Camera Shutter Speed

Your camera shutter speed is the speed at which the shutter located inside your camera opens and closes to allow light to pass through to you cameras sensor. Along with your aperture settings   and ISO settings it controls the exposure value on the photo shoot that you are about to take. Depending on your cameras (or maybe even your smart phones) ability you will have a varying range of shutter speeds to choose from. A mid range bridge camera will typically have a range from 30 seconds to 1/4000th  of a second. Shutter speed is all about freezing and capturing motion or blurring motion. To blur motion you need set your shutter to slower speeds and to freeze motion you need to set your shutter to faster settings.

Using camera shutter speed to freeze the action

If you wanted to photograph a fast moving object such as a racing car it would probably travel quite some distance within a few seconds and so would be out of focus at a mid range shutter speed. Therefore you need to limit the distance that the racing car travels while your photo is being taken to achieve a good sharp focus. You do this by turning your camera control dial to "S" and then changing the shutter speed setting to 1/4000th of a second, or the fastest setting your camera will allow. How far is the racing car going to travel n 1/4000th of a second? My guess is not very far so you should now be able to capture a sharp and in focus image. This is known as freezing the action. 

Using camera shutter speed to blur the action

If you wanted to be creative and do some light painting such as capturing car light trails you need to blur the action over a prolonged period of time rather than freeze it. You do this by turning your camera control dial to "S" and then changing the shutter speed setting to 30 seconds, or longer if your camera will allow. Due to the length of time your cameras shutter remains open your photo will be very vulnerable to camera shake so you really need to use a tripod or some other form of camera support such as a fence or wall. Stationary objects will remain in focus during the prolonged exposure time whereas moving objects will appear ghost like and be tracked and mapped as they move  across your image. This is known as blurring the action.

Blurring the action and capturing light trails

laser fun
catching light trails

Suggested shutter speeds

30 seconds or longer 
1 second or slower
1/2 of a second
1/4 of a second
1/250 of a second
1/500 of a second
1/1000 of a second
1/2000 of a second
1/4000 of a second
Capturing car headlight trails
Achieving milky water effects
Blurring slow moving rivers
Blurring walking people
Freezing slow moving animals or people
Freezing runners and athletes
Freezing fast moving vehicles
Freezing birds in flight
Freezing extremely fast movement


When you change your camera shutter speed you will also be affecting the amount of light that passes through to reach the sensor. If your shutter is open for a long period of time a lot of light will pass through it. If your shutter is open for only a fraction of a second very little light will pass through it. Therefore you will need to adjust the exposure of your image accordingly by changing your  aperture  and  ISO  settings to get a properly exposed photograph.