Nature and Photography Blog

Understanding Shutter Speed


This Osprey photo was taken at 1/1000 of a sec

Shutter speed is the amount of time a shutter is open. It is measure in seconds usually fractions of seconds.

Common shutter speeds include

1/2000, 1/1000, 1/500, 1/250, 1/125, 1/60, 1/30, 1/15, 1/8. ¼, ½, 1 second, 2 seconds etc

Each one is approximately double the other.


When considering shutter speed consider whether your subject is moving. Do you want the subject to be blurred or sharply focused?

In most cases I hope to stop the motion. There are a few exceptions

a.) Water: If taking a photo of a waterfall and want to show how fast the water is flowing.

b.) If you want to see a feeling of speed like a running Elk or photos of stars where you are trying to show how the stars move over a longer period of time..

Here as some common shutter speeds and their applications.

  • 1/2000 s and 1/1000 s: Used to take sharp photographs of moderately fast subjects under normal lighting conditions. A good example  would be photographing birds in flight and moving subjects.     
  • 1/500 s and 1/250 s: Used to take sharp photographs of people in motion in everyday situations. 1/250 s is the fastest speed useful for panning. I use this shutter speeds for mammals and other wildlife that is not moving fast.
  • 1/125 s and 1/60: This speed, and slower ones, are no longer useful for freezing motion. I use this speed for subjects that are not moving.
  • 1/30 s: Used for panning subjects moving slower than 30 miles per hour and for available-light photography. Images taken at this and slower speeds normally require a tripod or other camera support to be sharp.
  • 1/15 s and 1/8 s: This and slower speeds are useful for  photographs other than panning shots where motion blur is employed for deliberate effect, or for taking sharp photographs of immobile subjects under bad lighting conditions with a tripod-supported camera. I like this shutter speed for waterfalls and moving water. This speed will blur the water and give it a cotton candy like effect. This speed requires a tripod.
  • 1/4 s, 1/2 s and 1 sec: Also mainly used for motion blur effects and/or low-light photography, but only practical with a tripod-supported camera.
  • B (bulb mode) (1 minute to several hours): Used with a mechanically fixed camera in night and astrophotography and for certain special effects.

If you are using a shutter speed slower than 1/60 of a second you will need additional camera or lens support like a tripod. Actually I recommend a tripod for almost every picture anyway.

Relationship with Aperture:

Remember as discussed in a earlier Blog post on Aperture.

Shutter speed and Aperture have an inverse relationship.

Faster shutter speed = less the depth of field.

Slower shutter speed = more depth of field

As you change shutter speed you may need to change the Aperture or ISO or both to compensate for it.

For example if you speed up your shutter speed one stop (for example from 1/125th to 1/250th) you’re effectively letting half as much light into your camera. To compensate for this you’ll probably need to increase your aperture one stop (for example from f16 to f11). The other alternative would be to choose a faster ISO rating (you might want to move from ISO 100 to ISO 400 for example).

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