Learn (Easy) to Control Your Shutter Speed ​​to Impress Your Audience

Today I bring you one of those articles that come in handy as a review for self-taught people, and that are essential for anyone who wants to learn photography. It is possible that a reflex camera, or EVIL, fell into your hands, and the keen desire to let your creativity fly led you to take photos with the simple gesture of pressing the shutter button, without reading the instruction manual or not knowing what shutter speed or aperture means. For example.

Now, there comes a time when you want to go from Automatic Mode and you want to achieve real photos, not the ones that your camera chooses, but the ones that are born to you from your artistic vein. Those photographs that you see out there that take your breath away and that you do not know how they have been taken. Maybe a better camera? Will it be the target? Not at all, it is about the domain of light. Creativity and art are fine, but you need to have a minimum notion of technique to make the most of your artistic vein. Therefore, I come with the third vertex of the triangle of light.

If you master the triangle of light, you pretty much master photography. We already have an article that talks in depth about ISO, another very detailed about aperture and, although we have covered it in many articles, we still needed to get into the shutter speed and tell you everything you need to know to leave the public with the open mouth. Go for it. Settle down. After this article there will be a before and after in your photos 😉 .

What is shutter speed?

You will already know (if not, you are discovering it), that photography needs light to be able to take place. This is the first photographic lesson. Without light there is no photography. For this reason, every camera has a mechanism that opens and closes to let light enter the sensor so that the picture can be taken. Is named shutter. This device can be of different types, but this does not interest us now. What you are interested in knowing is that the time during which the shutter is open is called shutter speed. Shutter speed involves two aspects:

  • Light input: the longer the shutter is open, or put another way, the slower the shutter speed, the more light enters the sensor. And vice versa, less time, less light.
  • Motion capture: during that time, not only does more or less light enter, but the sensor records everything that is happening in front of the camera. If something moves during the say 2 seconds that it is open, it will catch that movement. And if it is a very fast speed, for example 1/4000s, it will freeze it. It will record only that stopped moment.

Let’s see it better with a graph. The numbers below the arrow represent seconds or fractions of a second, which is how shutter speed is measured.

For sample, a button 😉

now let’s see Two examples of photos, a slower shutter speed (captures motion) and a fast shutter speed (freezes motion). They say a picture is worth a thousand words for a reason, right?

In this first image we see a photograph taken with a shutter speed of 4 s. That is, the shutter has been open for 4 seconds and everything that moved in that time, the musician and the violin, appear moved in the photograph. It is a slow shutter. Now, the microphone and the background shutter are clear because a tripod has been used. If this had not been used to stabilize the camera everything would be shaken. As you can see, slow shutter speeds can lead to blurred photos that are useless or can be used to achieve a creative effect, as in this case.

Image taken at a shutter speed of 4s.

Now let’s look at the other extreme, a very very fast shutter speed (as fast as many cameras can shoot). It is about 1/4000s. It is a way of freezing movement, of capturing what we are not able to see with the naked eye because of how quickly it happens to our eyes. Fortunately, technology allows us to enjoy images like this and, best of all, to be able to capture them. No, you don’t need the best camera in the world, my plain old Canon 450D can shoot at that speed ;).

Image taken at 1/4000s.

Next, let’s look at a sequence of a moving paper mill captured at different shutter speeds. This way you can see the difference with the same moving object. In all cases it moved at the same speed, the difference is the shutter speed with which it was photographed. While in the first image you can barely see the moles, in the last one it seems to be static.

What are you understanding? Well, let’s continue so that you can discover all the secrets of shutter speed and that, when you finish reading this, you have the possibility to go out and practice it and enjoy what you like most: photography.


Dance steps, steps in the night or steps of what? You may be wondering now what I’m talking about. Well, about something that you still know but that you don’t know that you know ;). We have said that shutter speed is measured in seconds. When we jump from one fraction of a second to another it is called a step. That is, imagine that you are photographing at 1 / 125s but your cat’s paw has been moved because he is playing with a ball of wool, you decide to use a slightly faster shutter speed, 1 / 250s, for example. Well, you’ve taken a step down. That’s one step. The jump between one value and another. We go up a step when the speed is slower (more light enters) and we go down a step when we use a faster speed (less light).

The same thing happens with the opening. Let’s see it with a graph:

Some cameras also work with half steps or third steps. Continuing with this same example, it would mean that:

  • Half step. In half step cameras you will find between the values ​​1/125s and 1/250s, another value: 1/180s. Next, I leave you with the half-step scale. In dark the steps, in light the half steps.
  • Third step. In cameras that also offer third steps you can find between 1/125s and 1/250s, two values, which are 1/160s and 1/200s. I also bring you a scale of a third of a step, so you can see it very clearly. In dark the steps, in light the thirds of step.

This allows for more flexibility because sometimes you don’t need to skip an entire step. The steps are explained here, in case you want more information. Note that it is also applicable to aperture and ISO sensitivity.

Learning to control the shutter speed

When you work in Automatic Mode, you have no option to modify it. The camera assesses the scene and decides what to do, whether you like the result or not. That is why we are not very friends in this way except for very few occasions. Fortunately, and necessarily for photography, SLR cameras, EVIL cameras and other cameras have other shooting modes that allow you to modify the desired parameters, such as shutter speed, which is what interests us today. Ok, let’s see the modes that let you decide the shutter speed:

  • Manual(M): you decide all the parameters, speed, aperture, ISO, etc.
  • Speed ​​Priority (S or Tv): it is another way of working the shutter speed but ensuring a correct exposure when you do not have time to adjust or when you are learning. The camera, once you decide what shutter speed you want, will determine the aperture for the correct exposure.
  • Bulb: you decide when the shutter opens and when it closes by pressing the button at the instant you want, it allows very long exposures.

If you’ve read this far carefully, you already know that at faster speeds, less light and motion freezes; and, vice versa, at slower speeds, more light and motion is captured. Now it’s time to learn to control when to use slower or faster speeds.

When to use slow speeds and when to fast

Although there are no magic recipes or infallible formulas, since everything will depend on the scene, your pulse, the focal length, etc., normally, above 1/60s, that is, with speeds like this or faster, you can obtain sharp subjects and scenes. Now, as your subject moves faster, you’ll need to use much faster shutter speeds. It will not be the same that you try to capture a splash, that your nephew playing to make towers.

If what you want is to transmit that movement, then you will have to use slower speeds, which can reach 30s in some cameras, or go to Bulb Mode, which if your camera has it, as I mentioned above, allows you to open and close the shutter when you decide. Very useful, for example, in night photography.

Now remember that when shooting in Manual Mode (full guide to mastering Manual Mode here) you have to find a balance between Speed, ISO and Aperture. Let’s say that if you modify the shutter speed, you will have to compensate with one of the other two parameters. That is, you take a photograph and it is correct in terms of exposure. Now you decide to go down a step or two because it has come out a bit moved; consequence: less time, less light. You will have to raise the aperture or ISO a step (or two). Always taking into account the side effects of each other. If all this seems too much for you, it is best to pause and practice. That you can’t go out with your camera, nothing happens, at home. Don’t you have the camera? Well, use a simulator. You have no excuse 😉 .

Remember that you can also use the Speed ​​Priority Mode, that will come in handy on many occasions, especially when you are learning. In that case, it is very useful to observe how the rest of the parameters behave when you modify the shutter speed.


I’m going to dedicate a brief section to it because, from certain speeds, if you only want a part of the scene to be moved and not all of it, you have no choice but to use a tripod. With what speeds will depend on your pulse, if you have a steady hand or not, or even on the focal length. For example, below 1/80s without stabilizing the camera I can’t get a clear photo even if everything is static. I have the pulse of a granny.

Regarding the focal length, there is a trick or a rule:

1/ focal length

That is, freehand, if you use a 200mm focal length, you have to shoot at least 1/200s or higher speeds so that there is no camera shake. Or use a tripod ;).

Now, all this is indicative, since more factors influence (magnification size, lens with stabilizer, the crop factor, if you hold the camera well or not, etc.). To name them all and go deeper would be to confuse you more. The best thing is that you try and find your formula. One tip is to enlarge the photo on the screen to make sure it’s sharp, which sometimes…