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When to Use a Fast Shutter Speed

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Related course: Photography for Beginners

Many of us know why we would use slow shutter speeds, but the higher numbers remain a fascinating mystery. We rarely go over 1/1000th of a second.

A fast shutter speed is a necessity in certain circumstances. What are they and how do we use it effectively?

Find out here.

Aerial view of lightning bolts striking over a sprawling cityscape, shot using a fast shutter speed

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What Is Shutter Speed?

To create a correct exposure, we need to use all three components of the exposure triangle. ISO, aperture, and shutter speed work together.

ISO denotes the quality of the image and how sensitive the film or sensor is to captured light.

Aperture allows more or less light in through its open or ajar blade mechanism. It influences the depth of field, allowing more or less of the scene to fall into the focal plane.

The shutter speed is all about, well, speed. It is how fast or slow the film or sensor captures light. A longer (slower) shutter speed allows the lens to record more light over a longer period of time. A shorter (faster) shutter speed records available light in a split second.

Why would this be helpful?

The shutter speed shows as fractions of a second. 1/250 means the shutter is open for one 250th of a second.

Here is an easier explanation. If you were to split one second into 250 equal parts, the shutter would only record light in one of these parts. 1/30th would record more light, whereas 1/500th would record less light.

For help on what shutter speeds work well with all kinds of photography, see our When to Use Different Shutter Speeds article.

A close up of two pigeons mid flight, shot using a fast shutter speed

What Is a Fast Shutter Speed?

A fast shutter speed is anything faster than 1/500th of a second. This range would include 1/1000, 1/2000 and 1/4000. Your camera might stop at 1/2000th or 1/4000th of a second, especially if using an entry-level camera.

The mechanical shutter of the Sony A9 peaks at a speed of 1/8,000sec.

With the electronic shutter, it’s capable of 1/32,000sec, which puts in on the very top of the consumer camera market.

Action shot of a snowboarder, shot using a fast shutter speed

When to Use a Fast Shutter Speed

A slow shutter speed allows you to record movement. This is something you would use to turn raging water into mystical blankets of blue.

A fast shutter speed is the opposite. It records movement and makes it static. A fast shutter speed freezes the moving subject like pausing a sports program. The faster the subject is moving requires a faster shutter speed.

The same goes for how close you are to the subject. A moving object appears to speed up the closer you are to it.

Sports photography is a great area to use a fast shutter speed. It allows you to capture sportsmen and women in motion. Fast flying planes, roaring cars, and quick bikes freeze with a fast shutter speed.

Photographing animals is another great area. Fast flying birds need a fast shutter speed to be frozen in time. This helps create a focused image.

For me, I use a fast shutter speed in street photography. This allows me to capture candid scenes without stopping and keeps the images sharp.

Atmospheric blue waterdrop on a black background , shot using a fast shutter speed

Others use a fast shutter speed for capturing things like water drops. Elements of weather such as snow, rain or lightning are also great areas for this setting. For capturing lightning, we recommend the MIOPS smart trigger.

You may find that low light environments cause camera shake. This can be easily remedied by raising the shutter speed.

Be aware that this raise in shutter speed will reduce the amount of light hitting your scene. Thus, aperture or ISO will need to change to accommodate the new setting.

To get great images, you need to know how to use the shutter speed effectively. I recommend using either manual mode or shutter speed priority. Manual mode lets you change each camera setting individually.

Shutter speed priority lets you set the camera’s shutter speed and ISO. The camera works out the best aperture, based on the metering mode used.

There are many other creative uses for the shutter speed setting. You can find them in our 4 Steps to Understanding Shutter Speed and Its Creative Uses article.

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