What is Shutter Speed?

When taking photos, there are a variety of different settings that you can tweak to affect brightness, sharpness, contrast, and other image qualities. One of the most important components of a camera is the shutter. Besides covering the lens, this device determines how long the camera sensor is exposed to light, which affects the brightness of a given image. This time period is known as the shutter speed. Below, we've outlined how shutter speed can have a dramatic impact on your photographs, whether you're dealing with action shots or still scenes.   

How does shutter speed work?

The longer the shutter stays open, the more light hits the camera. For example, a shutter speed of 1/1000 (i.e. one thousandth of a second) takes in half the light of a 1/500 shutter speed. When shutter speed is taken together with aperture and ISO settings, you end up with your camera's exposure value. Photographers call abnormally bright images "over-exposed" and dark images "under-exposed", and shutter speed plays a major role in that final value.       

Ideally, you're looking to find the perfect balance between shutter speed and aperture, with the ISO (a.k.a. light sensitivity) set as low as possible for your light conditions. A range of different combinations can produce the same exposure value, but it takes experience to know how to achieve balance between the three parameters. For example, a 1/200 shutter speed and f/2.0 aperture will produce the same exposure as a 1/50 shutter and f/4 aperture. 

How does the shutter capture movement?

Besides influencing exposure, shutter speed has a direct effect on how movement is visualized. As a general rule, faster shutter speeds capture subjects more quickly, regardless of whether they're darting across the frame or standing still. This can be invaluable when shooting fast-paced sports and nature photography. However, you may prefer a little blurriness to your subject, just to show how fast it's moving, and this effect can be fine-tuned with longer shutter speeds. 

What's the best method to determine an appropriate shutter speed for your subject? Start figuring out what values make sense for how fast the subject is moving, and think about where the subject is in relation to your camera. This takes practice, and you'll definitely take some clumsy photos along the way, but after a while, it will become second nature. 

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