What is Shutter Speed in Photography?

Shutter Speed is one of the most important settings in Photography. It makes up one-third of the exposure triangle, the other two being ISO and Aperture. Shutter speed allows you to change the brightness of your photography, freeze action or blur motion. In this article, I will explain everything you need to know about shutter speed as a beginner.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is an integral part of every camera, as it controls the frequency and duration of light that hits your camera’s sensor. Essentially the Shutter Speed’s role is to control how long the light hits the camera’s sensor.

You will not get accurate exposure in a photograph if you set your shutter speed incorrectly; therefore your camera sensor reads the light that hits the sensor for the period of time that the shutter is left open. Depending on how your camera reads light and how fast your shutter is open, determines how bright your photograph will appear. To make a photograph brighter, you should set your shutter speed slower. To make it darker, you should set it faster.

Why is Shutter Speed Important?

Shutter speed is important in all photography shoot. This exposure is important in circumstances such as photojournalism and Landscapes. Within photojournalism, shutter speed is important when trying to freeze action in a photograph. For landscapes, Shutter speed changes the way you compose a landscape.

But Why Should You Use Shutter Speed? Many photographers rely on their aperture to let light into their photos, but this isn’t a good idea as the aperture should vary depending on the shutter speed you set. So, why not set the aperture and use the shutter speed? Shutter speed changes depending on the lighting available, the movement of your subject and the settings your ISO and Aperture are set to.

How to set a Shutter Speed

I will illustrate what shutter speed is, and can be used in different situations in order to set an accurate shutter speed. This will help you to understand how to use shutter speed in photography. The following tips should be noted to set a proper shutter speed.

If your camera is in Manual Mode, the process of setting shutter speed is dependant on your ISO and Aperture settings. The best thing to do when choosing your camera settings is to decide how fast you would like your shutter speed. Here is a guide on what shutter speed you should use.

When you should use Shutter Speed

Shutter Speed is very useful when shooting things with fast movement. This is the reason why you see all sports photographers photographing at such a high shutter speed so that they can freeze motion.

Shutter Speed is useful to freeze waterfalls, snowflakes, the air mist on a sunny day or lightning. Shutter Speed can also be used for portraits and even fast movement.

When choosing your camera settings you should set your Aperture (or the F-stop) to the amount of light that you would like to go into the camera. Aperture is a manual setting that controls the depth of field.

Shutter speed is important for low light photography. Shutter speed can be slowed down dramatically when your camera is on a tripod. Using a tripod allows your camera to take a photograph for as long as 30 seconds and even longer using bulb mode. While the shutter is open for 30 seconds it will capture all of the movement and take in all available light for that period of time, meaning that to photograph for a long period of time requires low light.

Bad Examples of Shutter Speed

Shot at 1/125

Shot at 1/200

As you can see from the examples above the shutter speed of 1/125 and 1/200 is too slow for capturing movement. As a result of this you can see that my photographs are blurry and not sharp. Because of this these photographs can not be used. To capture this movement I needed to speed up my shutter speed to around 1/500 in order to sharply capture and freeze motion.

Good Examples of Shutter Speed

Shot at 1/1250

Shot at 1/1000

You can see that the images above are sharp and clear. Football is a fast paced sport that requires a high shutter speed. Taken at a shutter speed of 1/1000 and higher you can see that the very fast paced sport has been frozen. This is a good example of using shutter speed correctly.


In this article, we learned about different shutter speeds, their effects and why you should use them. Shutter Speed and aperture are the two most important settings in your camera. You should know what settings are needed before you set you cameras settings.

If you’re still not convinced about this information, try photographing a subject in motion and change your shutter speed to slow down the movement of the subject.

If you are learning to use your camera on manual then you should also check out my blog on Learning ISO.