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Shutter Speed Explained

Start learning manual on your camera. I will explain what shutter speed is and which setting to use for what.

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed is exactly what it says it is - the speed at which your shutter opens and closes.

This will allow more light to get in or less light. The number you select is the length of time your shutter is kept open in seconds.

Shutter speed controls both the amount of light that’s let in as well as how fast your subject is moving and if you want to freeze the moment in time or allow for movement.

The range of your shutter speed can be from 1/4000 of a second to 30 seconds

You can also use bulb mode which is when you pick the amount of time the shutter is left open if 30 seconds isn’t long enough.

shutter speed

Fast Shutter Speed

The faster your shutter speed the darker your image.

At 1/4000 you would have to be in a very well lit area, definitely on a sunny bright day.

A fast shutter speed will freeze the action. This would be good for sports, children, birds or other fast moving subjects and wildlife.

Slow Shutter Speed

The slower your shutter speed the lighter your image will be. At 30 seconds you would want it to be very dark outside like astrophotography or you would have to have a neutral density filter on your lens.

This will slow the action. Your subject should be still or not moving if you want it to be sharp. However, waterfalls and clouds are commonly photographed using a slow shutter speed to create a smooth and soft look.

smooth water effect

What is the best shutter speed to use?

If you are opening the shutter for longer than 1/100 of a second I would recommend using a tripod as the camera shake will make your image blurred. I can probably hold my camera at 1/50 of a second before wanting to use a tripod but the safe bet is 1/100.

A good rule of thumb is to have your shutter speed at least equal to your focal length. So if you are using a 50mm then you would not want to go below 1/50 of a second. A good way to calculate what to be on is to double the focal point so if I’m using a 100mm then I would use 1/200th of a second or faster.

If you are shooting a still subject you would want to be around 1/100 to 1/250.

If your subject is moving slightly you would want a faster shutter speed like 1/400.

If you want to freeze action like sports photography you would want a really fast shutter speed like 1/1200 of a second.

If you are trying to slow down the motion of water you would do a longer shutter speed like 10 seconds.

If you are shooting astrophotography you would want to be at 20-30 seconds and possibly bulb mode.

When people talk about long exposure photography they are referring to shutter speed because you open the shutter for a long period of time. You would use this for moving water or clouds and astrophotography. You can also use this at a busy location to make it appear like no one is there.

astrophotography night sky

Things to consider

Blurry images

The slower the shutter speed the more chance for your images to be blurry.

You can’t fix blurry images so make sure you have the correct shutter speed for the subject you are photographing.

The type of photography are you doing

Shutter speed plays a major role with whether or not your subject is moving or still.

Sports and wildlife photography would need a much faster shutter speed while general portraits and landscape can use a slower shutter speed.


When you are using slower shutter speeds you will need to have a tripod. If you try to handhold it you will introduce natural hand shake to your image therefore making it blurry.

Hopefully this helps you understand shutter speed more. I have now completed blog articles on the 3 aspects of the exposure triangle. ISO, Aperture and shutter speed. My article next week will talk about how they all fit together to get the right exposure.

Thank you so much for reading my blog. I truly appreciate your support. Have a fabulous day!


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