RMAHD Photography Workshop: Shutter Speed

If you just bought a DSLR or mirrorless digital camera and you’re looking at the Manual settings wondering why they even exist, wonder no further.

This workshop is one of a 3-Part series on the basics of your camera. Whether you’re shooting on Manual or Auto, your camera uses three basic functions to capture a photo: Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO.

In this workshop, we’ll be going over Shutter Speed and how it affects the photos you take. A good place to start is the chart below:

The first row shows aperture, the middle row shows shutter speed, and the bottom row shows ISO. Each of these settings manipulate how light enters your camera sensor.

Your camera’s shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. The first square labeled 1/1000 is, quite literally, a thousandth of a second. That means that your camera’s shutter is opening for a thousandth of a second to let light into the sensor. In other words, if you took 1 and divided it by 1000, you get 0.001 – on DSLR cameras, it means your mirror is lifting and exposing the sensor for 0.001 seconds.


0.001 seconds is not a lot of time. At all. So consequently, your photos are going to be quite dark because light doesn’t have enough time to pass the lens and enter the sensor. If it’s very sunny out and the ambience is very bright, a shutter speed of 1/1000 might actually be great to capture a good, well balanced photo. But if you’re indoors taking a photo, you may need to lower your shutter speed to something like 1/125 where the sensor is open longer and absorbing more light. If we divide 1 by 125, we get 0.008 seconds. That may not seem like a lot of time, but in reality your shutter is open 8x longer than a shutter speed of 1/1000 or 0.001 seconds.


With high shutter speeds like 1/1000 where your camera sensor is less exposed to light, your images will undoubtedly become sharper because there is less of an opportunity for movement to be captured. On lower shutter speeds like 1/15 or 1/30, you’ll notice that your images will come out blurrier. Any shakiness coming from your hands will blur the image you capture. If your subject is moving at all, that motion blur will be captured. And that’s because on slower shutter speeds, while your camera sensor is capturing more light, it’s also capturing the movement of light with it. This is why many professional photographers carry around a tripod or monopod when shooting indoors or night scenes.


It’s kind of like flying an airplane. When you feel your aircraft skidding in the air to the left, you compensate for it with right rudder. It’s no different with a camera. If you’re shooting in low-light settings, you obviously don’t want a blurry mess of a photo. So what do you do? You compensate for high shutter speeds in low-light settings by adjusting your aperture and ISO. Lower aperture settings may sharpen the foreground subject and blur the background, but these settings also open up the lens to allow more light to enter the sensor. Increasing your ISO values may create more “noise” but can digitally brighten your photos in low-light settings.

Taxiing aircraft with a high shutter speed (1/8000) and high ISO (2000) comes out nice and sharp, but noise had to be digitally reduced using Adobe Lightroom. This is due to the low-light environment; notice the overcast, cloudy day caught in the background. Canon EOS 80D @ 400mm, ISO 2000, f / 6.3, Shutter 1/8000

Here’s another way to visualize what’s happening to the shutter in your DSLR every time you press the shutter button.

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