In Photography

Shutter Speed: Shooting in Manual

Manual Mode Series Shutter SpeedWhile I’m a big fan of breaking rules in photography, it’s always a smart idea to learn the rules your are breaking first. It makes problem solving easier and thinking through the creative process much less frustrating too.Shutter speed is another important piece of the Exposure Triangle. If you haven’t read the exposure triangle post yet, go back and give it a read, and meet me back here. I’m not going anywhere!

How Does the Shutter Work?

The sensor is the part of the camera that records the digital image (the film of cameras before the digital world). The shutter is a piece of metal inside the camera that opens and closes to allow light on to the sensor. Light enters the camera through the aperture of the lens, and when the shutter button is pressed, the shutter snaps open and closed to reveal the sensor, thus allowing light to hit the sensor to form the image.

How Is Shutter Speed Measured?

Shutter speed is measured seconds and fractions of a second. You’ll see camera settings written out like 1/100 which means 1/100th of a second. Camera’s vary and can range from a few thousandths of a second to “bulb” setting which means the shutter stays open until you tell it to close.

Camera meters are commonly set up to measure 1/3 of a stop. One stop (3 ticks on the meter) either doubles or halves the amount of light hitting the sensor. A fast shutter speed means that the shutter is open for a small amount of time, and a slow shutter speed means that the shutter is open for longer periods of time.

How Do I Choose Shutter Speeds?

The general rule for shutter speed to prevent blur due to camera shake is: 2 times the focal length of your lens.

Ex: So, lets say you are using a 50mm lens. The recommended slowest shutter speed would be around 1/100. Some people are more steady than others, but in average light situations/stationary subjects, I would not set my shutter speed slower than 1/125.

Shutter speed can be used creatively in a couple of different ways. You can accentuate motion or freeze motion. So when choosing your shutter speed you should ask yourself what it is you want to capture and how fast or slow your shutter speed should be in order to accomplish that.

Slower shutter speeds can capture motion in the frame such as water flowing through the waterfall. Slower shutter speeds can also be used to show movement of a person walking to make an image different or more interesting.

Faster shutter speeds can capture the same water from the waterfall in droplets instead, or a bird in flight, or a freeze fast moving objects like a ball or car driving past.

Shutter Speed and Shooting in Manual Mode

How Does Shutter Speed Affect My Images?

Choosing the correct shutter speed prevents unwanted blurriness due to  camera shake and motion of your subject. I remember often when shooting on auto, I may have had my subjects face in focus but the limbs may be moving and motion could be captured.  In some cases, this may be what the photographer is going for, but on a daily basis, not so much….and it puts you at risk for taking many blurry shots.

Shutter speeds can also be chosen artistically/creatively to enhance motion in an image. Many moons ago, I took these with some Clickin Moms photographer friends in New York.  The image on the left is an example of showing motion in the image. I stood still and photographed the ladies walking past.  The cab is an example of panning. With panning, you choose a slow shutter speed (around 1/30) and follow your subject with your camera. The subject then appears crisp and the background is smeared with motion blur.

Shutter Speed and Manual Mode Examples

Have you ever taken an image that looks blurry, but it shouldn’t be? It happens a great deal with cell phones in low light…and with DSLRs with the pop up flash turned off. The reason is because the shutter speed is too slow to stop the motion of the subject. It can also happen when the shutter speed is slow enough to record “camera shake”. No matter if we are performing the mannequin challenge or not, we humans tend to move a little bit. And with hand holding the camera at slower shutter speeds, this shows up as blurriness or an unsharp image called “camera shake”. Unwanted motion blur and camera shake can be avoided by choosing shutter speeds fast enough to prevent it. And on the other hand, by choosing slower shutter speeds, motion can be enhanced and turned into a positive thing.


Put your camera on shutter priority. This way you are choosing your shutter speed (SS) and your camera is choosing your aperture and ISO.

  • Take some photos of a fast moving object such as a car passing by, biker, etc. Hold yourself and camera still and allow the subject to demonstrate motion.
  • Change your shutter speeds to 1/2000, 1/500, 1/125, and 1/30. Take note of the changes

Can you see the difference in the movement or blur of your subject? Are the changes appealing or not? How can you use motion blur to your advantage and what are some examples?

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