Shutter Speed 101

Shutter speed is one of the three most important aspects that determine exposure in photography. Though something that photographers use quite often, shutter speed can be a tricky thing to master unless you grasp the basic concepts. This video tutorial explains what shutter speed is and how you can use it creatively in your compositions:

The function of the shutter mechanism is somewhat taken for granted by most photographers. They feel the process of taking a photo is instantaneous. All they need to do is press the shutter release button and the image just magically appears inside the camera.

However, what’s hidden from prying eyes is a number of finely tuned movements that happen in the blink of an eye. The shutter curtain (actually there are two) opens, light streams in, and after awhile the shutter curtain closes. Every time you take a picture, the exact same process is repeated. But what may be different between two images is the amount of time that the shutter curtain remains open. In other words, the shutter speed changes.

creative use of slow shutter speed

Shutter speed can be used creatively to emphasize motion blur.

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed denotes the duration of time for which the shutter curtain remains open and allows light to stream in. This length of time varies in different situations as shown by Joshua Cripps.

Note, that shutter speed is always indicated in seconds. When the camera says 1000, it actually means 1/1000 of a second. It’s not until you slow down to something like 1 second or 2 seconds that the camera indicates it with 1” or 2”.

Motion Blur

It’s OK if the shutter speed is really fast and or you are photographing something that is standing still. But we live in a dynamic world, and if you point your camera at something, you are bound to see something wiggling or moving in front of it. If the shutter speed is too long, that movement gets recorded in the form of motion blur. The longer the shutter speed or faster the movement is, the more motion blur there will be.

uses of slower shutter speed

A slower shutter speed makes the water appear soft and creamy.

To demonstrate, try this on a clear bright day. Set your camera to shutter speed 1/1000 of a second and ISO 100.

Now, start spinning in a circle while taking images. Notice that the images do not have any significant blur. That’s because the shutter was not open for that long a time frame to record any movement.

Now, change the shutter speed to something like 1/40 of a second. Repeat the process. Your images will now have a significant amount of blur. This is because the shutter was open for a longer duration.

Creative Use of Shutter Speeds

Both motion and the absence of motion can be used creatively in your compositions. Motion blur tends to create a soothing image, whereas a lightning fast shutter speed fired to freeze any movement in mid-air can give a sense of tension. To demonstrate, take an image of a waterfall captured using a long shutter speed and then compare it with an image of the same waterfall using a faster shutter speed. The first one feels more serene while the second seems to capture all the energy and the power of that waterfall inside a single frame.

creative uses of fast shutter speeds

A fast shutter speed of 1/1000 second froze the movement in this image.

Try using an intentionally fast or slow shutter speed to add drama to your photos.

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  1. Asillem says:

    Great info. Today is my photo day so I’m headed out to play with my shutter speed.
    Your voice is PERFECT. Thank you.

  2. Ben Traylor says:

    Spelled Joshua’s last name wrong. Cripps not Kripp

  3. Don McCoy says:

    Great info for us beginners.

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