What is Shutter Speed


As a beginner in photography, one of the essential aspects you’ll need to understand is how to control exposure. Exposure in a camera is affected by the aperture, ISO, and camera’s shutter speed.

The aperture controls the amount of light that enters the camera lens. It determines the depth of field and how much of the photo is in sharp focus. The ISO is responsible for the camera’s sensitivity to light – it also affects digital noise in photos. Camera shutter speed controls exposure to light and affects how motion is captured in a photo.

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To get great shots and creative photographs, one must develop a working knowledge of each of these three aspects individually and collectively.

However, understanding how these technicalities work is a lengthy and advanced topic. Today we want to begin by understanding the camera shutter speed definition, the shutter speed measurements, and how it affects the quality of photography.

Shutter speed definition

The camera’s shutter is like a curtain that opens and closes to let light through to the camera lens. Therefore, shutter speed is the time it takes for the shutter of a camera to remain open to expose light to the sensor or lens. In simple words, it is how long a camera takes a photo. The shutter speeds of a camera affect the quality of images in different genres of photography.

For instance, long shutter speed on camera – also referred to as slow shutter speed – exposes the camera sensor to light for a significant time. This is often used to capture motion in a photo. It is commonly used in advertisements of motorcycles or cars to communicate to viewers a sense of motion and speed.

As stated in the shutter speed definition, the shutter speeds on camera can also do the exact opposite of the above if you opt to use fast shutter speed. Fast shutter speeds can be used to freeze motion and capture objects as though they were still. They’re perfect for shooting images of flying birds, sports events, and fast-moving cars.

Using fast shutter speed on camera can allow you to capture droplets of rain suspended in air, a move that the naked eye cannot capture.

How is shutter speed measured

Camera shutter speeds are denoted as fractions when they’re below 1 second. You’ll see ¼, ½, 1/100, 1/250, or even 1/1000 of a second. This is how to measure shutter speed of a camera.

Shutter speeds of 1/4th of a second mean that the camera will require a quarter of a second to take a photo or 1/250th of a second.

Fast shutter speeds open the camera shutter for a very short time. They’re ideal in well-lit spaces and outdoor photography when the sun is bright. This is to prevent overexposure which might damage the quality of images. Most DSLR cameras have fast shutter speeds of up to 1/8000th of a second or even faster. The longest exposure speeds on these cameras is typically 30 seconds.

When you move to shutter speeds between 1/100th to ½ of a second, then you’re referring to medium shutter speeds.

Long or slow shutter speeds measure more than 1 second, while very long camera shutter speeds are several feet long. They’re used in night photography to ensure the camera gets enough exposure.

What is camera shake and motion blur

Camera shake is a common phenomenon in handheld photography. It occurs when you’re photographing at slow shutter speeds of a camera – when you cannot freeze your natural body movements such as breathing or muscle tension.

Camera shake causes images to be blurry, which is a major challenge in handheld photography. That said, there are situations where you can move the camera to achieve a creative outcome. Intentional camera movement is a useful panning technique implemented in car-race photography to convey speed.

In this technique, the movement of the subject/car is followed against the background so that the car remains in sharp focus while the background is blurred.

A camera shake is not always a desirable outcome in photography. So, what’s the hack if you don’t want creative blurring?

You can get rid of camera shake in the following ways;

  • Set your camera to image stabilisation: Most cameras provide a setting to stabilise the image and avoid camera shake. This setting can be found in the camera lens or sensors. This feature detects any motion when you move the camera and buffers them in real-time. Using this feature, you can take great shots even with slow camera shutter speeds lower than 1/10.
  • Using flat lenses to avoid camera shake: Flat lenses are wide and have apertures of up to f/2.8. They’ll also increase the shutter speeds, which allows you to take good photos in poorly lit conditions.
  • Keep focal lengths short by avoiding zooming: While focal length does not affect the camera shake, it affects how the effect appears on an image. When you zoom in, you magnify every aspect of an image, including the camera shake. To minimize the camera shake effect, it is thus recommended to avoid zooming in.

Motion blur, on the other hand, is affected by long or slow shutter speeds on camera. When the camera’s shutter stays open for long, the sensor records all movement as light trails.

You can blur motion intentionally by using cameras with manual modes to keep apertures open for long. For creativity purposes, use a tripod to enable you to control blurs in your photography. You can also try out free graphic design software to help you edit your photography — from removing backgrounds to adding blurs automatically.

Motion blurring can be useful in the following ways:

  • Taking nocturnal landscape photographs.
  • Capturing cloud movement.
  • Taking photographs of rivers, seas, and waterfalls.

Tips of setting shutter speed on a camera

With reference to your genre of photography, you may want to use different shutter speeds on camera – of course, depending on whether you wish to blur your photos or not. Most cameras have a default shutter speed setting when set to Auto. This allows it to select the shutter speed automatically, which can come in handy for beginners.

For advanced photographers, what are the shutter speeds to use? Well, go ahead and tweak the following camera settings to select the best speeds.

  • Shutter priority: Set the camera to shutter priority mode to choose the speeds of camera shutter only. The camera picks the aperture automatically.
  • Manual mode: To fully control your camera’s exposure to light and avoid blurs, select the manual setting and choose both the aperture and shutter speeds. This requires some expert knowledge in how both settings work.

Both modes allow you to automatically or manually set the ISO.

We recommend letting the camera set the shutter speed automatically. That said, you’ll require a high-quality camera to get the best shots with this option.


Most beginners in photography rely on intuition when starting out and learn most of the advanced stuff from practice. However, it is always important to understand the basic theory behind the essential settings of a camera. This is especially important if you aspire to be a professional photographer.

The shutter speed of cameras is one of the most important settings that affect the quality of photography. Since it affects camera exposure to light, it is vital to know the shutter speeds to use in either bright or dim light.

The different camera speeds also play various roles depending on the genre of photography one is interested in. Long or slow, fast and medium shutter speeds measured as a fraction of a second can be used in different light and motion settings. You can also opt for slow shutter speeds if you wish to blur a photo for creativity purposes.

Hopefully, this article has been an eye-opener and ignites your passion for learning more quality photography features.


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