How to Choose the Right Shutter Speed

How to Choose the Right Shutter Speed

Taking good photographs isn’t just about buying the most expensive camera available. Whether you’re a wedding photographer or an amateur looking to turn professional, it’s important that you understand shutter speed and how it can affect the photos you take.

Wedding Photography.jpg

What is Shutter Speed?

The easiest way to explain shutter speed is the length of time the camera shutter is open. Back in the days of “film” photography, this was the time that the film was exposed to the scene. In digital photography terms, the shutter speed is how long the camera’s image sensor “sees” the scene.

Different Shutter Speeds

There are various shutter speeds for various purposes. Measured in seconds (fractions of seconds), speeds are denoted in numbers such as 1/1000 or 1/50. Obviously, the larger the denominator, the greater the speed. The average camera speed is usually 1/60. Speeds slower than this are hard to manage as they almost always lead to blurry photographs.

The most common shutter speed settings available on cameras are usually 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8 etc. Some cameras also allow you the option of measuring shutter speed in full seconds (not fractions) such as 1 second, 2 seconds, 10 seconds etc. This is particularly useful in low light photography or when you are trying to capture movement.

Of course, many photographers use shutter speeds lower than 1/60 and this does not mean all their photographs turn out blurry. For best results, slow shutter speeds should be used when your camera is on a tripod so your camera is stable and there is no shake whilst capturing the shot.

Picking the Ideal Shutter Speed

Now that you know the technical details, how do you go about picking the right shutter speed so you get perfect photos? Needless to say, the demands of wedding photography will be vastly different to photographing a school sports carnival.

The most important consideration when picking the right shutter speed is movement. How much movement do you expect to capture?

Would you like to “freeze” this movement in order to get a clean, clear photo? In this case, you need to use a fast shutter speed. This will let you capture the moment before it escapes you. Or maybe you would like to let the movement appear blurry (intentionally) in the photos to better project the movement? A slower shutter speed should be used in this case.

The actual numbers for the speeds will depend on how “frozen” or “blurry” you want your images to turn out and a little trial and error in the right situation will help you figure this out.

Considering Focal Length

The focal length of your lens will contribute to camera shake and unless you have in-camera image stabilisation, you should consider your shutter speed depending on the focal length as well. For longer focal lengths, you will probably need faster shutter speeds. Without image stabilisation, you are best to use a shutter speed denominator that is larger than the length. So, for 200mm lens, your ideal speed would be 1/250 for a good quality photograph.
Following these tips will help you choose the right shutter speed and will take you a long way towards taking better photos.

Read more about Shutter Speed at – Introduction to Shutter Speed and Understanding Shutter Speed.

Kevin provides various tips and tricks on wedding photography, portrait photography and family photography.

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Some Older Comments

  • Sherry May 11, 2012 12:01 pm

    I run an small animal rescue organization. I am searching for the right camera with the right settings at a budget price to take picture of the dogs. My biggest issue is catching the moment. I am constantly missing a great shot because of the delay of the camera. Can someone help me to choose the best camera?

  • Kevin March 30, 2012 07:06 pm

    @Jeff this is so very true sometimes photographers get caught up on the benefits of higher shutter speeds and forget the amazing details that can be captured by using a slower shutter speed.

    @Marco you have made some really fantastic points. Thanks for adding to this article with your comments.

  • Kevin March 30, 2012 07:06 pm

    @Steve Slater - all I can say is wow! This photo really showcases the beauty of mastering your shutter speed! Thanks for sharing.

    @Jerry, lighting always plays a huge part in any great photography that goes without saying. Before one even starts to look at the benefits of shutter speed it is imperative to have gotten a handle on knowing your lighting.

    @Erik thanks for the awesome tip.

  • Kevin March 30, 2012 07:03 pm

    @Jim these are amazing photos. You are right in order to become comfortable with a camera in all aspects you just have to keep practicing.

    @Raghaven whilst this photo is wonderful a different shutter speed probably would have given more depth to the photo. I still think you did well to capture it.

  • Marco March 10, 2012 04:00 am

    @javiar -- Yes you must factor in the crop sensor. For instance on my Canon 7D, the crop factor is 1.6 so for a 200mm lens that would mean a shutter speed of 1/320 second as a MINIMUM, but often faster is better. In fact I am almost always shooting a 400mm and consider 1/640 sec as the floor but for birds in flight I am most often at 1/1000 second shutter speed.

    @jason -- focal length does matter when you get to long telephotos or super telephotos. There is no way that you will hand hold a Canon 500mm IS lens on a 7D crop sensor with a shutter speed of 1/13 second unless you want a blurry mess. The Canon 500mm mark II has a four stop image stabilization built in but at an effective 35mm equivalent length of 800mm that still is not enough for 1/13 second shot of a bird on a perch. Try a bird in flight and you will need 1/1200 second to freeze the motion consistently!!! I use that much on a tripod with a gimbal head!!!

    @jim -- bird in flight panning is really tough but it is best to start with the large, slow moving birds like geese, pelican, eagles, and even hawks most of the time. Once you master these, then you can try the faster moving song birds and such but they are still frustrating at times. I highly suggest very good light and a shutter speed of 1/1000 second for starting out as freezing the motion is one of the hardest parts. Panning on other things is comparable. Slow steady moving cars are easier than motorcycles racing which are traveling at varying speed while dodging and ducking in unpredictable paths.

  • satyam March 5, 2012 02:50 pm

    very informative ! look forward for more guidance ! DPS is my first online tutor !

  • Arturomar March 3, 2012 07:22 am

    If this article was intended for beginners It had failed to explain the effect that shutter speed has in exposure.

    I'm not a begginer so I liked getting back to basics, so thank you once again for another DPS gem.

  • Divya March 2, 2012 11:00 pm

    A rotating carousel photo. Of particular interest might be the inter-weaved pattern in the middle of the rotating carousel, and, as a contrast, the sharp silhouette of the man standing.
    Shutter: 2.5 secs

  • Jason March 2, 2012 07:49 am

    With an image-stabilized lens I can consistently shoot at 1/13" hand-held and get sharp images regardless of focal length. I brace myself against an object when possible, and usually hold my breath as well. It's a very visceral experience and I enjoy the challenge. Below 1/13 the results are less consistent. It's only at about 1/2" that I just can't the image sharp enough and absolutely need a tripod.

  • Marcus Davis March 1, 2012 10:01 am

    I've been having a lot of fun playing around with shutter speeds as of late. Yesterday I went to a duck pond and work on catching birds in flight, using a faster shutter speed.

    Usually, I am photographing landscapes and sunrises/sunsets where I've used slower shutter speeds because of the dimness of light.

    Either way, they both have their difficulties and both produce great shots when you get it right.

  • OnyxE February 29, 2012 12:39 pm

    I have found switching from a film Pentax to a digital the settings I have to use are a lot different and a digital sensor is not nearly as sensitive as a film. I don't think...although i'm not a pro and could be wrong! I can rarely use a really fast shutter speed with the digital even with a high ISO when it's too grainy and it's very frustrating. I used to use 400 ISO film a lot and took most of my photos above 250 and often 500 or 1000.

    This photo was taken at 1/250 secs with an iso of 3200 with a pentax K5 ....and it was still too dark and now its too grainy.

  • jmoodyjr February 29, 2012 10:15 am

    There are two controls that must be set properly for each picture; shutter speed and aperture (fStop). Any change of one parameter affects the other. I have a very expensive camera that can do everything. I control it most of the time, and I like the results much better than what the camera selects. Of course I have many years as a 'film' photographer and understand camera settings. Basically an increase in shutter speed (1/higher number) requires a decrease in f/number, and the opposite for a decrease in shutter speed. On a sunny day I use "Sunny 16", that means you use f/16 at a shutter speed commensurate with the speed of the film, i.e., ASA 400 + 1/400th, ASA 1600 = 1/1600th. That is the starting place for the picture. Pictures using the process seem to have much better color than ones set by the light meter with reads the colors and affects the settings. Good luck!

  • Scottc February 29, 2012 10:03 am

    A very basic article, but the point about the impact of focal length (which is often overlooked) is well made. I find it impossible to explain the impact of shutter speed without discussing ISO and Aperture as well, so I think this article is better than I could do myself.

    This photo makes the writer's point, the effect is caused primarily by focal length with a fixed aperture setting, with the variable being shutter speed. Aperture....there I go again....

  • Amanda Kershaw February 29, 2012 06:06 am

    Jai, completely agreed! The other two linked articles, although still lacking, are worth a read at least.

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer February 29, 2012 05:23 am

    @javier....assuming you are photographing a still subject, for APS-C sensors having at least a 1-on-1 ration with the lens focal length is advised, meaning even on a crop sensor, 1/200th for 200mm can produce a sharp image. I prefer to have double the shutter speed to my focal length whenever possible. However, if you have a very good handholding technique, and I actually think that should be the very first photography skill acquired by anyone with a DSLR, then shooting at that 1-to-1 shutter speed to focal length ratio is less of a risk, and you may even be able to dip below the 1-to-1 ratio.

    Of course if photographing a moving subject, none of the above applies. I want at least 1/500th for even people just walking at normal speeds. It may be possible to get away with a slightly slower shutter speed, but it will make me nervous. Then according to how fast my subject is moving, I choose a faster shutter speed. For my dog running full out in the dog park, I want at least 1/800th if not 1/1000th.

  • Javier February 29, 2012 04:53 am

    I've never been sure of what is the mínimum handheld shutter speed on APS-C sensors. For a 200mm Lens should i use 1/200 or I must take the crop multiplier and use 1/300 ?

  • Erin @ Pixel Tips February 29, 2012 04:48 am

    I tend to use shutter speeds of 1/20 or 1/13 in conjunction with a flash when shooting indoor action shots. I like the crazy streakiness of the background lights, while your subject stays in focus!

  • Jai Catalano February 29, 2012 03:56 am

    This article was misleading. This should have been what is shutter speed with a hint of how to choose the right one. More than half the short and frankly uninformative article had been about what is SS.

  • MikeC366 February 29, 2012 03:42 am

    Good information. I like the blurry stuff. Sometimes, it just feels the right thing to do. one of my favourites that I have taken this year.


  • Jeff E Jensen February 29, 2012 02:41 am

    Ah yes, Shutter speed can do amazing things. It's easy to focus on stopping movement, but it is good to keep in mind that sometimes you want a slower shutter speed:

  • Erik Kerstenbeck February 29, 2012 02:35 am


    When shooting brackets for HDR, always one is in Aperture Priority, but always be warry of the shutter speeds!
    For this one I had to eliminate the +2EV shot, because being hand held, shutter was too long and image blurry!

  • Jerry February 29, 2012 02:34 am

    I would think that along with movement, available light would be right at the top of considerations as well.

  • steve slater February 29, 2012 02:20 am

    This was at 1/800th sec enough to freeze the movement.
    I was lucky as it was a quick shot out of the car window just before he charged me.

  • raghavendra February 29, 2012 01:44 am

    i always had this question in my mind.
    same picture in different shutter speed might added more meaning to it.

  • Mridula February 29, 2012 01:12 am

    Looks like I should carry my tripod around much more than I do! Clicked this one at 1/1000 wish I had composed it more carefully.

  • jim February 29, 2012 12:58 am

    I generally dont have trouble with shutter speed other when trying panning shots. I just suck at that and need to work on it. I do a lot of long exposure with a 10stop ND filter and while a lot of it is trial and error you generally get where you should be with a lot of practice. My advice, practice. lol. Here's a shot from Sunday morning in Detroit.

    A different kind of long exposure selfie. You try standing still for 30 seconds in high winds. ;)