Photography Basics: Learn Manual Mode, Shutter speed (tutorial, Part 2)

Photography Basics: Learn Manual Mode, Shutter speed

Shutter speed represents the amount of time camera shutter is open and that means for how long will light hit your sensor. Camera shutter is just a curtain that stays closed until you press the shutter (button that you press to make a photo) to take a photo. When you press the shutter curtain opens, and stays open for amount of time specified by shutter speed and then closes and blocks the light to the sensor.

Slow shutter speed

Fast shutter speed

Shutter speed is measured in seconds. Most of the time you will use a fraction of the second. When you go under a second it will show fractions like 1/2 (half of the second) and most modern cameras go to 1/4000 of a second or 1/8000 of a second. To double the amount of light that is hitting the sensor you double the time. If your shutter speed is at 1 second and you need double the light you will go to 2 seconds. If it is 1/400 you will go to 1/200.

Basic scale for Shutter speed

Why is shutter speed important for your photos and how to pick the right one?

There are 2 main factors that you need to think about, when choosing shutter speed:

  • Is your subject moving
  • What is the Focal length of the lens that you are using

Is your subject moving, if it is moving the speed of it will determine what shutter speed you need.
If the subject is not moving you can use whatever shutter speed you want (limited by focal length, check down below).
If your subject is moving, you need to determine how fast is it moving, to avoid the motion blur (your subject appears blurry because of movement)

different shutter speed comparison

Why is the Focal length of your lens important for your shutter speed?
The main thing in it is how steady/sheaky your hands are while you taking the photo :D If you ever used binoculars you noticed that more you zoom more your hands need to be steady or the thing that you are looking at will be "moving". The same goes for camera and focal length of your lens. Also when you press the shutter to make a photo you add a bit of shake, not noticeable to you but it could be seen on the photo as a bit of blur.

General rule (if you shoot handheld, not using tripod) is:
your needed shutter speed=1/Focal length of your lens

To make it more simpler, if you use a 50mm lens your shutter speed needs to be 1/50 of a second or faster. If you shoot 200mm lens your shutter speed needs to be 1/200 of a second or faster. And that works great for Full frame cameras. If you use a "crop frame" camera (all manufacturers have a bit different size of crop) a general rule is to double the speed. So if you use a 50mm lens you go with 1/100 of a second.

This is a general rule, you need to test it out to see could you go a bit slower or you need to go faster.

Using a tripod with a remote shutter removes this problem, and if a lens or sensor have stabilisation your shutter speed could be slower (depending of how good the stabilisation is)

Some examples:

-You are shooting handheld, with a 15mm lens and your subject is a statue and you are shooting on a crop camera.
Your subject is not moving so the only thing you need to worry about is focal length of your lens (camera shake). So your shutter speed needs to be 1/30 of a second and you should get a sharp image with no unwanted blur.

-You are shooting handheld, with a 15mm lens and your subject is a running cat and you are shooting on a crop camera.
Your subject is moving so your main thing is to avoid motion blur. Now the problem is how fast is the cat moving. In time you will get the feel of what your shutter speed should be depending how fast the subject is moving. In this case you would maybe need 1/500 of a second or 1/1000 of a second to get a sharp image.

Easiest way to learn what shutter speed you need for moving subjects is to go out and practice. I shot a lot of football and handball as there is a lot of movement in there.

Shutter speed example
You can see that her hands and legs are moving to fast for chosen shutter speed, but the number on here shirt and her face are sharp. I like that look as it gives a bit of movement feel in the shot.

Some creative usage of a shutter speed:


Panning is a technique when you choose slower shutter speed and then follow the subject with your camera while taking the shot. The result is a sharp subject and background with motion blur. It is a try and error thing, there is no specific rule, and a lot of your photos will not be sharp in the beginning.

-Long Exposure

Long exposure is a technique where you choose slow shutter speed with a purpose of making moving subjects blurry. Often used to get smoother moving water

or to get some light streaks


  • Aperture
  • ISO
  • How to combine all 3 parameters in different situations.

You have some questions about shutter speed, ask in the comments and i will try to answer them.

To check out Photography Basics: Learn Manual Mode part 1 click HERE

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