When we talk about Shutter Speed in photography, the first thing that comes to mind is its relationship with Exposure. The Shutter speed is one essential third of the Exposure Triangle (Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed), and using it correctly will help you get perfectly exposed photos. We are sharing this shutter speed chart to help you visualize how different shutter speeds will impact your photos.
But my belief is that understanding and mastering Shutter Speed for perfectly exposed images is the easiest part of the equation. The more exciting, but at the same time more challenging, part is to learn how to use Shutter Speed as an artistic tool in our photography. By using different settings of Shutter Speed, we can achieve some amazing effects.
The goal of this Shutter Speed Chart is to summarize and illustrate the different aspects of Shutter Speed to help photographers to master Shutter Speed to get well-exposed photos and embrace it as an artistic tool.
F-stops: Full Stops, 1/2 Stops, 1/3 Stops
We all know that together with the Aperture and ISO, the Shutter Speed controls the exposure.
And for a long time, it was a pretty simple and straightforward equation. When you changed the shutter speed from 1/200s to 1/100s, you doubled the amount of light that reaches the sensor. If you keep the shutter open twice as long, you get twice the amount of light. In photography jargon, This halving or doubling is also called a one-stop change.
When you are doubling or halving the shutter speed, you are changing the exposure value by one stop.
But with the introduction of digital cameras, we are not restricted to changing the shutter speed by one stop only. Some cameras allow us to change the shutter speed by half a stop, and some cameras by a third of a stop.
The idea behind the shutter speed chart is to help you calculate and estimate exposure in an easier way.
Your lens and camera shutter speed are related
Some aspects of your photo are solely determined by the shutter speed, but some aspects are controlled by other factors as well. For example, the longer the focal length, the more motion blur you will experience. For the sake of simplicity, we will assume a lens of about 75mm.
Shutter Speed Chart: “Safe” and unsafe shutter speeds
When you have moving objects in your composition, it is paramount to use the correct shutter speed in order to get sharp photos. The Safe Shutter Speed column visualizes this. As you can see, when the camera is set to a shutter speed slower than 1/100s you risk that your subject will not be sharp. We illustrate this with a running man that is getting more blurred as the shutter speed gets longer.
Slow shutter speed
Of course, you may want to deliberately blur your subject. This is an artistic choice. There are even special techniques to create blur, like Shutter Dragging, or Panning. Use this chart as a guide to help you accomplish your vision. If what you are looking for is motion blur, make sure to go into the lower parts of the safe shutter speed column.
Shutter Speed Chart: amount of light
This is a simple illustration that shows the correlation between shutter speed values and the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor.
A faster shutter speed equals less light, and a longer speed results in more light. I think it’s obvious, but just to get the point across, the sun is getting bigger the more light comes in.
The Shutter Speed Chart and shutter speed setting
This is what I call a Shutter Speed Cheat Sheet. It helps photographers to use the right shutter speed for the right task. For certain shots, you may want to move to higher or lower values as a creative decision, but the chart provides a solid starting point. This means that you should either move to shutter priority mode, or manual mode to make sure you have full control of the shutter speed. You can still play with ISO and aperture to get a good exposure.
Of course, different lighting conditions may require less (or more) light. If blur (or blur-avoidance) is what you are after, set your shutter speed but the chart, and then compensate using ISO and aperture.
Birds in Flight 1/2000
When wildlife photographers track and photograph a bird in flight, it requires an extreme shutter speed of 1/2000s to get the bird perfectly sharp. It has to do with the long focal length of the lens. The variation of this technique is to reduce the shutter speed to 1/400s, which will result in a sharp body of the bird but blurry wings. This is a more creative approach to wildlife photography. This is the top setting in our shutter speed chart and, interestingly enough, not all cameras are even capable of this high shutter speed.
Action Sports 1/500s – 1/1000s
You probably do not need an extreme shutter speed when photographing a golfer putting on the green, but any sport that involves fast movements and action requires some special attention to shutter speed value. Photographing a professional football game (or your kids playing soccer) typically requires a shutter speed between 1/500s and 1/1000 to freeze the action and to get sharp photos.
Street Photography 1/250 – 1/500
In general, the streets are not motionless. The streets are in constant movement. You have people walking towards and away from you; people crossing your field of view from side to side, cars moving and stopping, and generally a lot of motion. The proper shutter speed is paramount not only for getting the right exposure, but also for avoiding blurry or soft images.
Landscapes 1/125 -1/4
It is hard to pinpoint the shutter speed range for landscapes because there are many variants at play here. This is why this is the middle of our Shutter Speed Chart. For example, is it sunny, cloudy or dark? Are you using a tripod or shooting hand-held? Are you using a long or a short lens? If you are shooting on a sunny or cloudy day, a slower shutter speed of 1/8 or 1/4 is totally acceptable when using a tripod, but if you shoot hand-held, you need to reduce the value to get sharp photos.
Panning cars 1/15 – 1/60
Panning is one of the most interesting creative techniques that involves shutter speed. It’s done by using a relatively long shutter speed (say 1/15 -1/60), and tracking a moving object (many shoot cars, bicycles, and similar road-occupying objects).
Keeping the shutter open for a long time while keeping the subject in focus and in the same location in the frame, keeps the subject sharp and blurs the environment around it.
Waterfalls or fast running water 1/8 – 2sec
Here, we are entering a more creative approach to photography in general, and controlling shutter speed in particular. When you photograph a fast-running water with a longer shutter speed you create a visual effect that does not exist in real life. most likely, you would need a tripod, but if we assume you have it then magic happens. Using a longer shutter speed will smooth out the water. It is the same motion blur that we were talking about before, but with a small change. The scenery does not move and stays sharp, the water falls down the stream. So only the water will be blurred.
Blurring water 0.5 – 5 sec
Blurring waters is one of the foundations of landscape photography. Nothing makes a landscape or a seascape more dreamy and fascinating than a long exposure effect in the water.
When photographing oceans, seas, lakes, and rivers where the movement of the water is not too fast, or when you shoot from a greater distance, you need a slower shutter speed value than when you are shooting nearby waterfalls to get this silky and smooth effect in the water. Hence the longer shutter speed. If you want to be extra safe, use a timer, so there is not camera shake from you pressing the shutter button.
Fireworks 2-4 sec
It is not easy to photograph fireworks. You are shooting at night with bright lights popping up randomly everywhere. The logic here is to open the shutter speed long enough to capture the entire life cycle of the fireworks. If You use a fast shutter speed, you will only get a tiny unimpressive light blip in the vastness of the dark sky. If you use a very long shutter speed, you will achieve an overexposed, blurry, and unnatural effect. I find that the speed of 3-4 seconds works the best.
Stars (Astrophotography) 15-25 sec
Shooting stars or practicing astrophotography allows us to capture something that is not visible to the naked eye. Opening the shutter for a long period of time amplifies the dim light of the stars.
There is a fine balance here. Too fast of a shutter speed, and the stars will be tiny and dim. Too long of a shutter speed, you’ll get a star trail effect, and and blurred starts. A shutter speed of around 25 seconds is usually a good balance between the two.
But, if you do leave the shutter open for more than 30 seconds, you will start getting star trails. This technique takes advantage of the steady spin of the Earth around its axis. If you open the shutter speed for long enough, you can capture the trailing effect of the stars. The traditional technique requires a shutter speed of 15 minutes or more.
But with a digital workflow, you can simulate the same trailing effect by taking a series of photos of shorter exposure and overlaying them in post. It is not uncommon to take 120 photos, at a 30 seconds exposure and blend them together in Photoshop. It’s a sneaky way to get the same effect as shooting a single 60-minute photo.
About the Author
Viktor Elizarov is a travel photographer based in Montreal, Canada. He’s also the man behind PhotoTraces, a travel photography blog and community of over 60,000 photographers. Visit the Tutorials section of his blog for free tutorials and free Lightroom presets. This article was also published here and shared with permission.