What is Shutter Speed in Photography?

What is Shutter Speed in Photography? In continuation of the exposure triangle article, we will look at the first pillar of the Triangles in Photography, namely the shutter speed (also known as the exposure time).

What are the consequences of its modification, and how can you take advantage of it to create interesting and successful photographs? We will see all this in detail.

What is Shutter Speed in Photography
What is Shutter Speed in Photography

What is Shutter Speed in Photography?

We already talked about it in the article on the exposure triangle, but a reminder never hurts. Shutter speed is the time the shutter remains open after the release.

The slower the shutter speed, the longer the shutter remains open, exposing the sensor to more light. Here is an animated example to understand this principle (the exposure times are fictitious and are only used for the sake of the animation):

How to Change Shutter Speed on Camera

First of all, it is important to know that shutter speed is expressed in seconds (s) and fractions of a second (1/s). This value evolves according to well-defined levels common to most cameras. The slower the speed, the more the photo will be exposed to light.

Shutter Speed ​​Scale:

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 second , 2 seconds, 3 seconds, etc, …

Fast speed = little light <==================> Slow speed = lots of light

What is Shutter Speed
What is Shutter Speed

To change the shutter speed on the camera, simply turn the wheel that is located just below the shutter button. Turn the wheel to the left and you increase the speed (less light); turn the wheel to the right and you decrease it (more light).

So, if we lack light, is it enough to decrease the shutter speed to have a well-exposed photo? Well, it’s not as simple as that!

Because, while the concept is sound on paper, it is critical not to slow down too much in practice, or you will run into two major issues that every photographer faces: 

Motion Blur

Motion blur is an optical phenomenon caused by the movement of an object or a living being. The faster it goes, the more “the eye” will perceive its blurred edges.

Its presence in our photos depends on two factors, and in both cases, it will be necessary to significantly increase the shutter speed if you want to have your subject as sharp as possible:

The movement of the subject

The faster a subject, the greater the blur.

Shutter speed

the slower it is, the blurrier the subject will appear. Even seemingly still subjects will appear blurry below a certain speed (try shooting a snail with a 5-second shutter speed).

Here is a video that I created to show you this very simple phenomenon. Don’t hesitate to take a “pause” at different times to see the intensity of the blur as a function of the speed of the ball (which is like taking a picture of the ball, in fact).

Movement Blur

Different from motion blur, movement blur is caused by the movements of the photographer and should, in 99.999% of cases, be absolutely avoided. 

Very unattractive, it is the nightmare of any good photographer, and its presence will give the impression that your photo lacks quality, or is “sharp,” as they say. It is amplified by two factors:

The movements of the photographer:

Breathing, tremors, tension…

The length of the focal length:

The greater the “zoom” of your lens, the more the slightest movement will be amplified.

There is a rule in photography that says that at a given focal length, it is necessary to use a shutter speed greater than “1/focal length” to be sure to compensate for the movements of the photographer. Examples: 1/50 for a 50mm, 1/100 for a 100mm, 1/150 for a 150mm, etc.

Fortunately, there are simple ways to reduce it or even remove it completely:

Hold your device well:  The basics of the basics! Legs slightly bent, arms against the body, left hand under the lens,…

Lens stabilization: We will come back to this shortly, but some lenses have stabilization that compensates for the movement of the photographer.

The problem is that generally only high-end lenses have this tool, so you will have to take out the CB…

The tripod: radical, nothing moves!

Shutter Speed Stops Chart

Stops (+/-EV)F-Stop ValueShutter Speed (s.)ISO


Well, no, not quite, because we still have an important point to address… In most cases, the photographer will want to have a perfectly sharp subject, but there are several cases where having a little motion blur is aesthetically very interesting:

To suggest motions

A slower shutter speed will help blur the fastest parts of your subject while keeping the others sharp. This technique is very effective in suggesting movement and thus better understanding the action that is taking place.

This is, for example, the case in this photograph of sparrows, where the wings appear blurred, which gives a much stronger impact to the photograph than if they had been completely clear.

The spinning effects

a technique that I haven’t tested yet, so I can’t tell you about it in detail… But it consists of using a slow speed, triggering, and the movement of the subject laterally. Your subject will then appear sharp, while everything else in the photo will be out of focus.

Abstract photographs

to be used with caution, because the rendering can quickly become kitsch, but if the abstract tempts you, use a slow speed and move the camera voluntarily after the release. There are many failures, but sometimes you can come across something nice.

Exercise to Do

To practice mastering this concept, I’m going to give you a simple and easy-to-do little assignment: photographing garden birds in flight.

Train yourself to have them perfectly sharp or, on the contrary, to suggest movement with a nice, controlled blur.

And don’t forget this: reading and not doing is not learning! If you do nothing, nothing will happen, and you will never progress.

Bryan Silveira

Bryan Silveira

Photography is a powerful medium for capturing and preserving memories, telling stories, and expressing one's creativity. The art of photography offers endless possibilities for exploring your creativity and expressing yourse