Account | Register

7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: What is Shutter Speed?

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is another way to let light in the camera.  I think shutter speed is a little more straight forward than aperture.  The shutter is what “clicks” when you press the button to take a picture.  Basically, it is a little curtain in the camera body that opens to let light in and then closes to stop the camera from recording more light.  

The speed that it opens and closes is what determines how much light the camera records.  A shutter speed of 1/60 will record more light than a shutter speed of 1/1000.  A shutter speed of 1/500 will record less light than a shutter speed of 1/30.

The opening and closing of a curtain sounds like a slow operation, but don’t be fooled.  Cameras record shutter speeds in fractions of a second. (ex. 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000)

It is helpful to know that your camera typically shortens these numbers in the viewfinder.  For example, your camera would show 1/100th of a second by just displaying 100 in the viewfinder.

Shutter Speed Controls Motion, too!

Shutter speed is used to control the amount of motion in a photograph.  A slow shutter speed is often selected to suggest movement since a slow shutter speed and a moving object will allow for some blur.  Fast shutter speeds are used to freeze motion/action.

Where to Start With Shutter Speed

Your subject will help you determine the best shutter speed to use.  When photographing children, I try not to go below 1/125 or 1/250.  To capture a person in mid-air, you’ll need a very fast shutter speed of at least 1/1000.

Hand-holding your camera at slow shutter speeds will cause blur.  When photographing while hand-holding the camera, I try not to let my shutter speed fall below my focal length number.  So if I am using a 50mm lens, I would keep my shutter at 1/60.  If I am using a zoom lens at 200mm, I would keep my shutter at 1/250.

Adjusting Shutter Speed on Your Camera

Make sure you are in manual mode prior to following the instructions below.

To set your aperture on Nikon cameras, depress the shutter release button until the meter is activated. Then, using your thumb, rotate the Main Command Dial.


To set your aperture on Canon cameras, depress the shutter release button until the meter is activated.  Then, index finger, turn the main dial on the top of the camera.

Two Examples

Example 1: Lets say I am photographing my child outdoors.  They are running and playing and I am only going to get a few seconds of relative stillness to get my shot.  I need to make sure that my shutter speed is set at 1/500 or higher to get a sharp shot.  My other settings are set around this one.

Example 2: I am photographing the carousel at the fair.  I want to show how it is moving by allowing the carousel horses to be blurry.  I need to choose a slow shutter speed (around 1/30 or even slower around 1 second) and set up a tripod to capture the motion of the horses but have everything else in the shot crisp.

Don't Miss the Next Posts in This Series!

I hope this series has helped you Master Shooting in Manual Mode.  If you’ve missed any of the posts in the series, you can go back and read/review them at any time by following these links!

1. 7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: Why Shoot in Manual Mode

2. 7 Days To Mastering Manual Mode: Letting Light In!

3. 7 Days to Mastering Manual MOde: What is Aperture?

4. 7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: What is Shutter Speed?

5. 7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: Understanding ISO?

6. 7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: Putting it All Together

7. 7 Days to Mastering Manual Mode: Practicing Your Way to Perfection


Posted by

Leave a Comment