How to Shoot Manual: Shutter Speed

Updated on June 6, 2017
Carly Sanderson profile image

Carly has always had a passion for photography and is currently making her way through a degree in photojournalism.

The shutter speed on a camera can vary from 1/4000th of a second to 30 seconds, depending on the model.
The shutter speed on a camera can vary from 1/4000th of a second to 30 seconds, depending on the model. | Source

Shutter speed, along with aperture and ISO, is one of the three pillars of photography. It is very important to learn how to manage your shutter speed if you want to shoot in manual mode on your DSLR. Shutter speed is quite simply defined as the speed at which the shutter on your camera closes.

When using your camera, your shutter will remain closed until you push down the button to take a photograph. It will then stay open as long as you set it for, and the light will pass through the lens aperture for the time that you specified. The shutter speed can be open from a fraction of a second to a full second, depending on your camera make and brand. The most common shutter speeds you will find range from 1/4000th of a second to 30 full seconds. However, this does differ on the type of model you have.

Shutter speed is an important aspect of photography to learn, as it helps you directly control how much light is let into your camera. For example, on a sunny day you might have to set your shutter speed on a higher setting, such as 1/4000th of a second, in order to restrict the amount of light coming into your camera. Setting your shutter speed to something as fast as 1/4000th of a second will mean that the light only has a 1/4000th of a second to enter your camera, resulting in a photograph that is not overwhelmed by light.

Conversely, if it is very dark, you will want to use a longer shutter speed. Taking photographs inside, in overcast weather, or around sunset or sunrise means that you will probably have to use a longer shutter speed, as there is less light available. Setting your shutter speed on something like 1/30th of a second in dark conditions will mean that the light has a longer period of time to enter the camera, and will therefore create a photograph that is sufficiently lit.

The sharpness of your image will depend on how fast or slow your shutter speed is set. The faster it is, the more sharp your image will be.
The sharpness of your image will depend on how fast or slow your shutter speed is set. The faster it is, the more sharp your image will be. | Source

As well as controlling light, shutter speed plays a large part in capturing movement. When you are taking photographs of sport or similar quick paced activities, your shutter speed needs to be set on a high setting. The faster your shutter speed is, the clearer and crisper your image will be. This is because the camera catches only a small amount of the movement, like a freeze frame of a movie. The faster your shutter speed, the quicker the frame will be captured, and you will end up with a sharp image will no movement. If your shutter speed is too slow, the image will come out as a blur. As more light is able to come into your camera with a slow shutter speed, the camera will capture the person or thing actually moving in front of your camera, and the image of this movement will be a blur across your screen. Setting your shutter speed slower on purpose is called long exposure photography. With your shutter speed open for a minute or longer, you can capture the trail of movement, which often works out really well.

Long exposure photography comes out with great results. The longer your shutter speed, the more light the camera will capture.
Long exposure photography comes out with great results. The longer your shutter speed, the more light the camera will capture. | Source

However, there is a difference between intentionally creating a blur effect and having a blurry photograph because of camera shake. Camera shake comes from having a shutter speed that is too low to hand hold. Most people can hand hold a camera at about 1/60th of a second. Any lower than that and the natural, sometimes imperceptible, movement of your body will cause your camera to shake slightly. This results in an image that is a bit blurry because the camera moved slightly as you took the photograph. This can be fixed by using a tripod or finding a steady surface to rest your camera on. You can also steady your own body by standing with your legs hip width apart and digging you elbows into your sides; almost as if you are creating a tripod out of your own body!

Aside from taking into consideration the light of the situation, there are two other factors that will influence your shutter speed; the distance and direction of movement. The distance of the object from the camera will affect the shutter speed in that if something is further away, it will appear to be moving slower. Your shutter speed will therefore not be as high as if the object was close to you. For example, when taking a photograph of an aeroplane, your image will appear sharp even though your shutter speed is not the same speed as the airplane (obviously). Similarly, if the object is closer to you, the shutter speed will need to be faster in order to capture a sharp image of the movement.

The direction of the movement will affect your shutter speed in that if the object is facing and moving towards the camera, the shutter speed will not have to be as fast as if the object was moving across the camera. If someone is riding a bicycle towards you, you cannot really see any sort of movement, other than the peddling of their feet. In this case, the shutter speed will not have to be as fast, as there is little visible movement. However, if someone is riding their bicycle across your camera, the movement is much more noticeable as the rider will cross your line of vision. You will therefore have to have a higher shutter speed in order to capture a sharp image.

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