What is shutter speed: everything you need to know

What is shutter speed: everything the beginner photographer needs to know

What is shutter speed: everything the beginner photographer needs to know

What is shutter speed? Rest assured, it’s a lot simpler to get your head round than aperture! Yesterday we posted our tips on aperture, as well as our guide to what your digital camera’s manual doesn’t teach you. To continue with this theme of getting to know your camera, we thought we would examine shutter speed with our next photography cheat sheet.

Like the aperture setting, the shutter speed you choose is not simply a way of controlling exposure (check out our infographic illustrating the basics of exposure). The speed also has a visible effect on your pictures – allowing you to control the effect of a moving camera or subject. This can ensure pin-sharp pictures, however unsteady your grip on the camera and however fast the subject is moving.

Shutter speed is the length of time that the shutter blinds in front of the camera sensor are left open. The scale used is much easier to understand than the f/stop aperture system, as exposures are measured in fractions of a second.

However, in the viewfinder (find out how to use your viewfinder), the numbers are often simplified – so 1/1000sec is shown as ‘1000’, and  1/60sec as ‘60’. This can lead to confusion as to what is a shorter (or ‘faster’) shutter speed.

For night shots, exposures may last seconds, so familiarise yourself with the way these long exposures are displayed – a four-second exposure may be shown in the viewfinder as 4”, for instance.

Below, the latest infographic in our photography cheat sheet series illustrates the effect different shutter speeds can have on the same subject and scene.

We’ve chosen four commonly used shutter speeds and photographed a woman walking down the street – a common subject, and one you might photograph often.

What is shutter speed: fast and slow shutter speeds illustrated to show different effects

Notice how the slower shutter speeds make it appear as if she’s running past. We asked her to keep the same, steady pace throughout.

The last thing you need to know about using shutter speed (for now) is that if you’re shooting handheld (without a tripod) you’ll need a fast enough shutter speed to make sure camera shake doesn’t cause blurred shots.

A good rule is to always use a shutter speed faster than the focal length on your lens: so with a focal length of 200mm, make sure you shoot at around 1/250 sec or faster.

The more you zoom in, the faster the shutter speed needs to be. Watch the shutter speed in the viewfinder;  open the aperture to ensure it is fast enough. In gloomy light, increase ISO to allow the sensor to create a decent exposure without so much light (find out how to reduce noise at high ISO settings).


99 common photography problems (and how to solve them)
44 essential digital camera tips and tricks
Famous Photographers: 225 tips to inspire you