What is Shutter Speed in Photography

The first portion of the exposure triangle that we’ll talk about is shutter speed. As you’ve probably guessed, this is the speed that your camera will take a photo. Well, sort of. There’s a lot more to it actually. This is actually how long the shutter will stay open, allowing light to enter your camera’s sensor. The longer and slower the shutter the brighter the image. The faster your shutter, the darker the image. 

In other words, shutter speed is the amount of time it takes for light to reach your sensor.

Slow VS Fast Shutters

Shutter speed is typically indicated in a format that looks something like this: 1/125 or 1/500. What this means is that your shutter is open for 125th of a second or a 500th of a second. 

When to use a SLOW Shutter

A slow shutter will show any motion that you may have in your image. Usually causing a blur. If your camera is on a tripod, this is a good technique for catching shots that require a brighter image such as images with stars or intentional blurring of vehicles during night photography, or light painting images at night.

In this shot, I used a slow shutter speed for intentional motion blur and to allow MORE light into my camera’s sensor. Doing so also helps you avoid high ISO settings.

When to use a FAST Shutter

A fast shutter is typically very desired by most photographers in most settings. This will allow you to “burst” images out quickly or freeze motion. However, this WILL DARKEN your images, so you’ll want to make sure your exposure is balanced accordingly. 

Shutter speed in photography
Image taken with a fast shutter speed to ensure no motion blur. Additionally, the shutter speed was used in this shot to help with controlling the amount of light coming into my camera’s sensor.

Shutter Speed – Quick Tips

1: Focal Length VS Shutter Speed

As a general rule, try not to shoot a shutter speed in the number is lower than the number that represents the focal length of your lens. Unless of course you’re shooting on a tripod or want blur for artistic reasons. Example: I would never want to shoot a hand held shot with a 50mm lens while having a shutter speed lower than 1/50. (I would still prefer higher than that).

When using my Canon 70-200 F2.8 lens, I avoid slower shutter speeds. I tend to actually aim a little faster than the rule, allowing for sharper images when dealing with motion.

2: Intentional Motion Blur

You can create really cool images by shooting at slow shutter speeds and causing intentional motion blur. As a matter and fact, you should try shooting at night while cars are passing by. It’s such a cool effect! 

3: When You’re Near Video Projectors

If you’re shooting in an environment like a church, where there is lighting or projection involved, be careful with your shutter speed. Too fast of a shutter will cause discoloration to an obnoxious degree or frozen light cycles, causing a “rolling line” effect in your image.

This Information and More Featured in Photography 101.

This portion of the exposure triangle and understanding it’s magnificence, is a small portion of my Photography 101 Course that you can, for a limited time only, be a life-time member of for only $45. That’s a steal, and so much more effective than buying books. This video series is continually growing and I’d love for you to be a part of our tribe! Learn more about the course by checking out this page.


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