Shutter Speed

Posted by Mary Robinson in on November 29, 2011

Each individual camera is different and therefore you will have to check your manual to find out what kinds of speeds are available on your particular model. (Your camera brand and whether you can change lenses will also have an effect on the final image.
However, this doesn’t need to be a disadvantage. I am hoping these exercises will increase your knowledge of your camera and how it functions in certain circumstances, allowing you to reach the results you desire.)
Speeds can range from several minutes to fractions of a second.( In cameras with TTL (through the lens) viewfinders, the shutter release button also moves a mirror out of the way of the sensor and shutter curtain. It is this movement of the shutter curtain and the mirror that gives taking a picture its distinctive “clicking” sound).

This chart shows shutter speeds from 1/1000th of second to a full second. At faster shutter speeds, less light enters the camera, at slower shutter speeds more light enters.


Shutter Speeds

This is how shutter speeds affect exposure:
(A camera’s unit of measurement is the f-stop. Some cameras will allow you to change settings in half or third f-stops, but for this thread we will use a full stop. So when someone says I stopped down one or I stopped up one, usually they mean that they have decreased or increased their original setting by one full stop. All of which affects exposure).


A ½ second is ONE STOP darker than a 1 second shutter speed setting.
A 1/125th second is TWO STOPS brighter than a 1/500th second shutter speed setting.
A 1/1000th second is THREE STOPS darker than a 1/125th second shutter speed setting.

Most cameras that offer at least minimal manual control, letting you set the shutter speed in steps that double – i.e. 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125 and so forth. Each change in shutter speed, from fast to slow (see the chart above), will cause the shutter to open twice as long than the previous setting. For handheld shots try to stay in the range of 1/60th of a second or faster,(i.e., 1/125, 1/250, etc) this will help reduce camera shake.
(With the new image stablization or vibration reduction technology, you may be able to get away with a slightly slower speed of 1/30th of a second without visible camera shake blurring your image).
Your camera’s shutter speed set at one minute or greater setting is usually indicated on the information panel as 1” which differentiates it from a 1 (1 sec) on the info panel .
A basic rule of thumb for handheld shots: If you are using a 100mm lens then your shutter speed shouldn’t be any slower than 1/100th of a second, a 50 mm lens would be 1/60th of a second, based on full stops.
If you go slower than these guidelines suggest, you may need to use a tripod.
How do I determine what camera speed to use?
This is a depends entirely on the subject you are shooting and what you want the final image to convey to the viewer.
For still scenes such as Landscapes or any non moving object, shutter speed matters less, and usually is dependent on what aperture and ISO settings you intend to use.(Unless you are shooting what I call ‘drive-bys’ like I do, and want the entire image in focus and clear, [Taking pictures out the window while your spouse or friend is driving down the road at 50 plus mph], then higher shutter speeds become important by reducing the amount of blur in the foreground.).
However, for action/sports or moving objects in order to freeze a moving object, you’ll need a fast shutter speed. If the object is moving to or from you shutter speed is less important than if the object is moving side to side in front of you.
You can also pan (move your camera from side to side) to create movement in the background while focusing on the object as it moves. Here is a loose guide to start you off, these settings will help to freeze motion in these particuar circumstances.
( Please remember, these are not hard and fast rules, these suggestions are meant as a starting point, you may need to adjust your shutter speeds to compensate for lighting conditions).:
•Football – 1/400
•Baseball/Softball/Hockey – 1/350
•Kids/Animals Running – 1/350
•People Jumping – 1/250
•Golf Balls – 1/3200
•Water Splashing – 1/350

Shutter Speed: 1/400s, Aperture: f/3.2, ISO 100, Nikon D700 and nikon 105 micro/macro lens.

Shutter Speed: 1/400s, Aperture: f/3.2, ISO 100, Nikon D700 and nikon 105 micro/macro lens.


Animal movement and splashing water, notice that my shutter speed is slightly higher than the suggested shutter speed in the list above, I adjusted the settings as it was a very bright day and by using the higher shutter speed setting I able to reduce the amount of light entering the camera, thus giving me a better exposure. Also when a subject is moving toward or away from you, this decreases the chances of getting a blurred image.

A good rule of thumb is to use the lens size for determining the slowest possible shutter speed for handheld shots with that particular lens, i.e., a 300 mm lens can be hand held at shutter speeds of 1/300th of a second and faster and a 100mm lens can be used without a tripod at 1/100th of a second or faster. (The minimum hand held speed should never be below 1/60th of a second without image stabilization or vibration reduction assistance from your camera or lens.)

Pre Programmed Modes:
Action or Sports
In this setting the camera will usually select the highest shutter speed possible for the lighting conditions present. In this setting you, usually you can’t set the exact shutter speed, but you can lessen your chances of a blurry image by using this mode.

Shutter Speed: 1/320s, Aperture: f/3.2, ISO: 200, D700 and 105mm micro/marco lens

Shutter Speed: 1/320s, Aperture: f/3.2, ISO: 200, D700 and 105mm micro/marco lens


In this shot you can see a slight blurriness where the leg is lifted. So the speed of the shutter helped reduce the amount of blur in the image.
This setting is the complete opposite of the Sports or Action Mode Setting. It is programmed to set a small aperture (large F-Stop or numbers such as f/11 or f/22 or f/32) to ensure a large DOF or depth of field (everything as far as the eye can see is sharp and in focus). However this means that your shutter speeds will be slower.
If you do not have a Manual or Tv mode and you would like to shoot a nighttime or blurred motion shot, try the Landscape setting.
This setting goes one further than the Landscape Mode setting. It prefers the slowest speeds possible and usually turns off flash while setting the highest ISO (on the low end from 50 or 100 to the higher end of 800, 1600 or 3200, perhaps higher) or film speed.
This means that while your shutter speed may be slower, it will only marginally so, because the fast film speed decreases the amount of light needed to expose the image. In most instances you will need to use a tripod in this setting.

In this setting the camera usually selects the aperture setting first, in order to control DOF/Depth of field, preferring to use a larger aperture, i.e., f/2.8 or f/4 or f/5.6 which will control or increase the background blur. While shutter speeds may be faster in this setting, the ISO speed setting is lower in order to compensate for the increased amount of light entering the camera through the larger aperture setting, so mostly likely you would loose any shutter speed advantage in terms of exposure. But shutter speeds should still be adequate enough to allow for handheld mode in most instances.

Using a flash to freeze motion works very well in certain circumstances, for instance capturing birds or a child playing.
Burst or Continuous Shoot Mode:
Some cameras offer this feature, while it can be good in some instances, i.e., capturing a bird that is playing in a bird bath, at other times it can cause you to miss the shot. For short action shots, like fruit falling into water, using burst mode usually doesn’t give the camera enough time to find the ‘good’ shot. In these short types of action shots, try anticipating where the action will happen, focus on that point and take your shot as the action passes your focus point.
A technique in which you move your camera along in time with the moving subject and end up getting a relatively sharp subject but a blurred background. It is very useful in capturing a fast moving car or animal or cyclist. Best used when the subject is moving on a single horizontal path, where you can determine the path the subject will take and pan in a fluid unobstructed way. Using this technique with a subject that is zig-zagging back and forth can often leave you looking with a very erratic pattern of movement. It also a difficult technique to master, so practice, practice practice.
Shutter Speed: 1/320s, Aperture: f/3.2, ISO: 100, Nikon D700 w/105 micro/macro lens

Shutter Speed: 1/320s, Aperture: f/3.2, ISO: 100, Nikon D700 w/105 micro/macro lens


Notice the blurred movement in the background when using the panning method. Had I the opportunity to pan for a longer distance, the movement in the background would have been more pronounced and looked like long streaks of green.

For those without pre-programmed modes, you can use shutter priority and allow the camera to select the other settings or full manual mode.
TV or S: Shutter Priority
M: Manual Mode

Now that we have a grasp of what shutter speeds can do, here’s the goal of this tutorial, take a shot of a moving object, it can be waterfalls, streams, water droplets, vehicles, people or animals, anything that moves. Or you can be the moving object with everything else remaining still. Select a shutter speed based on whether or not you want to freeze an action or show movement through blur or blend the two styles.