Shutter Speed in Photography


What is shutter speed

Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is opened, and the light is coming to the sensor of a film in your camera. Shutter speed is one of the three key elements of photography shooting settings. The exposure triangle consists of Shutter speed, ISO, and Aperture.

It is more than essential always to speak about the combination of all of these 3 elements together. For example, a shutter speed of 1/50 s along with an f/4 aperture gives the same exposure value as a 1/100 s shutter speed with an f/2.8 aperture. But there must be constant ISO. If you change the ISO, the previous equation is no longer the case.

How to set Shutter speed

In most cases, you can set the shutter speed in the manual mode of your camera manually. Rotate the select ring until you set the right shutter speed, depending on the situation you’re about to shoot.

Of course, as you are in manual mode, you have to set also the Aperture and ISO manually.

Another way to control the Shutter speed is to set the so-called Shutter Priority mode. In this case, you set the Shutter speed, and the camera will set the Aperture for you automatically. 

Today you have even mobile apps allowing you to set the shutter speed manually too.

Shutter Speed Splash

How is it measured

Shutter speed is measured as a fraction of second. Here are some typical Shutter speed values agreed as a standard in the early days of photography.

  • 1/1000 s
  • 1/500 s
  • 1/250 s
  • 1/125 s
  • 1/60 s
  • 1/30 s
  • 1/15 s
  • 1/8  s
  • 1/4  s
  • 1/2 s
  • 1 s

Modern cameras can set even more values. Starting from 30 seconds as the slowest shutter speed setting up to quickest ones like 1/4000 s or even more.

There is also a camera mode called Bulb. The bulb allows you to leave the shutter open until you keep the shutter release pressed. This could be useful in night photography.

You have to take into consideration the minimum shutter speed for handheld shots. It is obvious you cannot get sharp enough images with shutter speed 1/30 s or slower just by handheld. Even a small movement will cause the blur of the final image. 

You have here these options:

  • Change the aperture to a lower aperture number. So if you had aperture f/8 set f/4. It will open the aperture hole more, so more light is able to come through the lens to the sensor. On the other hand, you will lose a bit of Depth of Field. So fewer objects on the image will be sharp and in focus.
  • Change ISO. Go with ISO to a higher value to increase the sensor sensitivity. So, in other words, there will be less light needed to achieve the same results. The negative part of ISO increase is noise. The higher the ISO, the more noise will appear in the photograph.
  • Use Tripod. Tripod is the best way to have an exposure setting under control. Con of the tripod is, of course, complicated and challenging manipulation and traveling. But there are perfect backpack solutions for traveling photographers nowadays

How to use the Shutter speed

It was always a tool in photography to get super sharp images that freezes the exact moment or situation. This is most significant in sports photography. You can here freeze the moment and show the action that happened within a 1/1000 of a second.

Very popular are also artistic shots of water drops or splashes. This could not be achievable without being able to set very quick speeds like 1/2000 or even shorter.

By the way, you here can control how bright are the photos you are taking.

A particular category is slow speed photography. Here it becomes a tool for artistic interpretation. This is often used in nature photography or landscape photography.

Let’s say we want to shot the waterfall in a long-exposure mode to achieve smooth and silky looking water. 

Here we will need to use more advanced equipment, not just stand and shoot handheld.


You will definitely need a tripod. It will allow you to shoot at a very slow speed. You will avoid any camera shake and blurriness. 

To be absolutely safe here, you should use a remote shutter control to avoid even micro shake while pressing the shutter manually.

There is, unfortunately, another obstacle here. Let’s say you have your camera on the tripod, using remoter shutter control. If you are shooting during the typical bright day and using long exposure speed, your image will be overexposed. 

This is logical. Your primary goal is to use as slow speed as possible to achieve this silky look of the waterfall. 

Therefore you need to decrease the amount of light coming to the sensor.

For this purpose, you should use the ND filter.

ND filters are available in different strengths. ND filters are characterized by the number of stops they provide. For example, a  3-stop or 0.9 density ND is good enough for waterfalls in bright sunny days.

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