What Is Shutter Speed in Photography?

One of the main things that are taught when anyone gets into photography is that it has three important pillars. The first is Shutter Speed, the second is Aperture, and the third is ISO.
To become proficient in photography these three elements have to be understood well, in order to tailor them to produce the desired shots.
This article will discuss one of them, the shutter speed. Specifically, what is shutter speed in photography?

What Is Shutter Speed?

When the shutter button is pressed to take a picture, a curtain-like shutter that opens and closes to capture the shot is visible through the viewfinder. This shutter is referred to as “The Camera Shutter”.
When the camera shutter opens, its sensor is fully exposed to external light. Afterward, the shutter closes once it finishes collecting the necessary external light for the shot.
Shutter speed refers to the amount of time the camera shutter stays open to absorb light into the camera. Basically the time it takes the camera to take the picture.

How Does Shutter Speed Affect the Shot?

Shutter speed is responsible for three things, the brightness of the shot, capturing high-speed objects, or achieving motion blur. And achieving any of these depends on the time set for the shutter speed.

Slow Shutter Speed

For example, when the shutter speed is set to a slow speed, that means the camera shutter will stay open for longer. Which will result in capturing a big amount of light, hence making the shot brighter.
It’ll also cause a motion blur effect if the subject was moving or if an object moves in the composition during shooting.
And if you think about it the blur makes sense. Since the camera is slowly capturing the scene, it won’t capture a moving subject steadily.
The motion blur caused by slow shutter speeds can be used to create many different artistic scenes.
It can be used to capture rivers or waterfalls and give them a smooth-looking motion blur. It can also be used to capture birds and give their wings a magical-like appearance.
And besides the motion blur, slow shutter speeds are great for nature shots as well. Have you ever wondered how these milky way shots and sky full stars shots were captured?
They were captured through slow shutter speeds, or “Long Exposure Photography” as some call it.
Long exposure photography is very common with nature photographers who have a thing for capturing the stars, but it requires patience.
Capturing the stars from a pitch-black sky will require the camera shutter to stay open for at least twenty seconds to slowly capture the tiny light particles from the dark.

Fast Shutter Speed

Contrary to slow shutter speeds, setting a high shutter speed on the camera will make the camera shutter snap open and shut faster, capturing the scene quicker.
This means that the faster the shutter speed is, the more the camera will capture any moving subject and freeze it regardless of how fast the subject is.
For example, sharp shots of athletes in action can be captured without any motion blur if the shutter speed is high enough.

Things to Consider When Adjusting Shutter Speed

When adjusting the shutter speed, other factors have to be considered to take the right shot.
For example, if the subject is a moving one, the shutter speed has to be a fast one to catch the subject.
But since the shutter speed will be fast, the camera shutter will open for a very little amount of time. This means that the camera won’t capture a lot of external light.
So in order to avoid having a dark shot, the aperture and ISO have to be set in numbers that will brighten the picture just enough to balance it.
The same applies if the goal is to take a picture with motion blur. Since the camera shutter will be open for longer, the camera will capture more light.
So, it’s important for both the Aperture and ISO to be set correctly to balance it out. This is why Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO are the main pillars of photography.

What Is the Measuring Unit of Shutter Speed?

If a camera is set to a very high shutter speed, you’ll notice that the camera captures the scene incredibly fast. It doesn’t even take a second right?
This is why when the shutter speed is under one second, it’s measured by frictions of a second.
For example, if the shutter speed at ⅕, it means it’s set at one-fifth of a second. And you’d be surprised at the shutter speeds that modern cameras can handle.
Some of them offer up to 1/5000th of a second and these are just the decent ones. More expensive cameras can cross 1/9000th of a second speed.
That’s why cameras can capture high-speed objects moving, even if the object isn’t very visible to the naked eye.
And it’s not just about offering fast shutter speeds only but offering slow ones as well. The slower the shutter speed can get, the more it’ll be able to catch the stars properly.


Once the concept of shutter speed and how it works is understood, with a bit of practice every photographer will be able to set the right numbers for their desired projects.
If the goal is to create a motion blur effect and increase the exposure for the shot, then a slow shutter speed will be best. Anything from capturing the stars, to catch the waves of the sea will need the shutter speed to be slow.
On the other hand, if the goal is to freeze something in motion and catch a sharp shot, a fast shutter speed is the way. If the project is documenting a race or trying to capture a bunch of street photography shots of moving cars, take up the shutter speed until suitable.