Photography: Shutter Speed

The shutter speed refers to the amount of time that the shutter of the camera is open and the film is exposed to the light. The speeds available on a camera depends on the design of the shutter and camera. Normal settings will include speeds of 1 to 1000.

A shutter speed of 1 indicates that the shutter will be open for 1 second. A setting of 2 will indicate that the shutter is open for half (1/2) a second. On a setting 60 the shutter will remain open for one sixtieth (1/60) of a second, etc. Each setting on the shutter speed is also known as a STOP. Each STOP will expose the film for exactly half or double the amount of time, depending on the side to which the setting was done.

Hand speed limit

The hand speed limit is the minimum shutter speed at which a photograph can be taken without supporting the camera on a tripod. At lower shutter speeds camera shaking can influence the sharpness of the photo. A safe rule to follow is to ensure that the shutter speed setting is higher than the focal length of the lens. (As an example, for a focal length of 50mm, the shutter speed setting would be 1/60th of a second and for a focal length of 200mm the shutter speed setting would be 1/250th of a second.)


If a moving subject is photographed at a high shutter speed (1/500th) the subject will appear as “frozen” on the photograph. If a lower setting is used (1/60th) the subject will appear as “flowing” on the photograph.

If the camera is moving as in a moving vehicle, higher shutter speeds should be used. If the lighting conditions do not allow higher shutter speeds, a film with a higher film speed should be used. Moving subjects can also be “frozen” at lower shutter speeds by following the moving subject with the camera (Panning). The background will then have a “flowing” appearance.

Time Exposure

Photographing subjects or scenery at night the “B” setting on the shutterspeed will be used. This is also known as “Bulb-photography” or time exposures.

During this process the photographer controls the time the shutter remains open to expose the negative by depressing the shutter release. The camera will be positioned on a tripod to ensure no movement of the camera.