Basics of Shutter Speed on Your Camera

Without a solid understanding of ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture –the Three Kings of Photography, also known as the “Exposure Triangle,” it is difficult to take good pictures. While most recent DSLRs have “Auto” settings that automatically pick the correct shutter speed, aperture, and even ISO for your exposure, using an Auto setting imposes limitations on what your camera will do. In many cases, by evaluating the amount of light passing through the lens, the camera has to guess what the right exposure should be. Through manually operating the lens, a thorough understanding of how ISO, shutter speed, and aperture operate together enables photographers to take full responsibility for the situation.

Shutter speed is attributed to the shutter–a curtain in front of the camera sensor which remains closed until the lens is shot. The shutter opens and completely reveals the camera sensor to the light passing through your window when the camera shoots. The shutter shuts directly after the detector absorbs the heat, preventing the beam from reaching the sensor. Often named “shutter” or “shutter key” is the device that activates the lens, because it causes the shutter to open and close.

Shutter speed is the time lens shutter is closed and the image detector is exposed to light. Essentially, it’s how long it takes your camera to take a picture. This has some important effects on how your pictures look.

You end up exposing the camera for a significant period of time when you use long shutter speed. It’s motion blur’s first big effect. If your shutter speed is high, moving objects look blurred along the direction of motion in your image. This effect is often used in car and motorcycle advertisements where a sense of speed and motion is communicated to the viewer by deliberately blurring the moving wheels.

How shutter speed is measured?

Typically, shutter speeds are measured in fractions of a second when they are less than a second. For eg, 1/4 implies a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means a second (or four milliseconds) of two hundred and fiftieth.

Some traditional DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are capable of handling shutter speeds up to 1/4000th of a second, while some are capable of handling even higher 1/8000th of a second rate. On the other hand, on most DSLRs or mirrorless cameras, the longest available shutter speed is typically 30 seconds. By using external remote controls, if needed, you can use longer shutter speed.

Fast and slow shutter speed:

Normally, fast shutter speed is what it takes to stop the activity. If you’re taking pictures of animals, it can be 1/1000th second and slower. Nevertheless, you may be able to take pictures at 1/200th second, 1/100th second, or even longer without adding motion blur, for general photography of slower-moving objects.


Usually, short shutter speeds are above 1 second–at which stage you need to use a tripod to get clear shots. For certain forms of low-light / night shooting, you would use long shutter speeds and deliberately catch motion. When you use long shutter speeds, if anything in the scene is moving, it will appear blurred.

How to set up shutter speed?

By definition, many cameras manage shutter speeds. The sensor selects the shutter speed without your feedback when the system is set to “Auto” mode (and so are the aperture and ISO). Nonetheless, if needed, you can still adjust the shutter speed manually: you choose the shutter speed by setting the camera to the “Shutter Priority” mode, and the camera selects the aperture automatically.

  • You pick both shutter speed and aperture manually by switching the camera to “Manual” mode.
  • You can choose to configure ISO manually or automatically in both of these modes.

How to find shutter speed?

If your lens doesn’t have a top LCD, like some entry-level DSLRs, you can see the shutter speed on the bottom-left side through the viewfinder. And if like many mirrorless lenses, the lens does not have either a top LCD or a viewfinder, you can see the shutter speed simply by looking at the back monitor. Shutter speed will not occur as a fraction of a second explicitly on most cameras–it will usually be a normal figure. You will see something like 1 “or 5” (with the quotation symbol to signify a full second) if the shutter speed is longer than or equivalent to one second.


Practice, trial and error are one of the key factors for knowing photography in general and shutter speed in particular, so go out and take some photos. Each time you try something different. Try long exposures, brief shows, shifting images, imagery of the day.

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