Shutter speed is one of three ways to darken or brighten your images. Altering this setting will also have other effects, so knowing what those effects are will unlock more control of your images.

Everyone has taken a photo with their cell phone at night and noticed that the photo ends up super blurry and streaky. I also think that most people understand that the lack of light is the reason behind this, but do you know specifically why the camera is doing this? It’s because of the shutter speed.

As with the other two parts of the exposure triangle, shutter speed is a way to darken or brighten images in the field. However, it can also have other effects on your images that you may or may not want.

In the following video, let’s take a look at how shutter speed affects more than just the brightness of your image.

Shutter speed is just as much a tool for creating a specific look as it is a method of getting the correct exposure. Most people will shoot with their camera in automatic shutter speed selection modes.

However, consider altering this setting on your own. Maybe you’re getting frustrated trying to take cool pictures of rain or snow, and every shot you take has no evidence of either. Or maybe you’re taking pictures of your kid’s soccer practice, and every shot comes out super blurry.

These are occasions when knowing how to alter your settings to get the shot you want is crucial.


Shutter Speed vs. Shutter Angle

How To Properly Expose An Image: What Is Shutter Speed? — Speed vs. Angle

We measure shutter speed in two different ways.

Shutter speed, in all photography applications, is a measurement of time — specifically how long the shutter is open. You’ll see it as a fraction of a second or a number of full seconds. So if your shutter speed is 1/250, this means that your shutter was open for one two-hundred fiftieth of a second. Super fast.

For film and video, you’ll see shutter speed represented two ways. One way is the standard photography measurement system from above (you often see this with DSLR-style video cameras). The other way is something called shutter angle.

Shutter angle is a measurement system that has stuck around from the film-camera days. There was a circular shutter that would constantly spin in front of the film emulsion. The shutter angle is a measurement (in terms of degrees) of how much of that circle is left open for the duration of the rotation.

So, in simpler terms, if you have a 360° circle, and you take out a 90° chunk (like a PacMan shape), then you have a 90° shutter angle.


Motion Blur

How To Properly Expose An Image: What Is Shutter Speed? — Motion Blur

Perhaps the biggest effect of altering your shutter speed is the introduction or reduction of motion blur.

Motion blur is a streaking or blurring effect caused by motion during the exposure. So, if (while your shutter is open) something moves, you will end up capturing all of that motion.

Motion blur can have pleasing effects in certain instances. For example, we’ve all seen the beautiful city traffic photos where the cars are just streaks of light. This is a result of a long-exposure shot. In other words, the photographer chose to purposefully leave the shutter open for a very long time.

A faster shutter speed will always yield much crisper, sharper images. So, many sports photographers choose to exclusively shoot at the highest shutter speeds they can.


Which Shutter Speed Should You Use?

How To Properly Expose An Image: What Is Shutter Speed? — Shutter Speed
An open shutter on a Mamiya M645 stills camera

Choosing a shutter speed is really up to you. There is no standard in this area. However, it is very important to know what effect your shutter speed will have on your images. For instance, if you’re shooting handheld, and you’re trying to take beautiful pictures of a landscape, you probably shouldn’t shoot at 1/60. If you do, there will be a slight blur to your image that you won’t be able to fix in Lightroom, Photoshop, or Shutterstock Editor. Consider lowering your aperture, and then bump your shutter speed up to 1/120. This will remove the blur that you can get from even the subtlest hand movements.

In video, the shutter speed requirements are much more specific. With moving images, motion blur (or the lack thereof) is much more apparent.

If you’re shooting video, the baseline for shutter speed is double your frame rate. So if you’re shooting at 24fps (frames-per-second), then you want to use a shutter speed of about 1/50. So, if you’re shooting slo-mo at 60fps, you want your shutter at 1/120.

In terms of shutter angle, the baseline for normal-looking and aesthetically pleasing motion blur is 180°.

Anything you do outside of those parameters is going to have a noticeable, and often unwanted, effect on your video. Unless you’re shooting Saving Private Ryan (which famously used a higher shutter speed), then stick with the usual.


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