Shutter speed together with Aperture and ISO forms the three pillars of photography. So, understanding shutter speed is essential to capture nice shots. Right selection of shutter speed can help you, to freeze the action and also blur the motion.

Since Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO forms the three basic pillars in photography. Before reading this article, have a look at Understanding Aperture.   

Camera Shutter

In order to understand shutter in a better manner, let’s see what all are the major parts in a camera. Starting from the front end of camera i.e. the lens, this is followed by the Aperture and the lens system. And then the Camera shutter. Finally, it is  the sensor which record the image based on the incident light rays falling on to it.

In the case of a DSLR camera, Aperture and the lens system will be found in the detachable lens. Camera body contains the shutter and the sensor.  So, before taking a snap, you will need to set the desired aperture and shutter speed values. Aperture will remain open for that set value. But the shutter will open only when you press the capture button.

What is Shutter speed?

Shutter speed is the speed at which your camera shutter opens and closes inside your camera body. It is also known as “Exposure time”. It can be defined as the time duration for which the exposed light rays will be falling on to the camera’s sensor. Shutter speed is expressed in seconds and fraction of a second. Most of the DSLR cameras will be capable of capturing images at a shutter speed of 1/3200th of a second. You can also set shutter speed in seconds like, 1 sec, 2 sec, 10 sec, etc. If using such high shutter speed setting, your camera should be set on a tripod or on a stable base.

Shutter speed & DOF (Depth Of Field)

As shutter speed and aperture are related, change in shutter speed affects the aperture value which in turn affects the Depth Of field (DOF). When you increase the shutter speed then it demands for an increase in the aperture opening (smaller f-number), as a result of which you will get a narrow depth of field. So, when you are doing landscape photography or group photography, always go for a slower shutter speed as more will come in focus.

 Exposure: 1/500 s @ f5, ISO 200

In the above image, higher shutter speed of 1/500 sec resulted in a narrow depth of field. So, only the flower is in focus thereby getting a nice background blur.

Fast Shutter speed or Slow Shutter speed

Selection of the shutter speed is generally a photographer’s choice. If he wants to get sharp images (freezing the motion) then he can choose a higher shutter speed value. If he wants to produce dramatic images, then he can go for lower values.

If you shoot with your camera handheld then always you should follow  the thumb rule, “Never select a shutter speed less than the selected focal length”. Otherwise there can be some shake in the image. So, for a slower shutter speed always use a tripod or keep the camera on a stable base. Also recommended is the use a remote camera release like the wireless trigger or remote cable release or use the timer mode in your camera.

In order to understand the effect of slow and fast shutter speeds, have a look at the images below.

Exposure: 1/20 s @ f20, ISO 200


Exposure: 1/8 s @ f22, ISO 200

The first image is taken at a faster shutter speed of 1/20 sec when compared to the second image. The second one is captured at a speed of 1/8th of a second. The slower shutter speed in the second image had made the image look more pleasing with the silky waterfalls effect when compared to the first one.

For better understanding have a look at the following article, How to Shoot Perfect waterfalls.

Shutter speed and Motion

If you select an appropriate value for the shutter speed then you can freeze the motion or/and you can depict the motion in the photograph. Freezing the motion will be required by a sports photographer or a wildlife photographer. They normally set shutter speeds of 1/500 and above. By selecting that shutter speed they will also have to go for a higher ISO value too.

If you want to portray motion like blurring of water or getting trails of light patterns then you can set a slower shutter speed in the range of ½ a second and above. This setting is basically followed by landscape photographers to blur the falling water in the scene and also by people interested in night photography to get the light trails and for filling the scene with more light. For such shots, you will definitely have to carry a tripod with you (add or keep the camera on a stable base). Such shots will not look good if taken handheld.


Exposure: 1/8 s @ f20, ISO 100

In the above image, in order to depict the motion of the waterfalls, a slower shutter speed of 1/8th of a second was selected.

Bulb Mode

If you want to achieve shutter speeds longer than 30 seconds, then you will have to switch your camera to bulb mode. This mode is generally present in SLR cameras only. Bulb mode demands for more power. So, make sure that you have sufficient battery power before going for a shot in bulb mode. This mode is used for taking snaps of star trails, lightning, fireworks and light painting.

Shutter speed, Aperture & ISO

If you increase the shutter speed then you will also have to reduce the f-number and increase the ISO value too, to get a correct exposed image. Otherwise the image will appear dark and unclear. So, before setting a high value of shutter speed make sure you have in mind the maximum possible Aperture values and ISO values. After all there should be a perfect balance between these three parameters to achieve the best shot.

If you select a slower shutter speed then you will be able to select a lower ISO value (less noise in the final image) and an appropriate lower aperture value. So, Remember, understanding the specification and capabilities of your camera is a must for getting good quality shots.

Since Aperture, Shutter speed and ISO forms the three basic pillars in photography. After reading this article, have a look at Understanding ISO.