Skip to Content

Beginners guide to Shutter Speed

Beginners guide to Shutter Speed

In the first part of my photography school, you learned about Aperture and how it works and how to use it. Now it’s time for you to find out more about the shutter and shutter speed.

The shutter is just like the aperture one of your best tools as a photographer to get the image results you want.

What is shutter speed?

The shutter sits between the lens and the camera sensor and acts like a door. The shutter speed is the time that the shutter stays open, making it possible for light to hit the sensor.

How does the shutter work?

It goes hand in hand with the aperture, and the two are interdependent. The aperture controls how much light is allowed to hit the image sensor and the shutter controls how long the light is allowed to strike the sensor’s surface.

A fast shutter speed means that the shutter opens and closes quickly, while a slow shutter speed means that the shutter stays open for a longer time.

If you leave it open too short, the picture will be underexposed (too dark), and if gets exposed for too long, the image will be overexposed (too light).

Examples on how to use shutter speed

If you are shooting in the dark, you will need a shutter speed slower than if you shoot at midday. This is because the image sensor will need to receive more light to be able to record and expose the picture correctly.

Below you can see two typical examples of short and long shutter speed:

Shutter speed examples

slow shutter speed

The drops are being freezed and you can see them clearly.

Short / fast shutter speed – 1/2500 sec

As you can see in the picture above allows the fast shutter speed the camera to capture moving subjects. In this case, I was able, thanks to a fast shutter speed to freeze the image so that you can clearly see the water drops that are on our way down into the glass.

1/500 and faster is usually considered as high shutter speeds.

long exposure

You see the “dreamy” effect?

Slow shutter speed – 13/10 sec

If we keep using water as an example, you can see how the water gets “smeared” out at longer exposures. This creates a dream-like effect which is particularly desirable when photographing waterfalls or landscape with water in the foreground.

If you want to achieve this effect at a waterfall when it’s bright outside it is necessary to use a filter that blocks a portion of the light from entering the image sensor. It will then be possible to have longer exposures even in the brightest conditions.

Slow shutter speeds

When the shutter stays open longer, it allows more light to enter the camera. This is particularly useful in low-light conditions, such as at night, in the woods or indoors.

At slower speeds, you need a stable support for your camera, preferably a tripod or Gorillapod. One usually recommends that you shouldn’t handhold your camera at speeds slower than 1/100 second.

The reason for this is that even the slightest movement can result in camera shake and blurring of the image. When you’re shooting at speeds slower than that, it can be difficult to hold the camera still.

Fast shutter speeds

Faster speeds are used in particular when shooting moving subjects such as sports, cars, animals or someone who performs any activity. The shorter the shutter speed, the less light is allowed to get into the camera, making it possible to freeze a moment.

1/500 and quicker counts as faster speeds, and one should rather not use longer shutter speeds than that when shooting anything that moves.

Because your subject is moving, you need to let allow your camera to capture the moment quicker than the person or object is moving.

This is possible when there is plenty of light available, for example, when photographing at midday.

What shutter speeds are there and how do you know which is which?

In the beginning, it can be tricky to get the right exposure, but practice makes perfect, and once you have learned how shutter speed works in conjunction with the aperture, you will grow as a photographer.

Most DSLR cameras have shutter speeds that go from 30 seconds to 1/2000 second. Some DSLRs also allows the bulb, which means that the shutter is kept open until you release the trigger button. If you have a more advanced DSLR, you certainly have the opportunity to select faster speeds than 1/2000 second.

Seconds are indicated by a quote next to it, see example – 1″ = 1 second. 1/100 thus means one-hundredth of a second.

Below you can see examples of aperture and shutter speed to produce the same exposure as f / 4, 1/250 second.


Where you can see the shutter speed of the camera differs from camera to camera, but generally you can see the speed you have if you press down the trigger button half. Most of the times it can also be found when holding down the “info” button.

If you’re not sure on how to check it, please go to your camera manual and see what it says.

Practice makes perfect

As a self-taught photographer, I know how frustrating it can be in the beginning before you understand how everything is connected and the settings you should choose to get the image results you are after.

I recommend that you go out and try different combinations and see what happens with the picture when you change the aperture and shutter speed. In the beginning, it may feel overwhelming with all the settings and things you “need” to think about, but I promise you it will be easier.

Practice makes perfect and remember to be as creative and imaginative as you can. Experiment with your camera’s aperture and shutter speed. Photograph by dusk, midday and just before sunset and see how the light alters the exposure and mood.