Shutter speed together with Aperture and ISO forms the three pillars of photography. So, understanding shutter speed is essential to get the perfect photo. The right selection of shutter speed can help you to freeze the action as well as blur the motion.

 Before reading this article, I highly recommend reading the following articles:

Understanding Aperture

Understanding ISO   

Camera Shutter

In order to understand shutter in a better manner, let’s have a look at the different parts camera parts. It starts from the lens in front, which contains the Aperture, followed by the Camera shutter. Finally, it is the camera sensor which records the image based on the incident light rays falling on to it.

In the case of a DSLR camera, Aperture and the lens system is 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, shutter speed, and ISO values. Aperture will remain open for the set f-number. The shutter will open and close when you press the capture button, for the set time.

What is Shutter speed?

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 reflected light from the subject falls on the camera sensor. Shutter speed is expressed as a fraction of seconds when the time duration of shutter opening is less than a second. Otherwise, it will be in seconds. Most of the DSLR cameras support a maximum shutter speed up to 1/3200th of a second. You can also do a long exposure photography by setting the shutter speed from 1 second onwards. In such cases, it is recommended to mount the camera on a good tripod to avoid image blur.

Shutter speed & DOF (Depth Of Field)

When you increase or decrease the Shutter Speed you will have to decrease or increase the Aperture accordingly to maintain the correct exposure settings. This change affects the Depth Of field (DOF). Faster shutter speed demands a larger 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, you are interested in getting a wider depth of field. So, you will be using a smaller Aperture. This demands for a slower shutter speed. 

 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

Shutter speed selection is generally a photographer’s choice. If he/she wants to get sharp images (freeze the motion), he can choose a higher shutter speed value. For dramatic images, then he can go for lower values of shutter speed.

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. Shutter speed of 1/8th of a second for second one. 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 a 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. Sports photographer or a wildlife photographer needs to freeze motion. 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

A slower shutter speed of 1/8th of a second was used for a silky smooth waterfall.

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 more power. So, make sure that you have sufficient battery power before going for a shot in bulb mode. Star trails, lightning, fireworks and light painting are captured in this mode. Its always good to use a Battery grip also.

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 correctly 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.

I hope you were able to understand What is Shutter Speed in photography and the effect of changing it.