low-light conditions.

How do we measure it?

The speed that the shutter opens and closes needs to be set in fractions of a second, not full seconds. For example, 1/2 means half of a second, while 1/250 would mean four milliseconds (0.004).

There are many different settings available, with some offering considerably faster shutter speed than others. A 1/4000th or a 1/8000th of a second is often the fastest speed attainable by DSLRs and mirrorless cameras respectively.

On the other hand, the longest available shutter speed on most DSLRs or mirrorless cameras is typically 30 seconds. If you need a longer exposure time outside of this range, there are external remote triggers that can be used to accomplish longer exposures.

What are fast, slow, and long shutter speeds?

Shutter speeds are usually grouped into three categories – fast, slow, and long.

The definition of fast, slow, and long shutter speeds are:

Fast shutter speed is typically under a second. This means they could be used to create motion blur or freeze action in low-light conditions.

Slow shutter speed (30 seconds and more) can help with things like night photography by reducing the amount of light that enters into the camera sensor so you don’t need as much artificial lighting.

Long shutter speed typically needs to be handled with care in post-processing due to the potential for motion blur. For example, when shooting at night and using a shutter speed of 30 seconds or more, you won’t want to use any handheld camera movement so as not to induce sharpness blurring.

shutter speed camera on computer with headphones

How do you set your shutter speed?

To set it on most digital cameras, you will need to change the relevant setting on your camera.

This is done in one of two ways: either by turning a mode dial or pressing a shutter button, and then scrolling through options until you find the desired shutter speed or leave it at the default setting to start with.  Sometimes it is included in the menu of main settings alongside things like the ISO setting and aperture.

How does shutter speed impact the brightness of photos?

Shutter release speed can impact the brightness of photos in a few different ways.

First, it can be used as an artistic tool to create more creative photos with motion blur, blurry images, or frozen moments in low-light conditions. This is because shutter speeds that are very short (such as one second) can completely capture the action of moving objects like cars speeding past you or other fast-moving subjects and create that sense of motion. 

Secondly, it affects the brightness of a photo because it’s related to how much light your camera sensor receives while taking a picture. Fast shutter speeds will let more light in and have brighter pictures than slow shutter speeds that allow less light into the camera.

Lastly, it can affect the brightness of a photo because it also affects how long you’re exposing an image to light. This means that if your shutter is open for longer than usual, then more light will come in and consequently make images brighter. However, keep in mind that this could also lead to motion blur due to slower shutter speeds.

shutter speed woman hands looking at back of camera

Shutter speed for beginners

With shutter speed, it is often a case of testing it with your camera and even with different lenses and locations to see what works best and where. Then you will develop a style based on combining it with other settings to get the creative control and your best photos.  You might even create your own shutter speed chart to remember your favorite settings!

To learn more about using your camera click here.

One of my favorite resources when learning photography is ClickCommunity. A forum mostly for women!

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