What is Shutter Speed in Photography? Beginner’s Ultimate Guide

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If you’re a beginner photographer looking to learn the basics of photography, you’ve come to the right place. One key element of photography is understanding shutter speed. So what is shutter speed? 

In simplest terms, it’s the length of time your camera’s shutter stays open when you press the shutter button and take a photo. But let’s dive deeper into understanding how shutter speed works and what effect it can have on your photos. 

Definition: What is Shutter Speed? 

what is shutter speed

Shutter speed is measured in seconds — or fractions of seconds — and will appear as a number on your camera (e.g., 1/250).

For example, suppose you shoot with a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second. In that case, your camera’s shutter will be open for one 250th of a second before closing again.

The higher the denominator, the faster the shutter speed. A 1/1000th of a second would be faster than 1/250th of a second.

Photographers need to understand that different shutter speeds can produce different photo effects.

For example, if you use too slow of a shutter speed — say 1/30th or even slower — you may end up with blurry photos due to motion blur from either your movement or moving objects within the frame.

On the other hand, using too fast of a shutter speed can create images that look overly sharp and lack depth-of-field or background blur, making them appear flat and uninteresting.  

How Does Shutter Speed Affect Photos? 

When setting up shots, photographers often consider what kind of shot they want to achieve and base their choice on the shutter speeds of that goal.

Generally speaking, slower speeds are used to capture motion while faster speeds freeze action — but this isn’t always true depending on how much light is available and how far away subjects are from the camera lens:  

  • In low-light conditions like night photography or shooting indoors without flash, long exposure times (slow) allow enough light into the lens for clear shots; however, these longer exposure times will also cause motion blur if there are moving subjects in your frame;  
  • In brighter conditions like sunny days outdoors or studio shooting with strobes (flash), faster exposures are usually needed to prevent overexposure, and freezing action is easier since light levels are higher; however, these faster exposures will cause less depth-of-field or background blur due to shorter exposure times.

Types of Shutters in a Camera

In the realm of photography, camera shutters play a significant role in capturing images by controlling the amount of light passing through the lens and reaching the camera sensor.

Functioning with remarkable precision, there are primarily two types of shutters to acknowledge: the focal-plane shutter and the leaf shutter.

The focal-plane shutter, commonly found in SLR and DSLR cameras, comprises two curtains, known as the first and the second, which traverse across the sensor plane to expose and conceal light capture. This type allows for faster shutter speeds and higher durability compared to its counterpart.

Meanwhile, the leaf shutter is predominantly found in compact cameras and lenses for medium-format cameras, known for their discretion and flash synchronization capability at any shutter speed. This type of shutter contains multiple overlapping blades, which unswervingly control exposure by collectively opening and closing in a synchronized pattern. 

Both shutters offer their unique pros and cons but remain equally significant in the beautiful world of photography, enabling photographers to capture countless memories and masterpieces.

How Do I Adjust the Shutter Speed?

Adjusting the shutter speed is an essential aspect of photography, as it significantly impacts the exposure level and motion blur in images. To modify the shutter speed, the first step is to set the camera in either manual (M) mode or shutter priority (Tv or S) mode, which allows direct control over this crucial setting.

Once in the appropriate mode, locate the dial or button dedicated to shutter speed adjustment — typically signified by an ‘S,’ ‘T,’ or a similar symbol. Rotating the dial or pressing the button allows you to change the shutter speed, which may be expressed in fractions of a second, such as 1/100 or full seconds for long exposures.

Remember that faster shutter speeds, like 1/4000, can freeze motion and reduce exposure levels, while slower speeds, such as 1/30, produce motion blur and increased exposure. Balancing the shutter speed with the aperture and ISO levels is essential to achieve a well-exposed and sharp image.

Experimenting with different shutter speeds leads to the mastery of capturing a diverse range of photographic moments, from action-packed scenes to atmospheric low-light conditions.

Optical Shutter versus Mechanical Shutter

In photography, the role of shutters must be considered, as they determine the exposure of the image sensor to light.

The two predominant types, optical and mechanical shutters, offer unique advantages and technical distinctions.

Optical shutters, also known as electronic shutters, rely on the electronic control of the image sensor’s readout, allowing for high-speed captures with minimal noise or vibration. This makes them particularly well-suited for applications in scientific research and scenarios where a silent operation is necessary.

Conversely, mechanical shutters employ physical components, such as a pair of curtains, which open and close to regulate light exposure. While these might not boast the same ultra-fast speeds, they tend to deliver sharper images due to their ability to handle moving subjects and sync with external flashes.

Both optical and mechanical shutters contribute significantly to the vast array of possibilities in modern photography, enabling professionals and enthusiasts alike to explore and experiment with various techniques and settings.

Which Camera Brands Have the Fastest Shutter Speeds?

Delving into the realm of photography, one must recognize the significance of shutter speed for capturing sharp and stunning images.

An important feature to consider while choosing the right camera is the superiority in shutter speeds, which undoubtedly lies within the domain of a select few esteemed brands.

Renowned for their versatile and innovative technologies, Canon and Nikon indisputably reign supreme in this arena, consistently delivering impeccable lightning-fast shutter speeds to freeze motion. Sony, an emerging force in the photographic market, follows closely behind, brandishing exceptional speed capabilities in its high-end models. 

Collectively, these brands continue to push the boundaries in capturing fleeting moments with immense precision and clarity, redefining the art of photography with every advancement.

How I Use a Slow Shutter Speed for Astrophotography with a Wide Open Aperture

I had always been fascinated by the night sky and wanted to capture its beauty in a photograph. After doing some research, I decided that astrophotography was the way to do it.

The challenge was getting an image that showed all of the stars’ detail while keeping them sharp and not too washed out. I knew I needed to use a slow shutter speed and a wide-open aperture to achieve this goal. 

At first, it seemed daunting to try something so technical with photography — but after reading up on the technique more thoroughly, it started making sense to me. With my camera set up for manual mode and ready for long exposures, I went outside one clear night, hoping for success. 

Using trial and error as my guide, I started experimenting with different settings until everything fell into place: Aperture at f/2; Shutter Speed at 25 seconds; ISO at 400; Focus Manual Mode — Infinity Setting; White Balance – Daylight setting (this gave me more control over color tinting).  

After playing around with these settings for a while longer until they were just suitable for capturing astrophotography images like never before — crystal clear stars shining brightly against deep black skies without any traces of blurriness or noise — there was no turning back.

Whenever conditions are favorable outdoors, I look forward to using my trusty camera setup and those same settings again and rejoicing in awe at yet another successful attempt at astrophotography.


Understanding how different settings affect each other allows photographers greater control over their images and helps them create better photographs more quickly and efficiently.

In summary, understanding the basics behind shutter speed can help photographers select appropriate settings for each situation they encounter while shooting.

By being aware of how different settings interact — like aperture vs. ISO vs. shutter speed — photographers can decide which ones should be used together based on desired results. 

Through trial and error, they will soon find out which combinations work best for them in specific situations.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is shutter speed measured?

Shutter speed measures how long a camera’s shutter remains open while photographing.

It’s expressed in seconds and fractions of a second often referred to as “f-stops.”
F-stop measures the length of time that the subject is exposed to light, and calculating the exposure of a scene depends on what type of photograph you are trying to create.

A fast shutter speed will stop motion in its tracks because there won’t be enough time for motion blur, whereas a slower shutter speed can help emphasize motion by creating motion blur.

By understanding shutter speed and how it works, photographers have more control over their results.

What does 30 shutter speed mean?

A fascinating concept that often intrigues aspiring and experienced photographers alike is the significance of the 30 shutter speed.

At its core, a 30 shutter speed indicates that the camera’s shutter stays open for 30 seconds, allowing ample time for light to enter and create the image.

This remarkable setting opens up a world of creative possibilities for capturing stunning long-exposure photographs.
Imagine the ethereal effect of stars tracing their celestial paths or the breathtaking sight of a waterfall transformed into a silky smooth cascade.

With the mastery of 30 shutter speed, photographers possess the key to unlocking the hidden beauty of nature and time, transforming ordinary scenes into extraordinary visual narratives.

How do I adjust the shutter speed?

Mastering the art of adjusting shutter speed can elevate your photography skills to new heights, capturing those perfect moments with increased clarity and creativity.

As you delve into the world of shutter speed, you’ll discover the endless possibilities of creating stunning effects, such as freezing action or producing artistic motion blur.

Begin this fascinating journey by familiarizing yourself with your camera’s manual or shutter priority mode, allowing you to take complete control of the shutter speed settings.

Experiment with speeds ranging from fast (1/2000 of a second) for effortlessly freezing high-speed action to slow (30 seconds or more) for capturing the ethereal beauty of star trails or light paintings.

Delight in the satisfaction of conquering the intricacies of your camera, harnessing the power of shutter speed to craft striking, one-of-a-kind images that’ll leave your audience in awe.