What is Shutter Speed?

Length of Time

Shutter speed controls the length of time that the shutter is open. The longer it’s open, the more light that is let in. Shutter speed is measured in seconds: 1/60 sec, 1/250 sec, 1/10 sec, etc. You can also have shutter speeds of multiple seconds: 1 sec, 30 sec, even 30 minutes if your camera has the right setting.

A fast shutter speed of say, 1/1000 of a second will not let in nearly as much light as a shutter speed of 2 seconds will. Therefore when there’s more light, you’ll generally need a faster shutter speed, and when there is less light (like in your living room in the evening) you’ll need a slower shutter speed.

In this example, all other camera settings remained the same, and only the shutter speed was adjusted. See how the exposure is different depending on the setting?

This image was taken in full sun with a shutter speed of 1/680 sec. (By the way, that’s me and the Mister at the Field of Dreams house!)

The image below, in contrast, was in a dark-ish room in the evening, so a slower shutter speed was needed for proper exposure. The shutter speed for this image is 1/60 sec.


Freezing and Enhancing Motion

Shutter speed also affects whether a photo will have motion blur or will freeze the action. If you have a fast shutter speed (say, 1/500 sec), you’ll be able to “stop” the motion of a basketball player jumping up to take a shot, a child running around a playground, etc. With a slow shutter speed (say, 1/25 sec), you can capture movement like leaves swaying in the breeze, a car zooming past, or stars trailing in the night sky.


The above image was shot at a shutter speed of 1/2000. The cowboys wrestling the calf (and the calf itself!) were moving so quickly, and the sun was so bright, anything slower than that would have resulted in motion blur and an overexposed image.

The image below, used a slow shutter speed to show the motion of the train going past. The shutter speed is 1/60 sec.


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