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Shutter speed is the most obvious of the three factors contributing towards an exposure. It has one of the biggest effects on your photos. With a poor knowledge of how shutter speed affects photos, you’ll end up with blurred results.

This post teaches you the right speed for the right situation as well as how to use shutter speed creatively for artistic results.

A close up of a camera aperture

1. What Exactly Is Shutter Speed

Without going into unnecessary detail as to how shutter speed works, it can be summarized as the exact amount of time that your camera records an image for.

It does this through the use of the shutter. The shutter is what allows the light to hit the film plane or digital sensor.

As a general rule of thumb, anything below 1/60th of a second will record camera shake. Anything slower than this will require a tripod.

More often than not you’ll want to take your photo within a fraction of a second, such as 1/1000th of a second.  In most situations, longer shutter speeds result in blurred images.

Shutter speed uses ‘stops’ in the same way as aperture but it’s a lot more straightforward.

Working out half of an exposure is a lot simpler for shutter speed than aperture. Just take the current speed e.g. 1/200, and halve it which, for this example, would give 1/400.

All that you need to remember is that the second number has to be doubled to halve the value e.g. for 1/200, the ‘200’ is doubled to ‘400’ to give half the value.

A colourful race car driving with motion blur background - shutter speed uses

2. Motion Blur and Freezing

Motion Blur

This is a great way to show movement in a still scene. You can create it using long shutter speeds or panning the camera to follow a subject.

This blur is also affected heavily by the focal length of a lens.

Telephoto lenses require a fast shutter speed to capture an image without blur. These lenses pick up and magnify even the slightest movement of the camera. A wide angle lens requires a slower shutter as the details in the image are a lot smaller.

As a rule of thumb, you can take a sharp, blur-free image by setting the shutter speed to a fraction of a focal length.

For example, to take a photo at 30mm you would set the shutter speed to 1/30 of a second. Any slower and motion blur is likely to occur. It’s worth noting however, that this rule is only relevant to full frame cameras.

For a crop sensor, due to its magnifying effect, you would be better off choosing a speed of 1/45 of a second.

There are always exceptions to the rule. Image stabilisation in your lens allows you to get away with a slower shutter speed. As you become more experienced with your camera, you’ll gradually improve on vital skills.

These include holding your camera in the way that suits you best, increasing (among other things) your stability.

A person riding a bicycle in the city, the background is a creative blur

Freezing

Freezing is much less of a worry when taking photos.

It occurs when a photo is taken at such a high shutter speed (1/500 and above) that the photo is taken is captured without any motion blur. I personally don’t like shooting at these speeds as the images produced tend to appear flat.

When shooting a fast moving object, I like to include a small amount of motion. Otherwise, it may as well have been sitting still.

close up photo of a person wearing trainers jumping in a small puddle on the street - using shutter speed

3. The Right Speed for the Right Situation

Fast Speeds to Capture a Telephoto Image

When using a telephoto lens, it’s important to have a fast shutter speed (1/500 or faster). To avoid camera shake, I used a tripod and remote release for the camera.

This allows the camera to sit still, preventing movement when taking a photo.

A white car driving, the background is a creative blur - shutter speed and its uses

Capturing a Fast Moving Object in a Low Light Situation

In event photography, the artist you’re shooting is likely to be moving around on stage. You have the problem of both low light and a fast shutter. This can usually be counteracted by a wide aperture and a very high ISO.

It’s a compromise, but it does allow you to capture the image without unsightly blur.

A concert photography shot of the cheering crowd looking towards the stage

4. Creative Uses for Different Shutter Speeds

Creative Blur

With a remote trigger and a tripod to hold the camera steady, you can play around with shutter speeds.

This can create interesting images in which the blur is the main point of interest.

A stunning night photography shot of an amusement park - shutter speed uses

Creative Blur With Flash

Adding flash to a photo with blur results in the subject being frozen in the frame.

You can then move the camera around to capture the light and blur for artistic effect.

A blurry shot of a group of people walking at night - how to use shutter speed

Panning

Panning is where you move your camera to complement the movements of the subject, resulting in an image where the background is blurred but the subject is not.

This shot was taken from a car moving at the same speed as the train.

Light Painting

For light painting, all you need is a long exposure and a light source. The photo below was taken on a 30-second shutter, during which I set off strobes onto the beach huts.

This fills in the light exactly where you want it and is great for shooting at night.

A night photography shot of a line of small wooden cabins - shutter speed and its creative uses

Light Graffiti

A long exposure coupled with a moving, constant light source allows you to add ‘graffiti’ to an image.

A stunning night photography shot of three people with trails of light graffiti around them - creative use of shutter speed

Long Exposures for Low Light Situations

Because this photo was taken at night, I used a slow shutter speed to gain an even exposure.

This is only possible with a tripod or somewhere flat to lay the camera.

A stunning night photography shot of boats in a harbour with a beautiful pattern reflected in the water

 

This next photo requires a long shutter but for a different reason: I had to wait for a passing car to come into the frame and the timing can be very difficult.

It took me approximately half an hour of constant readjustments to the shutter speed, the position of the camera, and the point at which I took the photo before I eventually accomplished my final image.

A man standing on a street at night, a stream of light trails in front of him

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

It's my training video that will walk you how to use your camera's functions in just 10 minutes - for free!

I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects:

You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos!

Thanks again for reading our articles!

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This downloadable cheatsheet gives you detailed summaries of every section of this post, as well as links to relevant articles, and at-a-glace images that will explain how exposure works.

4 Steps to Understanding Shutter Speed and its Creative Uses

A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography's Photographer-In-Chief:

Thank you for reading...

CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera.

It's my training video that will walk you how to use your camera's functions in just 10 minutes - for free!

I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects:

You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos!

Thanks again for reading our articles!

Josh

Hey I'm Josh, I'm Photographer in Chief here at ExpertPhotography, and I'm in charge of making sure that we provide you with the best content from the most knowledgeable photographers in the world. Enjoy the site :)

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