Understanding Shutter Speed

We’ve already discussed ISO and Aperture in previous blog posts, now it’s onto Shutter Speed and how it the three tie together! First off the best way we can describe shutter speed is that it is the length of time that the shutter is open. In the past when film was used the shutter speed was the amount of time that you would expose the film to the scene. Now with digital shutter speed is exposing your digital sensor.

The speed of a shutter is measured in fractions of a second when they are under a second. For example 1/4 equals a quarter of a second, 1/500 equals one five-hundredth of a second and so on.

We recommend setting the shutter speed on manual mode, however we will occasionally use TV on our camera. TV stands for ‘Shutter Priority Mode’ and allows us to set the shutter speed and the camera will set the aperture. This is very useful during the daytime trying to use a slow shutter.

You can find the shutter speed number on the back, top, and viewfinder of a DSLR. We recommend always checking it inside the viewfinder. Mostly in DSLR’s it’s not a fraction, but rather a regular number. So 1/125 is viewed at 125 and slow speeds are shown in seconds like 1″ or 5″.

Here’s a few tips involving shutter speed:

-With any shutter speed below 1/60 you should use a tripod or a flat surface to stabilize the camera. However if your shutter speed is below that and your subject moves you’ll have what is known as ‘motion blur’.

-If you are wanting to freeze the moving subject in the image you’ll want a fast shutter speed. Depending on light it would be around 1/500 or 1/1000. This is great for sports and wildlife photography, or a fun couple jumping in the air!


-If you are wanting the subject to have a blur you’ll want a slow shutter speed. Depending on light it would be around 1/30 or 1/10. This is great for waterfall landscapes or night photography.

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-In the bulb setting you are manually controlling the length of time your shutter is open. This is wonderful for night photography!


-Pay attention to the lens that you are using. Commonly in photography you should use the focal length as a guide for your shutter speed. For long focal lengths such as a 200mm you would want to shoot around 1/250 and so on.

Now that you have information about ISO, Aperture, and Shutter speed we can explain the exposure triangle in photography. The easiest way that it’s been explained to me is this quote. “Achieving the correct exposure is a lot like collecting rain in a bucket. While the rate of rainfall is uncontrollable, three factors remain under your control: the bucket’s width, the duration you leave it in the rain, and the quantity of rain you want to collect. You just need to ensure you don’t collect too little (“underexposed”), but that you also don’t collect too much (“overexposed”). The key is that there are many different combinations of width, time and quantity that will achieve this. For example, for the same quantity of water, you can get away with less time in the rain if you pick a bucket that’s really wide. Alternatively, for the same duration left in the rain, a really narrow bucket can be used as long as you plan on getting by with less water. In photography, the exposure settings of aperture, shutter speed and ISO speed are analogous to the width, time and quantity discussed above. Furthermore, just as the rate of rainfall was beyond your control above, so too is natural light for a photographer.”

In other words the ISO sets the sensitivity of camera’s sensor to the light, Aperture sets the area that light can come into the camera, and Shutter Speed sets the amount of time your sensor is exposed to light.

There are several different way to get the perfect exposure by adjusting the three settings, it’s just a matter of personal preference.

We hope this made things a little more clear. As overwhelming as it may seem it’s important to practice and play around with all three settings.




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