Understanding Shutter speed

Generally Speaking

I figured when writing this that surely there wouldn’t be that much to say about this topic. I think most people grasp the basic understanding fairly quickly. There are however quite a few tricks you can employ using shutter speed! Lets start by defining it. It is the amount of time your camera’s shutter will allow light to hit the image sensor. It is measured in seconds, usually a range of 30 seconds to 1/8000th of a second. Some cameras can only shoot to 1/4000th while some can go as high as 1/32000th of a second. There are only a couple hard rules you need to remember with these values.

  1. Never shoot slower than your lens focal length unless you have some sort of stabilization (tripod, IBIS, lens stabilization, etc). For example, you’re shooting with a 50mm lens, keep it faster than 1/50th of a second for hand held shots. This isn’t a guarantee that you’ll have clear images, but if you have a moderately steady hand, you’ll be ok.
  2. To stop motion you’ll need to be above 1/500th of a second. Depending on subject, a plane flying by for example at high speed, around 1/2000th. Birds, should be shot above 1/2000th of a second to freeze the action of their wings flapping.
200mm @ f/4.0, 1/2000th, ISO400

Lets Get Creative

Now those previous rules are only to assist in a documentary fashion. If you want to get creative, there are quite a few extra tips and tricks to tell.


Probably my favorite trick is with waterfalls. I’m sure everyone’s seen the blurry water shots. Its SUPER easy to do. I will say however that its not always the right trick. Sometimes its better (subjective) to not blur the water and capture the action in all its detail. As a general rule of thumb, if the waterfall is mindblowingly cool, freeze the action, don’t blur it out. If there’s not much action to be captured, add the drama by blurring the water. To blur the water, you just need a slower shutter speed. Ive found that the less impressive the waterfall, the longer the shutter needs to stay open. I usually start with a shutter around 1/2 a second and work my way down from there. This is a great thing to photograph as well to get used to how aperture, ISO, and shutter speed affect each other. The two shots below of the same waterfall are to illustrate my first point. The shot on the left at 1/1000th of a second just feels more epic. The shot on the right at 1/2 a second, is just ok.

Now some less impressive waterfalls to illustrate the opposite. The image on the left I shot one exposure to freeze the action of my fiance and our pup. Had I taken one more to smooth out the water it would have been better I think. The shot on the right, is made by the motion blur. Without it the water would be barely noticeable.

Panning Shots

I don’t use this one as much as its tricky to get right. Keep your cameras drive mode on rapid fire. 10fps if your shooting with any modern mirrorless camera. My go to shutter speed is 1/20th on a 200mm lens. Stick your camera on a tripod or monopod. If your’e using a tripod, stick one leg out further than the other so its only pivoting on one point. You have to match the speed of your subject with your lens. Which is why its so difficult. But if you take enough pictures you’ll get a couple keepers here and there.

Light Painting

One of my all time favorites for car pictures. Get on Amazon and get a LED light stick. Stick your camera on a sturdy tripod and set your shutter for 20 seconds, f/22, and ISO 100. Wear dark clothes, and wave the light stick at the subject your taking pictures of being careful to not point it at the camera. You can make some really awesome results that look totally professional. If you have a couple extra bucks, get a ND filter (16 or 32) and you can cut down on using f/22. You’ll get some diffraction typically when shooting apertures that small.

Steel Wool

There’s another tutorial coming for this specific subject later on. However, I’ll touch on it briefly here. Whats happening in the image below is just a simple trick. A kitchen whisk tied to a string, filled with steel wool, and then lit on fire. Shutter speeds may vary but this shot was 4 seconds long.

14mm @ f/2.8, 4 second exposure, ISO 1000

Light Trails

Great trick for city shots at night. This particular shot was 25 seconds of exposure. I was using a Laowa 10-18mm lens, so Im not 100% sure on the aperture but I want to say it was around f/11. ISO was 50.

Thanks for reading! Hopefully this has given you some creative ideas to pursue in your own photography endeavors. Let me know if you try some of these in the comments below!

No Comments

Leave a Reply