Camera shutter speed explained

Fast shutter speed water drops

Camera shutter speed explained

One of the three essential components of photography is camera shutter speed. It combines with the two other pillars – Aperture and ISO – to complete the exposure triangle.

Shutter speed is a basic concept and is responsible for two important things: to change the brightness of the image and to create dramatic effects such as blurring motion or freezing action. In this article, we will go in-depth about this basic photography concept.

We will explain everything in simple language; from introduction and definition to how it works and connects with other concepts, we will cover every aspect so that you can master it.

The Camera Shutter

It is due to the camera’s shutter, the shutter speed exists. The camera shutter is basically a curtain that stands in front of the camera sensor and remains closed until the camera is fired.

So if the camera is fired, then this shutter opens up quickly and exposes the sensor to the light that was able to pass through the lens within those moments.

As soon as the sensor collects the light, the camera’s shutter immediately closes down so that no more light can hit the sensor.

For firing the camera you need to press a button and that button is known as “shutter button,” as it eventually leads to the trigger which opens and closes the shutter and results in the image being captured.

The Shutter Speed

Now let’s come to Shutter speed. In simple language, it is the amount of time the camera shutter opens. Basically, it is the length of time the camera sensor is exposed to light thus it defines how long the camera takes to capture a photo does.

Shutter speed in seconds

It has a major impact on the final images as it affects the appearance and quality of exposure.

Here are some ways in which shutter speed can have a significant influence on your photos:

If you use long shutter speeds which means that you are exposing the sensor to light for longer periods of time, the first impact this will have will be motion blur.

Large shutter speed means that moving subjects will get blurred along the direction of motion. This can add an artistic effect and is mostly used in bike’s and car’s advertisements to intentionally blur moving wheels in order to communicate a sense of speed and motion to the viewer by.

Long shutter speeds are also used to create a sense of motion on waterfalls and rivers as well and are used to photograph objects in dim environments especially at night with tripods like the Milky Way.

It is also used by Landscape photographers to intentionally to blur the subject while keeping everything else sharp to draw attention.

On the other hand, photographers use short shutter speeds to do just the opposite. This means that they expose the sensor to light for shorter periods to freeze motion.

Fast shutter speed

They are basically fast shutter speed which helps to eliminate motion so that even fast-moving objects look still. It is used to capture things such as cars driving, birds in flight, or sports activities.

Thus, if you make use of fast shutter speed to take pictures of water, then every water droplet will be captured hanging in the air completely sharp. So shorter shutter speed can even capture those things which are not even visible to the eyes.

Fast shutter speed water drops

So now you know why shutter speed is important as it controls all the above action. By just simply controlling the shutter speed you can add a new perspective to your photography. Let’s move on and discuss how shutter speeds are measured?

Measuring the Shutter Speed

Shutter speeds are measured in seconds. They are represented as fractions of a second as they are usually under a second. So ¼ speed means a quarter of a second, and a 1/350 means one-three-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second.

Present day DSLRs and modern mirrorless cameras have shutter speeds of minimum 1/4000th of a second, and the latest technology can even handle quicker speeds of up to 1/8000th of a second.

So just imagine how fast these cameras are. While the longest shutter speed that is available on the majority of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras is mostly 30 seconds.

And if you want even longer shutter speed then you can get them by using external remote triggers which extends the time if necessary.

The link between Shutter Speed and Exposure

The most impact that shutter speed has, is on exposure as shutter speed controls light and impacts the brightness of the image. Thus shutter speed is a very vital element of exposure triangle as any alteration in it can heavily affect the exposure of the image.

For example if you use a long shutter speed, you will be providing your camera sensor with a lot of light, so the resulting image will be quite bright with high exposure.

Slow shutter speed traffic

While if you use quick shutter speed you will be exposing your camera sensor to only a small fraction of light so the resulting photo will be darker with less exposure.

However, as the shutter speed is not the only element in the exposure triangle, the other two components, Aperture and ISO, can also affect the brightness of an image.

So shutter speed is interlinked with them and the actual brightness of the picture is defined by the combination of three. So you do get some flexibility when deciding shutter speed for a perfect exposure as you can alter other settings with it.

But for that, you need to have a thorough understanding of the connection between ISO aperture and shutter speed, so that you can balance them optimally.

Setting Shutter Speed

In most cameras, shutter speeds are automatically handled by default. Usually, the camera is on “Auto” mode, in which all the settings including shutter speed, aperture and ISO are chosen by the camera without your input.

You can change this by changing the camera mode so that you can take your own decisions and experiment with your images.

There are two modes through which you get to choose the shutter speed manually and these are:

The first is the “Shutter Priority” mode in which your camera allows you to set shutter speed but automatically selects the aperture while ISO can be set either manually or automatically.

The Second is the “Manual” mode, in which your camera allows you to set both the shutter speed and aperture manually while ISO can be set either manually or automatically.

Just be careful when choosing shutter speed as a small change can make a huge difference in your results. It is better to start off by using the auto mode and gradually transiting to manual mode, once you have grasped the basic concepts.


I hope this article has made it easy for you to understand shutter speed and you will be able to apply it more effectively.

Remember that to master anything, you will have to practice a lot. So go out in the field and experiment with different shutter speeds, so that you will be able to master it.

Believe me, once you have this concept cleared away, it will become easier for you to progress in your photography journey.


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Author: condruzmf

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