The Camera’s Shutter Speeds

When and why should you change your shutter speeds?

By taking your camera off auto and playing with its shutter speeds, you can have a lot of fun and get some great results to boot!

Milky Way Photographed at Night with Slow Shutter Speed

Long shutter speed to shoot the Milky Way

There are some times when you need fast speeds such as with sports or action photography. However, there are other times that you can slow things down a little and get some very nice results indeed.

Probably the most used settings for a DSLR used outside are 125th/sec at F8 or 250th/sec at F8. This is the average reading for a normal day at ISO 100. The speed of 125th is ok for most subjects but for faster moving objects you will have a certain amount of blur. Try 250th. F8 will ensure that whatever you focus on will be sharp enough unless using a very long telephoto lens such as the 2000mm.

When you are able to perfect the use of shutter speeds, you will be able to take more unique photos. Images that you will want to show off to the world. Here is a quick list of shutter speeds starting from slowest upwards, what they can be used for and the probable result:

Sample shutter speeds and effects

  • 30 seconds or more: Great for night shots where you want the illumination of the city lights to glow brightly. Or maybe to get the effect of milky smooth water from a waterfall at dusk or dawn. If you keep the shutter open for a couple of hours and directed at the night sky, you should end up seeing star trails on your image as the Earth rotates.
  • 1 second: If you are at a wedding reception or a dance and want a spooky but nice effect, try this. Have your flashgun charged and switched on to auto. Set your cameras shutter speed to 1 second and aperture to approximately f.8. Take some shots whilst moving the camera about and the effect of the flash will "freeze" your subject, but the long shutter speed will give some amazing background effects from the lights.
  • 15th/30th/sec: If you have image stabilisation on your lens, this is about the absolute limit that you can hand hold a shot. But using a tripod, this speed will give you a small aperture creating large depth of field. This is good for dusky or dawn landscapes. These speeds are also good for panning shots of moving objects such as cars. Panning creates a feeling of speed with motion blur as the background blurs while the subject stays in focus.
  • 60th-250th/sec: Anything in this range is good for everyday general photography. In normal light, these speeds should give sufficient depth of field from the aperture setting for most subjects. This is whilst allowing you to hand hold your camera without causing camera shake.
  • 1000th-8000th/sec: These speeds, if your camera has them, will freeze most objects in their tracks. You can get really experimental here and keep your eyes open for fast subjects that you can practice on! You will need either bright sunshine, a high ISO (400/800/1600), or fast lens (f2.8/1.4) to be able to shoot at these speeds whilst exposing correctly.

Shutter speed examples

I have given some examples below, of shots with shutter speeds ranging from 2 minutes to 1000th/sec. Don’t be afraid to really experiment as if you are "digital" it won’t cost you a penny extra!

Old Jetty on a Misty Morning

2 Minute Exposure

Amazing Lightning Bolt and Purple Sky

15 Second Exposure

Wine Pouring from Bottle with Fast Shutter Speed

Fast Exposure 800th/sec f6.3

Woman Photographed in Sea with Fast Shutter Speed

Fast Exposure 1000th/sec f5.6

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