Shutter Speed

12 Oct

When I first started using cameras, I did not fully understand how and when to change and use shutter speed. Once I began taking photography classes, it finally clicked. Shutter speed is not at all a difficult concept to understand, especially when explained correctly.

Shutter speed is read in the form of a fraction. As an example, I will use the shutter speed 1/8. This represents 1/8 of a second, which is how long your shutter/lens will stay open and let light through. So if your shutter speed is set at 1/60, your shutter/lens will stay open for 1/60 of a second. If it is set at 1/2000, your shutter/lens will stay open for 1/2000 of a second. Make sense so far?

Most Digital SLR cameras have a range of shutter speeds that vary between 30 seconds(“) and 1/4000. There are several intervals between these two speeds. From slowest to quickest speed, the intervals might progress like this: 30″, 20″, 15″, 10″ 8″, 6″, 4″, 3″, 2″, 1″, 0.7″, 0.5″, 0.3″, 1/4, 1,6, […..] 1/90, 1/125, 1/180, 1/250, […..] 1/2000, 1/3000, 1/4000.

It is easy to realize which shutter speed is quicker when looking at 20″ and 30”, but many people get confused when it comes to the fractions. When comparing the speeds 1/90 to 1/4000, although 4000 is a larger number than 90, it is the slower shutter speed. Just as if you were to divide one pizza into 90 slices and another pizza into 4000 slices, a slice from the pizza with 90 slices would be larger than your tiny slice from the pizza divided into 4000.

Shutter speed is one of three settings that control exposure, or how much light you let through the lens. The other two settings are ISO and aperture. These three settings all work together to determine the outcome of your photo, but we will get to the specifics in a later post.

These settings all control how bright or how dark your photo is. The slower your shutter speed is, the more light you let through the lens, and the brighter your photo will turn out. You will need to change your shutter speed depending on how dark or bright the lighting is in your setting.

Here is a simple example of a scene I shot at different shutter speeds.

1/250 shutter speed

1/500 shutter speed

1/1000 shutter speed

1/1500 shutter speed

1/2000 shutter speed

1/4000 shutter speed

As you will notice, photos with the shutter speed 1/4000 is too dark and shutter speeds 1/250 and 1/500 are too bright. 1/1000 is a little too bright, but could be used with a few adjustments in an editing program. Shutter speeds 1/1500 and 1/2000 would be best for this subject in this setting.


Any time you wish to control shutter speed manually on your camera it will need to be done under the Manual (M), Programmed Auto (P), or Shutter-Priority Auto (S) camera mode. All other modes have automatic settings or automatically adjust themselves. Though this is sometimes helpful, it is not always accurate. The best photographs are taken by a photographer who knows how to manually use each setting on his camera and use it well.


3 Responses to “Shutter Speed”

  1. cwinterb October 15, 2012 at 4:01 am #

    This is a good place to start! Do you have a nice enough camera that you would like to do an entry about that specifically? It could include how long you’ve had it, some work you’ve done on it, some things you really like and/or really hate about it, or maybe your dream camera if you don’t have a nice camera at the moment.

    I’ll keep reading through the semester–I do video work and knowledge of the technical stuff is what separates the pros from the amateurs!

  2. June 11, 2013 at 12:25 am #

    Hi! This is my 1st comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading your blog posts.
    Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same topics?

I am always happy to read comments and critiques. What do you think of my blog?

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