Photography 101: What is Shutter Speed?

Last Updated on January 23, 2022

What is Shutter Speed in Photography?

Photography 101: Shutter Speed

The next step after defining what is the proper ISO for your desired shots, you’ll need to define how much your photograph will take in being captured. Shutter speed is perhaps the most creative parameter, and you’ll need to practice a lot in order to understand it properly. It simply can’t fully be understood just by reading about it; you need to feel it!


Photography 101: What is Shutter Speed?


Since photography is all about dealing with light, you need to understand one simple thing, light moves extremely fast, therefore a second in photography, is very close to an eternity, or two. Everything from here on will be about fractions of a second, and each fraction (or range of fractions) is useful for specific exposure purposes. Just like ISO, there are some standard numbers when it comes to shutter speeds, and these are:

1/4000 1/2000 1/1000 1/500 1/250 1/125 1/60 1/30 1/15 1/8 1/4 1/2 1″

As you have already guessed it by now, these all are full stops of light. There is a very high chance that your camera might be able to run through thirds (1/3) of each full stop; like 1/160 or 1/200 among the full stop between 1/125 and 1/250 for example. The important thing to know is that smaller the fraction (arithmetically, 1/4000 equals less than 1/1000, for example) the faster the shot.

Light moves so fast that as soon as you reach 1/60th of a second you’ll need to keep your camera as steady as possible. The best way to go is using a sturdy tripod, but you can still use a table, a chair or even a bean-bag. The important thing is to keep your camera still.


Photography 101: What is Shutter Speed?*Image by Daniel Peters / Photoblog

Let’s Talk A Bit About Shutter Speeds In General

–  Use from 1/4000 to 1/1000 for freezing moving objects like people doing sports, fast animals or someone speeding on a car.

–  1/500, on the other hand, will be very useful for capturing slower moving objects, like people running or jogging, or someone riding a bike.

–  It is considered that from 1/250 to 1/60 is a standard shutter speed range that works out for normal situations, like slow-moving people or nice and sharp portraits. If you are interested in street photography, this range is usually an excellent starting point.

–  From here on, you’ll need to use a tripod, so no handheld shots with shots slower than 1/30.

–  Anything from 1/4 beyond that (like 1″, 2″, 5″, 10″ or even 30 seconds) will be considered a long exposure, and these values are the way to go if you want to achieve milky water or silky clouds on landscape photos.

Freezing Motion Photography-What is Shutter Speed in Photography


Great, But How Do I Decide Among All Those Numbers?

Alright, Shutter Speed is strictly related to movement, therefore if you want to freeze moving stuff, you’ll need a fast shutter speed values, and if you want to register movement through time and space, then you’ll need to pick slower shutter speed values.

Let me explain this to you with a simple analogy. Let’s imagine that you want to fill a bucket of water with a regular faucet. You can fill it fast or you can fill it nice and slow. It will depend on how you’ll want the water to behave. This analogy will be better explained in the next section on Aperture.

For now, let us stay with the fact that you can control the amount of time your camera will be open feeding on a light. The longer the time, the more time you’ll give light to bathe your sensor with its radiant beams.

That could result in extremely bright shots if you don’t compensate with ISO and Aperture, that’s when the aforementioned exposure triangle comes into play. You could also get dark shots by allowing just a tiny amount of time to the photograph to be made.