What is Shutter Speed? All Your Questions Answered

Knowing the basics behind shutter speed will help you take better photos.

It’s a sound virtually everyone knows: the snap of a camera—oh what a satisfying sound it is. You just can’t get a sound like that on a digital device, and that’s entirely due to the fact that there’s no shutter on the latest iPhone or android. Shutters are in large part what allow cameras to take such high quality photos, and shutter speed refers to the amount of time your camera shutter stays open for one shot. This article will address what shutter speed is and how it works, and it will also provide recommended shutter speeds for videos and photos. Videos, photos, and other forms of digital media have the power to awaken emotions, influence opinions, and showcase all the beauty that exists in the natural world. If you’re starting on a journey to ultimately open your own media production agency, then understanding the basics of shutter speed is crucial!

What is a Shutter?

Before you can begin to understand shutter speed, you must first be familiar with what a shutter is and how it works. A shutter acts like a curtain: when opened, it exposes the camera’s sensor to light that has gone through the camera’s lens. Once the specified amount of light is collected, the shutter is closed immediately; at this point an image has been recorded. Photographers refer to the button which fires the camera as the shutter button because it is this button which activates the camera’s shutter.  

What is Shutter Speed?

As you probably could imagine, shutter speed refers to the amount of time your shutter stays open; it can also be thought of as how long it takes your camera to snap a photo. Since the shutter determines how much light is exposed to the camera’s sensor, you can imagine that the shutter’s speed—how long it stays open—has a few significant impacts on how the images snapped will appear. 

Long Shutter Speed: Setting your shutter speed to long is ideal if you’re trying to create an effect of motion blur on moving objects. When your shutter allows a lot of light to pass through the camera’s lens, moving objects or people in your photos will appear blurred in the direction they are moving. For those of you video game lovers out there, think of how the screen blurs when you accelerate or sprint; the effect is meant to add a feeling of high speed—this is motion blur, and it’s what you can achieve if you use a long shutter speed. A similar effect is used in car and motorbike ads you see on TV: advertisers will use motion blur on vehicles’ wheels in order to communicate a sense of speed to the viewer. Long shutter speeds are as well ideal for individuals looking to photograph objects in the night sky, and landscape photographers also use long shutter speeds to depict motion in rivers, waterfalls, and other bodies of water; contrasting blurred water with a clearly defined backdrop is always going to be an appealing image, one that’d go perfect on any desktop background.

Fast Shutter Speed: If keeping a shutter open for a longer amount of time is going to create blurring effects, you can imagine that fast shutter speeds, on the other hands, are going to be ideal if you’re trying to freeze motion. You’ve probably seen those photos of whales emerging from the ocean, where every single water droplet is recognizable; they’re a great a example of what fast shutter speeds can do. It’s really quite remarkable: photographs taken with a fast shutter speed are able to capture things that the human eye can’t even see. Motion can be totally eliminated; it really is as if time stops.

To summarize: shutter speed is in large part what determines the quality of your photos. Of course other aspects must be taken into account in order to snap a great shot, but shutter speed is probably what should be your first concern before you take a photo, especially if you’re trying to capture motion in a specific way.

When are Good Times to Use Long Shutter Speed?

Photographers like long shutter speeds for two reasons: (1) if it’s dark, a long shutter speed will allow more light to hit the sensor, resulting in a brighter image; (2) if you want to introduce some blur to your image, a long shutter speed accomplishes this end. Here are some ideas regarding when it might be a good idea to use a long shutter speed:

  • When you’re trying to communicate a sense of speed
  • When you’re trying to create contrast
  • When you’re trying to communicate a sense of volume
  • When you’re trying to capture constellations and other things in the night sky
  • When you’re trying to depict a distant but vibrant city

Remember that there’s a difference between motion blur and bad photography: anyone can snap a blurry, unfocused image, but a seasoned photographer uses blur for a specific purpose; the distinction is almost always recognizable.

When are Good Times to Use Fast Shutter Speed?

Fast shutter speeds are great when you’re trying to freeze a motion in time. Capturing a movement and the backdrop on which it is happening is something that photographers use routinely to show the beauty in everyday life. And for individuals who own a high definition camera, fast shutter speed images are going to be even more unbelievable. Here are some ideas regarding when it might be a good idea to use fast shutter speed:

  • When you’re photographing animals, birds, and other things of that sort
  • When you’re trying to take a precision image of a fast-moving object
  • When you’re photographing water
  • When you’re trying to capture sudden moments that go unseen to the human eye

This is what you must remember when it comes to shutter speed: one is not more ideal than the other. In other words, each setting has its own purposes, and both can be used interchangeably by photographers and videographers in order to create an incredible portfolio. Whether you’re playing around with your shutter speed for personal projects or a professional company video, have fun with it and figure out your equipment for yourself!