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Choosing The Right Shutter Speed For Your Photographs

  • Tutorials
  • 09/04/17

Ok, so you know that little thing we often speak – the manual exposure mode on your camera (not the lens, that’s a whole other thing)

Choosing The Right Shutter Speed For Your Photographs

Well, there are three elements to it that allow you to take a picture. It is important to know what each of them do so you can control what your photograph will look like.

The three elements are ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed.

The exciting prospect is that there are endless amounts of combinations of these values that all result in a correctly exposed image.

But which combination is the best, I hear you ask?

The answer to this is, it depends on how you would like the image to look – as each of the elements control a different part of the image. Nevertheless, there are some rules that can help you in the beginning.

Today, we are looking at choosing the right Shutter Speed for your photograph.

So what does this Shutter Speed code name S/S control?

It controls the clarity of the image. Still lost… Thought so…

It controls the clarity of the image in relation to movement. Movement is key here. Do you want to visualize movement by blurring it or do you want everything frozen? Of course, it is all relative to how fast the moving subject is travelling – for example, a motorbike versus a bicycle.

Try this: start with a 1/60th of a second, press your shutter button and listen how fast or slow it sounds and work your way up and down the shutter speeds to get an understanding.

But that’s not all – longer shutter speeds are also letting in more light. The longest shutter speed available on your cameras are 30 seconds, and then we move onto Bulb, which gives us hours of exposure if needed (such as with night photography).

The longest shutter speed you might get away in daylight (UK daylight, I might add) is one second – and that would be in the shadowy areas. At night you can use 5 seconds, 30 seconds or longer.

A few more examples of slow Shutter Speeds that blur motion are:

– 1/8th of a second to blur a person walking in front of your camera

– 1/30th of a second to blur a moving motorbike or bicycle

Using fast Shutter Speeds allow you to freeze motion:

– 1/60th to freeze motion of a relatively static person

– 1/125th of a second would freeze the motion of a person walking

– 1/1000th of a second would do this for a sprinter

The faster or slower the shutter speed, the more or less light you are letting into the camera – and so you will need to compensate with your ISO and aperture, accordingly.

The system that we teach in our Beginners Photography Course takes our students through a few simple steps.

1. The first step is to set the ISO to the lowest value, which is usually ISO 100 (not very sensitive to light, so therefore not “letting in light”), avoiding a grainy image.

2. We now fix the chosen Shutter Speed and commit to that for the desired outcome.
Choose a fast Shutter Speed for freezing a subject and a slow Shutter Speed if you intend to show motion blur.

3. Then bring the light meter to zero using the Aperture.
Check through the view finder of the camera. There will be a minus and plus either side of the light meter, letting you know if you need to open up the aperture to let in more light or close it to reduce the amount of light.
If the light meter shows minus you need to open the aperture and select smaller F numbers, such as F5 or F3.5 until the light meter is set to zero.
If the light meter shows plus, you might have to close the aperture and select larger F numbers like F8, F11, F16 to let in less light. Again, close the aperture until the light meter is set to zero.

4. Only if you cannot get your light meter to zero using the aperture, you go back to the ISO to increase it.