What Shutter Speed Should I Use

Photography is undoubtedly a creative skill. The ability to see and compose interesting shots will take you a long way. But there is also a technical side to photography, and it also affects your photos significantly.

In photography, you will photograph many different subjects and situations so you will need to know which settings you need for each occasion. Many new photographers ask what shutter speed should I use? It’s an excellent question to ask because using the wrong shutter speed will ruin your photographs.

Imagine trying to photograph your child’s first football match. If you don’t use the right shutter speed, you’ll only be left with a blurry mess of shots. Photography can often mean recording once in a lifetime situations, and if you don’t know which shutter speed to use, then you can miss that opportunity.

Another benefit of understanding what shutter speed to use is the effect it can have on your photos. Changing your shutter speed can also change the whole appearance and feel of the picture. This article will look briefly at what shutter speed is and at different scenarios and situations and help you work out what the best shutter speed is for each and why.  

What is the camera shutter?

The camera shutter sits closed in front of the camera sensor until you are ready to take a photograph. When you press the shutter release button, the shutter opens and lets light into the camera sensor. Think of the shutter like your eyes, shut your eyes and no light gets through, and you can’t see. When you open your eyes, it lets light in, and you can see.

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed determines how long the shutter stays open when taking a photograph. The longer the shutter is open, the more light hits the sensor, and the more movement is captured in the picture.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of seconds. Depending on your digital camera, shutter speed can range from maximum shutter speeds of 1/5000 (meaning the shutter is open for one 5000th of a second) to as slow as 30 seconds. Using bulb mode means the shutter will stay open for as long as you hold down the shutter release button.

Which shutter speed should I use for…….?

What shutter speed for sports?

kent county cricket club

Shooting sporting events are a fantastic way to capture some vivid and exciting shots that can last a lifetime. But believe me, it is very easy to finish up with some fuzzy, blurred missed opportunities. If you’ve ever gone to a football match and tried to take a photo of the action with your mobile phone, you will have seen how hard it is to ‘freeze the action’.

Thankfully when using your digital camera, you have a lot of settings that can help you capture breathtaking action shots of your favourite sports. The chief among those is shutter speed. When shooting sports, you want to ‘freeze the action’ and the best way to do that is to use a fast shutter speed. You can’t set the shutter speed too fast, though, because your picture will be greatly underexposed. I find the perfect balance for shutter speed and exposure at sporting events is 1/1000.

At this shutter speed, you will be able to avoid any blur in your pictures and also have a correctly exposed photo. This shutter speed will be able to ‘freeze’ even the fastest moving pro sports stars. If you’re photographing your kid’s team you could be able to use a slightly slower shutter speed like 1/800 or 1/600.  

What shutter speed for long exposures?

Long exposures are a beautiful form of photography and are popular with amateurs and professionals alike. Think of all the silky smooth rivers you’ve seen in landscape photos, or the dazzling light and star trails.

Shutter speed plays an important part in long exposure photography. The longer the shutter stays open, the more it affects the picture. The ideal shutter speed depends on the effect you want to create and the scene you a shooting.

In long exposure photography, the shutter is typically open for a long time. For most scenes, you should use bulb mode to give you the most control over shutter speed. In bulb mode, for landscapes, keep the shutter open for at least 30 seconds, but if you are shooting light or star trails, you might keep it open for 5 minutes. You can even go as long as a few hours depending on the shot you want.

What shutter speed for fireworks?

fireworks at night

Fireworks can be a stunning photo full of colour and action, but they are also tough to capture. Lots of different elements have to be right (including timing) for you to get a great shot. For all the camera settings you need for shooting fireworks visit Amateur Photographers excellent guide.

Let’s focus on which shutter speed to use for fireworks. Start at 1 second and test before the fireworks start. If the sky is too dark, then slow the shutter speed down. You shouldn’t need to go above 10 seconds to get the right exposure. If the photos still seem too dim then slow down the shutter speed even more. If you need to go above 30 seconds, it will be best to use bulb mode.

As with most photography, there is more than one option, and that depends on the style of the photo. You can use a fast shutter speed, such as 1/400. This will capture a ‘freeze-frame’ of the firework’, but it will often be darker and less colourful than using a slow shutter speed.

What shutter speed for portraits?

Beginner photographers often underestimate the importance of camera settings when taking portraits. You will be amazed at how a few settings changes can turn amateur portraits into pro looking pieces of art.

When choosing the shutter speed for a portrait, you need to factor in the focal length you are using. A rule of thumb is to set your shutter speed to higher than your effective focal length. For example, if you are using a focal length of 150mm then use a shutter speed faster than 1/160.

A popular shutter speed for portraits is 1/200, this setting uses the focal length rule of thumb and also factors in the maximum sync speed of most flash units. When shooting portraits don’t use shutter mode, you will have to use manual mode because it’s essential to control the aperture as well.

What shutter speed for night photography?

boston skyline at night

Night photography is another popular form of creative photography. Shooting at night gives a whole new perspective of a city, landscape or scene. It’s an excellent way to transform a photograph you might have seen a hundred times before.

Shutter speed plays a vital role in night photography. At night you have less light to work. If you’re shooting a landscape, you might only have the moon and the stars to light the scene. Even in a city covered in building lights, you will have less light than during the day.

Because you are working with less light, you need to use a slow shutter speed to let more light into the camera sensor. A shutter speed of 10″ is a great starting point and from there you will need to test to get the best setting for your scene. Remember if you go over 30″ you are better using bulb mode. Remember, when using shutter speeds this slow you will need a tripod to remove camera shake.

What shutter speed for video

Most digital cameras have excellent video modes and can be used to make professional-looking video content. But if you want Hollywood blockbuster worthy videos, you need to ditch the auto mode and start controlling your shutter speeds.

Shutter speed will affect the amount of motion blur in your video. For super smooth looking motion, as you will see in the best action films, set your shutter speed to double your frame rate. For example, if you are using a frame rate of 24fps then set your shutter speed to 1/50, 30fps would be 1/60 and so on.

When you first try this, you will notice that in bright daylight your video is grossly overexposed. To follow this shutter speed rule of thumb, you will have to consider using ND filters on your lens. This reduces the light let into your lens so you can film at slow shutter speeds and avoid overexposure.

What shutter speed for wildlife photography?

labrador dog playing with a hose

Wildlife photography has always been a popular form of photography. From taking cute pictures of the family pets to capturing dramatic images like a Lion on the hunt, wildlife photographing makes for beautiful and striking images.

The shutter speed you will need for photographing animals will depend on if they are moving or not, and if they are moving how fast they are going. If you’re lucky enough to get your dog to sit still (i recommend holding a treat or his favourite tennis ball by the lens), then you can use the portrait default of 1/200.

When the animal is moving things are a bit more difficult. If the animal is only walking then look to use a shutter speed of 1/400 – 1/800. If the animal is running, you will need a faster shutter speed to remove any blur so start at 1/1000. For flying birds use a shutter speed between 1/1600 – 1/2500.

Summary

Shutter speed has a significant effect on the appearance and the quality of your photos. It can help you avoid taking blurry pictures, and it can also help you create a whole new look and feel to a familiar scene. Knowing what shutter speed to use will help you catch some dramatic action shots that will be crisp and sharp. Testing shutter speeds and understanding the best settings to use can dramatically improve your photography.

Next time you go shooting remember to ask ‘what shutter speed should I use?’ And then use this guide to help you capture the best image possible.

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