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Shutter Speed Camera Setting Explained

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Are you looking to have shutter speed explained in a simple and easy way? Then this article is for you!

In this free tutorial you’ll learn all about shutter speed and how it affects your photos.

First, Shutter Speed Explained by Definition

The official definition for shutter speed explained according to wikipedia is this:

“In photography, shutter speed is a common term used to discuss exposure time, the effective length of time a camera’s shutter is open.The total exposure is proportional to this exposure time, or duration of light reaching the film or image sensor.

In simpler terms, shutter speed is the duration of time the shutter on a camera is open when taking a picture. It is measured in fractions of a second. For example, 1/60 is one sixtieth of a second while 1/300 is one three hundredths of a second. The higher the number the faster the shutter speed.

So How Does Shutter Speed Affect an Image?

The duration of time the shutter remains open affects two things within a photograph:

  1. The exposure of the photo
  2. How motion is depicted within the photo (sharp or blurred)

shutter speed explained sample 1

Photos by *~Dawn~* and CelebfashionLa

To expand on the first factor of shutter speed you can control the exposure of the photo (how bright or dark it is) by adjusting the shutter speed. The slower the shutter speed the brighter the image because light has a longer time to hit the camera’s sensor. The faster the shutter speed the darker the image because light has less time to hit the camera’s sensor.

Shutter speed is often used in conjunction with the aperture setting to achieve a properly exposed photo. For example, if you are photographing at night and set your camera to its widest aperture and the photo is still too dark you can use a slower shutter speed to compensate for this by allowing the available light to hit the sensor for a longer period of time. In contrast, if you are in a very bright setting and can’t close the aperture small enough to prevent over exposure you can choose a faster shutter speed to reduce the amount of time light has to hit the sensor.

shutter speed explained sample 2

Photos by Hamad Al-Mohanna and OneViewPhotography

The second factor of shutter speed is how motion is depicted within the photo. Simply put, shutter speed can be used to freeze action within an image and make it sharp or emphasize the motion by making it blurry.

This is how it works: The faster the shutter speed the more frozen and sharp a photo becomes – think of a photo with a person frozen as they jump in the air. The slower the shutter speed the more blurry it becomes – think of a photo with streams of light trails created by cars on a highway at night.

Just remember if you want sharp photos then you want a fast shutter speed. If you want blurry photos then you want a slower shutter speed.

Shutter Speed Explained When Shooting Handheld

Have you ever taken a photograph by hand and later found out that it was blurry and you didn’t know why? Well, it was blurry because the shutter speed was too slow to capture a sharp image. In another article we explain this concept in more depth: Pro Tip: Minimum Shutter Speed in Photography When Shooting Handheld. Take a look when you have a chance. To summarize the article and help you understand shutter speed explained this is the take away message – when shooting handheld you want your minimum shutter speed to be one over your focal length. For example, if your focal length for the shot is 300mm then you want to shoot at at least 1/300 of a second. Sometimes you need to shoot one to two settings faster for a sharp image. Any slower and your photo will turn out blurry.

A Recap of Shutter Speed Explained

  • Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. The higher the number the faster the shutter speed. A setting of 1/60 is one sixtieth of a second while 1/300 is one hundredths of a second.
  • Shutter speed affects the exposure of an image and how long light is allowed to hit the camera’s sensor. The faster the shutter speed the darker the photo. The slower the shutter speed the brighter the photo. Its often used in conjunction with aperture to achieve a properly exposed photo.
  • Shutter speed affects how motion is depicted within a photo. A faster shutter speed freezes the action within the frame. A slower shutter speed emphasizes it and creates motion blur trails.

More Learning Resources

If you want to learn more about shutter speed read our other article on Understanding Shutter Speed. For a more in depth article read How to Choose the Right Shutter Speed for Your Photograph.

We hope you enjoyed this article and helped answer you question to shutter speed explained. Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts!

4 Comments

  1. Gayle White

    May 8, 2012 at 3:58 pm

    Wow, I am just starting out in the wonderful world of Photography, about two months now. At first, I was frustrated with aperature and shutter speed. It seemed like I just could not “get it”! I must say, I have sat and watched many online tutorials, BUT this one on shutter speed, is the absolute best. it could not have explained shutter speed any simpler. I finally “get it”. It is clear and simple to me now! Thanks for this great tutorial.

  2. Basil

    May 9, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I love shooting manual. For months after purchasing my DLSR camera, I could never understand why my low-light/indoor images were blurry. Fr general theory on shutter speed, one automatically dials into a slower speed to get more light in. Other tutorial don’t say what FDT tutorial say above! Now I never shoot in low light without a tripod if I am going slower than 1/20th of a second. The ideal would be 1/60th minimum, so increase my ISO to minimum 800 and 1/40th to 1/60th of a second is also fine in the average room light.
    Thanks for this tutorial, and especially bringing out the point of shutter speed and blurry images.

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