Shutter Speed Explained

When cameras were mostly analogue and captured images on film (oh yes!), the shutter speed controlled the amount of time the film was exposed to the scene you had it pointed at. In digital photography, this is still the case – it is the length of time the sensor ‘sees’ the scene ahead you’re trying to capture.

Shutter Speed refers to the length of time the digital camera’s aperture is open and allowing light inside the camera.

  • Shutter speed in measured in seconds or fractions of a second. The bigger the denominator the faster the speed (e.g. 1/1000 is quicker than 1/60)
  • Shutter speeds lower than 1/60th are prone to camera shake. Make sure you use a tripod or check out the lens, most come with image stabilisation.
  • Very slow shutter speeds are available on your camera (1 second, 10 seconds, 30 seconds) you can use these for certain effects or in very low light situations.
  • ‘B’ stands for Bulb settings and will allow you to keep the shutter open for as long as you wish.
  • To ‘freeze’ an image you need to set the camera to  a high shutter speed, to blur an image you need to set it to a lower shutter speed.
  • Long focal lengths – if you’re looking to use a longer lens, this will increase the amount of camera shake to the final image requiring a higher shutter speed.  The ‘rule’ of thumb is to choose a shutter speed with a denominator that is larger than the focal length of the lens. For example, if you have a lens that is 50mm 1/60th is probably okay but if you have a 200mm lens you’ll probably want to shoot at around 1/250.

The shutter speed works hand in hand with the apeture and ISO, so if you’re looking to increase the shutter speed this also reduces the amount of light to your camera which you need to compensate for by adjusting the apeture (e.g. f16 to f11)or amending the ISO (e.g. ISO100 to ISO400)