PBG: The Exposure Triangle – Understanding Shutter #4

Understanding shutter

Understanding Shutter is the fourth part of a longer series of in-depth post designated for beginner photographers or anyone interested to learn photography

In photography, the shutter is a device opened and closed by a mechanism in order to expose the film or the camera sensor.

Not all cameras have a physical shutter mechanism, but all DSLR cameras does.

You will meet very often in photography the term ‘shutter speed

What is the Shutter Speed?

It is basically the duration the shutter remains open in order to let the right amount of light coming into the sensor

Shutter speed terms come as:

  • Slower shutter speed: when the mechanism remains open for a longer period of time to let more light coming into the sensor, for long exposures.

Example, 1/8sec, 1/2sec, 5sec or more, represents slower shutter speeds. The electronic or physical shutter remains open for this amount of time, letting plenty of light to fall on the camera sensor

This is very useful ideally when taking night photographs or long exposure when there is not enough light to come into the sensor and the mechanism have to be opened for a longer period of time.

  • Faster Shutter Speed: when the mechanism remains open for a very short period of time

Examples such as 1/800sec, 1/2000sec etc. let just a fraction of the light come on the camera sensor. But the trick is, there has to be enough light to get the right exposure.

The 2000th part of a second, more or less by decimals, freeze the moment.

Have you ever tried to take a photo to a flying helicopter? If the conditions are right (enough light, etc) you will very capture the blades of the helicopter while flying, as they are not spinning at all.

Or maybe that you took a photo by a moving car or motorbike, and the interesting fact is that if you are looking at the tyres, they look like they are not moving at all.

Those are the real effects of very fast shutter speed when there is more than enough light to create a properly exposed image, a balance of the exposure triangle.

Although there is a direct relationship of the shutter speed with the aperture and ISO, if we manually modify by increasing or decreasing the shutter speed while the aperture and ISO remain the same, the photograph will be either overexposed or underexposed.

In order to avoid that we must understand the exposure triangle.

the exposure triangle - shutter speed

In the previous post, we largely spoke about the Aperture and the importance of the aperture.

Understanding the exposure triangle is one of the most important parts in photography in order to create a proper exposed photograph with minimum noise and the right depth of field.

What shutter speed to use?

Later in the post, we will speak about the camera mode called shutter priority where we can manually set the shutter speed but let the other two value (as prefered) to configure automatically depending on the shutter speed we have, for a properly exposed photograph.

Setting the shutter speed on specific value will unlock us crazy potentials of using the camera and capture unique photographs.

  • 1/4000 – Very fast animals, bees, extreme motion
  • 1/2000 – Race cars, sports, extreme wildlife
  • 1/1000 – Wildlife photography, sports, waves splashing
  • 1/500 – Slow sports, Fast casual photography
  • 1/250 – Casual photography
  • 1/100 – Cloudly day photography, street photography
  • 1/60 – Indoor photography
  • 1/30 – Low light photography (night)
  • 1/15 – Blurring motion
  • 1/10 – Creating low light motion
  • 1/5 – Short exposure, motion
  • 1/2 – Creating extreme motion of a fast-moving car
  • 1″ to 3″ – Fireworks
  • 3″ to 10″ – Light trails, light painting, waterfalls.
  • 10″ to 20″ – Milky Way photography (depending on the lens wideness)
  • 20″ to 30″ – Long exposure sea, waterfalls, extreme light trails and paintings
  • BULB (30″+) – Extreme long exposure photography

Shutter speed scenarios, in details.

Having the shutter speed between 1/4000 and 1/500 part of a second requires you to have excellent light conditions. This is very important to take in consideration when you are aiming for extreme motion subjects, to photograph wildlife, sports photography and any other scenarios where we have to freeze the moment.

You may or you may not be able to obtain this shutter speed, considering two main factors: the sensor size and the lens aperture

If the lens has a very wide aperture such as f1.8, f1.4, you will be able to obtain more light. This requires you mainly having a prime lens because, compared with a zoom lens where the aperture is narrower (f3.2, f5.6 etc). Have a read on our PRIME VS ZOOM lenses post for more information.

The second factor to keep in mind is the size of the sensor. In our PBG series (the DSLR basics) we mostly spoke about two main sensor sizes, the APS-C or DX vs Full Frame or FX.

The FX sensor is much larger than the DX sensor which allows more light to capture.

Therefore, in order to obtain a very fast shutter speed, two very important elements which break some bad lighting conditions are fast aperture prime lens and a large sensor camera.

The casual photography (outdoors) will usually have a shutter speed between 1/80 and 1/500, but mostly about 1/250 part of a second. It all depends on the light scenes and weather conditions

1/60th of a second is a standard to be able to take good sharp photographs handheld with a lens or camera with no image stabilisation and is the recommended value for the indoor photography

1/15 and 1/30 usually work well for night photography handheld. Without image stabilisation, you will struggle to get sharp images on those values but not impossible.

About half of a second (1/2) is the maximum you can do to obtain a sharp photograph with a very good lens with image stabilisation. It is possible. But without image stabilisation, it is very impossible to obtain any sharp images.

1″ to 3″ are the recommended values to use when taking photographs to fireworks (keep in mind the need of a tripod) but not always.

I wrote another guide on how to photograph fireworks and I largely spoke about two parts where you are either able to take handheld sharp firework photos or long exposure. The above settings are recommended for long exposures.

Whenever I am taking long-exposure photography, light trails or paintings my shutter remains open between few seconds up to even a few minutes.

Keep in mind that there are no fixed values and everything depends on your scene and elements.

As an instance, I have had taken sea photographs in the past with the shutter opened for about 5 minutes.

In the case of astrophotography (milky way photographs), the length of the exposure is depending on the wideness of your lens. If the lens is wide (e.g. 18mm) you can take longer exposures without to get star trails. This is called the 500 rule of astrophotography (external link).

When to use the shutter priority mode?

As I’ve just mentioned above, the shutter priority mode allows you to manually set the shutter while the aperture is automatically set depending on the light situation, while ISO is either AUTO or have a fixed value.

Using shutter priority mode on your camera is very important in learning photography and creating the right type of motion to your moving subject.

From my personal experience, I usually use the shutter priority mode in the following scenarios:

  • Sport photography
  • Wildlife photography (not always)
  • Waterfall and some long exposure of flowing waters
  • Lightning strikes (or manual mode)
  • Macro photography (both shutter and aperture mode, depending on the subject and elements)
  • Light trails and paintings

Obviously, there are many other scenarios where the shutter priority mode can be used but the above listed are just a few of them.

Practice with shutter and your photography journey will forever change (in better). You have my promise here.

Thank you for reading our shutter guide, the fourth post from our PBG series. Stay tuned for more.

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In this post I will try to explain what is the shutter and shutter speed and the importance part of the triangle exposure.
If you want to read more about the shutter speed you can do it with us.

About Gabriel Mihalcea

Howdy! You’re here! Great things to start! Hi, I’m Gabriel I live in the UK in the beautiful town of Hastings. I am a photographer, and I do DSLR and drone photography. I always loved to capture everything I could see through the eye-finder of my Nikon, or the bird-eyes of my drone. My expectations are to share everything I learned about photography and help anyone in need to reach their potential. Honestly, nobody ever reached their maximum potential as there would always be more room for improvement, more information to achieve or new technologies in photography released on the market. But leaving that aside, I am here to help anyone in need.

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