Shutter speed

Filmmaker's Dictionary Feb 9, 2021

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed or exposure time is the length of time where the film or digital sensor of a camera is exposed to light. Simply put, it’s how much time your camera spends taking a picture.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds, or fractions of a second. Most modern cameras can handle up to 1/4000s or 1/8000s on their highest setting. The longest available shutter speed is often around 30 seconds, but it can go up to minutes!

The amount of light reaching the sensor is proportional to the exposure time: 1/500s will let in half as much light as 1/250s.

Effect of shutter speed

Motion blur is frequently used to signify something moving really fast, like a sportscar in an action movie or commercial. It’s often achieved by using a slow shutter speed. When using a shutter speed above a second or more, you likely want to use a tripod to stabilize the image.

A fast exposure time clearly has the opposite effect of the motion blur: it can be used to capture moving subjects or objects clearly. Therefore, it’s a must for wildlife or sports photography.

The shutter speed also affects exposure. The longer or slower shutter speed you use, the more light can hit the sensor, brightening up the images. This can help take sharp images in low-light settings, like at night. What else impacts the exposure of an image?

Factors of exposure

Exposure determines how much of a scene’s details are legible and well-lit. Three factors affect it: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. These make up the exposure triangle.

Aperture is the opening of the lens through which the light travels. Larger apertures allow lots of light to get through, while smaller ones do the opposite. Aperture is measured in f-stops.

ISOs are complicated, but ultimately, they determine the light sensitivity of a camera. A high ISO means that a camera is very receptive to light, brightening the image. This might introduce noise, which damages the image quality.

Do you want to learn more about exposure? Read this beginner’s guide to the exposure triangle on techradar.com.

What’s the best shutter speed?

In conclusion, there’s no such thing!

If you want to compensate for low light or introduce motion into your shots, you should experiment with slower shutter speeds. If you want to capture a moment crystal clear, you should probably lean towards exposure times of 1/60s or faster.

Experiment with different shutter speeds to make your creative vision come true!

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