Knowing Shutter Speed and How To Use It

Knowing Shutter Speed and How To Use It

In my earlier article, I did some explanation on Shutter Speed

Shutter speed is the setting on your camera that decides how long the shutter should open. The longer the shutter opens, the more the amount of light is captured on the sensor. This is a mirror though, behind it is the shutter, which is right in front of the sensor.

In this article, I will be explaining on how you could use shutter speed to your advantage.

Shake Reduction

Many do not realize that faster shutter speed actually help reduce shake.

Firstly, one must understand why do shakes happen. I’m sure all of you would’ve notice by now that shakes tend to happen when taking photos under less optimal lighting condition. What’s the logic behind it? Simple, when there’s less lighting, the camera would have to prolong the duration where the shutter opens, in order to compensate for the lack of light so that enough light is absorbed by the sensor. This rule applies to all form of image capturing device.

Shake also increases as the camera zooms in further on subjects. Here’s how the logic works, each movement on the camera body is magnified by each additional distance added to the focal distance of the camera.

This means that if you were to focus on a subject that’s say 6-feet away from you, each movement on your camera isn’t as evident as compared to focusing on a subject that’s 60-feet away from you even though the movement is unchanging.

Now look at the diagrams below. In the first diagrem, I used 3 green lines to indicate the central plane and also the planes 5 degrees upwards and 5 degrees downwards. The blue arrows indicate the variance between the 2 extremes.

Knowing Shutter Speed and How To Use It

In the next diagram, notice how the variance increase as the subject is further away in distance even though the planes remain at the same angle. Each movement is magnified for each additional distance from the camera.

Knowing Shutter Speed and How To Use It

The Focal Length Reciprocal Rule

This is the general rule used by photographers to know the minimum shutter speed setting in order to avoid shake in photos when it comes to hand-holding a camera.

This idea is to use a shutter speed that is equal or faster than the reciprocal of the focal length. So if you’re shooting at 300mm, ideally you would need at least 1/300th of a second.

For the digital photographers, you will have to find out what’s the crop factor in order to utilize this rule more effectively.

So let’s take a Canon EOS 450D paired with an EF 70-200 F4 L IS USM lens and we’ll be using the formula below

Minimum Shutter Speed = 1/(Focal Length x Crop Factor)

So assuming you’re going at 200mm with the Canon EOS 450D that is of a 1.6x crop factor, the calculation would look like

Minimum Shutter Speed = 1/(200 x 1.6)

So your minimum shutter speed will come to

Minimum Shutter Speed = 1/320

๐Ÿ™‚ So there ya have it! Learn to use this rule to help reduce the chance of your shots turning out shaky.

Short Exposure

This is a no-brainer, very fast shutter speed for a really short exposure to freeze the moment. It could be a kid running around, a bird in flight or anything else that’s in motion.

Notice how the fast shutter speed freezes not just the person sliding but even the water splashes.

Knowing Shutter Speed and How To Use It

The faster your subject moves, the faster the shutter speed should be. Again, notice how the fast shutter speed freezes the motion of the swimmer.

Knowing Shutter Speed and How To Use It

As you can see, fast shutter speed is crucial when it comes to capturing moments, especially when the moment involves fast movements. That’s why people love lenses with wide apertures, more available light coming through the lens at any point of time also mean the shutter is only required to open for a shorter duration.

Fast shutter speed is very useful, especially when it comes to sports.

Long Exposure

Opening the shutter for longer periods could help you achieve stunning visual effects, like turning flowing water into strands of white strings. As the shutter opens, the sensor continues to absorb any form of light that lands on it.

Knowing Shutter Speed and How To Use It

Knowing Shutter Speed and How To Use It

Or just plain capturing lights from a distant source. See, when the lights are far away, it takes longer for the light to reach the sensor. In cases like seen in the picture below, the light was not only far away but they also not bright enough so the shutter was open for quite a while for the sensor to absorb as much light as it can to get a decent exposure.

Knowing Shutter Speed and How To Use It

Long exposure shots are typically not handheld. I know some people could actually do it but they could only survive probably a 2 second shutter opening but anything beyond that they’ll have to rely on super powers of converting into a statue. :mrgreen: Let’s not forget they can’t maintain the consistency.

Shutter Is Like Butter To Your Picture

Yes, knowing how to effectively use shutter speed adds to the value of your pictures just like how butter can make a food taste better but put too much butter and you screw up the food.

๐Ÿ™‚ Knowing how to use adjust for a faster shutter actually increases the number of successful shots. It wouldn’t be nice to have a great composition to have it all spoiled by shaky hands, right?

When all else fails – remember the TRIPOD!

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34 Comments

  1. Thanks for the article. It is very informative.

    Thumbs up for the effort!!!

  2. just a small correction there….

    “Shutter speed is the setting on your camera that decides how fast the shutter should open. The longer the………..”

    i think what you meant there is “how long the shutter should remain open” instead of “how fast the shutter should open”

    correct me if i am wrong…..

  3. Author

    ๐Ÿ˜€ thanks! you’re not wrong at all, I truly appreciate your time to highlight that and I’ve changed the word from FAST to LONG, because if I were to use the word FAST, it should be saying how fast it opens and closes.

  4. Btw, if Shutter Speed is defined as how long does the shutter remains open . I’m just curious why do we use the term Shutter “Speed” but not Shutter “Duration”, or Shutter “Time” instead :p.

  5. Author

    Hehe, I’m not the person who coined the term but I look at it this way – you need the shutter to move really really really fast to achieve something like 1/5000 second while the movement is slower when longer exposure is set, hence using the word “shutter speed”. ๐Ÿ˜€

  6. Very informative but how do i know what is the crop factor??
    It just increased my knowledge in photography.
    Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. thanks for the sharing, we are using the point and shoot canon ixus camera for most of the food shooting..

    but there is no shutter speed that I can control open at the camera we had, so sad..

    thinking of getting a DSLR for the shot, any recomendation, canon 1000D or 450D or nikon D60 or D80?

  8. Author

    @rames – thanks!

    @RJ – unfortunately you can’t BUT you can ask around, or just search the Internet. Our lower range cameras are usually 1.5x or 1.6x. Canon’s range of cameras are 1.6x and if I’m not mistaken Nikons and Sony have it at 1.5x. Just let me know the model and I can help you find out.

    @penangtuapui – lu cin ia si tua pui ah? ๐Ÿ˜› I just went back to Penang in March 2008. Plan to go back again but donno when.

    Anyway back to the models listed – I can say all are good in their own way. Pricing different and specs different. I tried the Nikon D60, I didn’t like that it only has 3 AF points but then it’s a nice camera still. Nikon D80 would be great if you have the budget.

    The Canon 1000D is actually lower than the 450D but it surely is more than capable to do your food photography.

    Best is you go to shop, play around with it and see which one feels good in your hands. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. i always think that the camera I had on hand and the photo that I am able to shoot.. I believe I had max up the performance of the camera..

    that’s I am thinking to get a DSLR. But I am not familiar with those like shutter speed, focus length… and for lens also… I dun really understand those xx mm and xxx mm.. i dun know how to translate them.

    any good documentation?

  10. At last, a nice one about shutter speed and exposure.. keep it up..
    Maybe after this about eV+- ?

  11. Author

    @PenangTuaPui – can refer to my articles? Actually there’s a lot of photography discussion group where you can join as you get to know your camera. After a while you’ll be fine!

    @sub_noob – ehh, got many more things to come!

  12. nice article.

    thumbs up for you.

    btw I like the swimming shot wei ๐Ÿ˜€

  13. I keep forgetting the mathematical formula for the minimum shutter. LOL!

    Wait till they read the mathematical equation of balancing Shutter and Aperture. ๐Ÿ˜›

  14. Really nice article about shutter speed. I had gone through the article on Understanding your DSLR, that also help me lot.

  15. Author

    @016827061 – thanks

    @Danny – remembah, remembah!

    @Vish – glad you liked it!

  16. Thanks for the explaination here, in simple way and simple word! I do understand now how to capture a picture with long exposure and of course, with a tripod! Thanks again goldfries.

  17. Author

    You’re welcome. Come back for more articles in the future. ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. WAH!! i came across ur post in LYN.
    your explanations really are helpful for me since i just started and cant tell when to adjust shutter vs aperture.

  19. boy, am i not thankful i found you, goldfires ๐Ÿ˜€
    your articles are definitely beneficial! really enchance my knowledge of photography.
    again, u’re bountiful! ๐Ÿ™‚

  20. Hahah, nice analogy on the butter.


  21. Thanks for passing along the focal length formula. At least I’m not the only photographer who likes some math stuff =)




  22. OK before stumbling across your site, i was completely ignorant to how DSLR and SLR’s worked. After reading this i feel refreshed and now have a better understanding of how to use a Single Lens Reflex Camera, and i just want to say thanks for making this page!!!!! =)

  23. how do i practically calculate the shutter speed? explain me with the appropriate units..and how do i match the shutter speed and aperture apropriately in order to get a good image?? pls help me out..

  24. Author

    You can’t calculate shutter speed. The shutter speed settings are all in your camera.

    Your role is to decide which shutter speed to use. There’s no hard and fast rule on what to use.

    For example
    a) ISO400 | f4 | 1/60
    b) ISO200 | f2.8 | 1/60
    c) ISO800 | f4 | 1/120
    d) ISO 400 | f5.6 | 1/30
    the camera will tell you they meter out to be the same exposure BUT once you understand it, you’ll see that when compared to a), option b) gives cleaner photo but narrow depth of field and creamier bokeh, while c) freezes motion better due to better shutter speed but adds more noise to the photo. and d) on the other hand gives more depth of field while less optimal for freezing motion.



  25. i want to buy nikon d3100 but the specs says shutter speed could not be adjusted manually but over all it is rated better then canon eos 1100d whos shutter speed can be adjusted manually. So which one should be my pic?

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