What is shutter speed?

You’ve probably heard the term before, but what is shutter speed and how does it affect your images?

Depending on whether you’re shooting with a DSLR or a film camera, the principles of shutter speed are the same. When the shutter is open, light can enter through the lens and expose your image.

The speed at which the shutter opens and closes determines how much light the sensor or film is exposed to and, along with ISO and aperture, make up the three components of the exposure triangle. Shutter speeds can range from fractions of a second all the way up to minutes if there are low light conditions or you’re taking photos of the night sky.

Shutter speed explained

So what’s going on when you hit the release button on your camera and hear that familiar “click”?

Well, two things.

Normally, light enters your camera through the lens, hits an angled mirror and is reflected up through a prism and into your eye. When you take your photo, first the mirror flips up and out of the way and, at the same time, a shutter at the back of your camera opens, allowing the light to hit your sensor or film, and an image is captured.

How does changing your shutter speed affect your image?

The longer your shutter is open, the more light is exposed to the image. This is especially important with moving subjects. By using a high shutter speed, you can freeze time and can capture a bird in flight or a car at full speed, in crisp detail.

A slower shutter speed will result in a blurred image, which photographers normally try to avoid. Used creatively, though, you can add a sense of motion in your image and produce some eye-catching effects, such as the blurred wings of a hummingbird or giving a sense of speed to a race car.

In film cameras, shutter speed used together with changing the frame rate you’re shooting at can produce action-packed and dramatic slow motion or dynamic time-lapse footage of a busy street scene.

Of course, once you have captured your footage, it’s time to bring it to life. With the powerful photo editing tools in Lightroom, you can create memorable images with ease.

Experiment with shutter speed in your next photoshoot and check out these other photo tips for more creative inspiration.