Basics of Photography: Shutter Speed

To take better pictures, you must first understand how to use your DSLR camera. Knowing how to properly use your camera and its functions can take your photography skills to a new limit. In this self-teach photography course, we will discuss what shutter speed is, how it can affect your pictures, and how to change it on your Nikon or Canon DSLR camera.

what does shutter speed do

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is the length of time the camera shutter is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor. Essentially, it’s how long your camera spends taking a photo. This has a few important effects on how your images will appear.

First, the sensor is exposed to more light because it’s been given more time. This is useful in low light situations. Second, the sensor is subject to more motion which causes motion blur.

How Shutter Speed is Measured

Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second, when they are under a second. For example 1/4 means a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second (or four milliseconds).

Most modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can handle shutter speeds of up to 1/4000th of a second, while some can handle much quicker speeds of 1/8000th of a second and faster. On the other hand, the longest available shutter speed on most DSLRs or mirrorless cameras is typically 30 seconds. You can use a longer shutter speed by using external remote triggers, if necessary.

Usually, you wouldn’t want a shutter speed any slower than 1/30th of a second when photographing handheld (unless you’re known for your remarkably still hands). Generally, you want to use the fastest shutter speed you can.

How to Set Shutter Speed

Most cameras handle shutter speeds automatically by default. When the camera is set to “Auto” mode, the shutter speed is selected by the camera without your input (and so are aperture and ISO). However, you can still set the shutter speed manually if necessary:

Shutter Priority

By setting the camera to “Shutter Priority” mode, you choose the shutter speed, and the camera automatically selects the aperture.

As discussed in the different shooting modes, Shutter priority allows you to set the shutter speed and ISO but allows the camera to set the aperture automatically. This mode is useful if the shutter speed is the most important consideration when taking a photo. This is often the case when you want to make sure you take a photo fast enough to capture motion but do not care about the aperture. This is useful for photography sports, dance, or anything with a lot of movement.

Manual Mode

By setting the camera to “Manual” mode, you choose both shutter speed and aperture manually.

Within both shutter priority and manual mode, you can choose to set ISO manually or automatically.

How to Find Shutter Speed

Do you know how to find what your camera shutter speed is set to? It is typically very easy to find it. On cameras that have a top panel, the shutter speed is typically located on the top left corner.

what is shutter speed

You can also look through the viewfinder, where you will see the shutter speed on the bottom-left side.

what is shutter speed

How To Change Shutter Speed

First, make sure you are in manual or shutter priority mode.

Nikon Camera

To set your shutter speed on a Nikon Camera, depress the shutter release button until the meter is activated. Then, using your thumb, rotate the Main Command Dial.

changing shutter speed on a nikon dslr camera

Canon Camera

To set your shutter speed on a Canon Camera, depress the shutter release button until the meter is activated. Then, with your index finger, turn the main dial on the top of the camera.

how to change the shutter speed on a canon dslr camera
shutter speed

Connect with Moms through Momtography

A Facebook group of moms fighting depression by using their camera to cope with the hardships of motherhood.

Join Now

This site contains affiliate links. If you use these links to make a purchase we may earn a commission, at no additional cost to you.

Mobile Presets

Written by : Oak Five Studios

Oak Five Studios was inspired by my own journey through postpartum depression. I want other moms to know you’re not alone. You’re not a bad momma. And with the right support system, we can raise awareness and fight PPD.