Basics of Photography: Shutter Speed the creative Tool

Basics of Photography: Shutter Speed the creative Tool

Have you ever noticed that at times when you click a picture your image or your subject blurred out? You might have stood still as possible, but even then your image turned out to be blurry! This is just because of the wrong shutter speed settings and the is issue is commonly known as camera shake. There is a reason for this and can be easily avoided but sometimes you would want this in your image.

Shutter speed is one of the tools of the exposure triangle and the tool if not used properly will ruin your image. As the name suggests, this is the speed of the shutter in the camera which opens and closes(at least it is more accurate for old film-based cameras than newer digital sensors).

If you know what you are doing and how shutter speed works, you can get quite creative. This tool can be used to show motion in your image or even make an image standstill. You get to even play around with light! I will show you how to use each of these after explaining what exactly is shutter speed.

Shutterspeed Explained

As explained earlier, shutter speed is part of the exposure triangle, it is a cover that blocks the light hitting the sensor. When the button is clicked to take the picture, the shutter opens up to let the light fall on the sensor or film, creating the image. If the shutter is open for too long the more light falls on the sensor and the image becomes brighter and the opposite is also true.

Note: Modern cameras uses digital sensors instead of film, this is true even for your mobile camera. Here the shutter speed is the time taken for the sensor to absorb the light. 

This is why you can hear the shutter open and close in older film-based cameras and DSLRs. Mirrorless recreates the sound to give the viewer and that they have hit the camera button. This can be disabled in the camera.

The shutter speed is controlled by the camera and not the lens hence you will not see it written on the lens (There is something called the fast lens, I will explain this when I write about aperture). Shutter speed is written in seconds, for example, if you see 1/100 written on your camera then it denotes 100th of a second and if you notice 2” means the shutter speed is 2 seconds. 

The shutter helps in getting the correct exposure, but any movement when the shutter is open will get registered on the image. Which means the faster your shutter speed the sharper your image is going to be but lesser light and the slower your shutter speed the brighter your image is going to be but if any movement happens like your subject moves or even if your handshakes will be shown in your image as blur

Photo by Simon Migaj on

When do you use Shutterspeed

Shutter speed is a tool that can be easily overlooked as a creative tool. There are times where you would want a bit of blur in your image too!


As all the tools of the exposure triangle shutter speed are affected by the amount of light that is available. During the day and when you are outdoors, you would want to keep a fast shutter speed since there is a lot of light and allowing more light to enter could overexpose your shot. This will help you get images that are sharp and could help add bokeh to the background if you are opening up the aperture during the day time. 

Photo by Pixabay on

It becomes a bit trickier when there is not enough light, such as indoors or during the night. Here you will need to go with a slower shutter speed sometimes even into seconds like 1 or 2 seconds to increase the exposure. But the problem of camera shake can ruin your image, in these situations it is recommended to have a tripod so that the camera is stable or find a place with enough light so that you can use faster shutter speeds.


If you have seen a image such as a person walking and the background is blurred then you will understand what I meant by showing movement in images. See the image below as an example:

Photo by Snapwire on

To achieve this effect you will want your shutter speed to be just right so that you don’t get camera shake in your image. Many times you might want to move along with your subject (also known as panning). It is more simple if your background is moving since you don’t have to move your camera along with your subject.

The settings will depend on the aperture and ISO that you have set and your camera. 

Long Exposure

Long exposure just denotes when you use very slow shutter speed like a second and more. This creates a lot of different effects such as brighter image, streaks of lights or even smooth water. See the example below for each of the effects. This can even be used to remove people from a frame(yes it can be done).

Since you’re using very slow shutter speeds, camera shake is the primary threat. To prevent that, you would want to use a tripod and at times during the day, you might also want a polarizing filter to reduce the amount of light falling on the sensor since your exposure increases when you use such slow shutter speeds.


Now that you know how and where to use shutter speed, go out and give it a go. Getting the right shutter speed takes time to learn but once you get the hang of it there are no boundaries, and it is one of the most creative tools out there for a photographer.

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