shutter speed definition

How To Use Your Camera’s Shutter Speed- Shutter Speed Definition And Use In Wedding Photography

Have you ever composed your shot, exposed for it perfectly, and finally pressed that shutter just to find a soft photo on your camera’s screen, when a soft photo was not your intention? There’s a good chance that your shutter speed could be your culprit. Fret not, we will go over shutter speed definition, the types of shutter speeds and how it can be used in wedding photography.

shutter speed definition

Learning How To Use Your Camera’s Shutter Speed Can Transform Your Photos

Let’s start with the basics. Shutter speed definition as the span of time your camera’s shutter remains open before shutting. While open, the shutter is allowing light to reach your camera’s sensor while it focuses on your subject. Which we’ve also discussed in our previous post on “How To Use Your Camera’s Aperture”. Now if you don’t know what the shutter is, the shutter is basically a plastic, cloth, or metal curtain (depending on camera) that simply opens and closes for a determined time span, when the shutter button is triggered. The most important part of this process that affects your photo is the determined time, which is determined by YOU! Depending on the photo you are trying to achieve you have to tell your camera whether to open and close the shutter faster, slower or to even keep it open for a long period of time. So that the light making contact with the sensor will create an image the naked eye could not. This is just another tool to be used to truly express your artistry.  Shutter speed is just another tool in your art arsenal to help express and capture what you want in your image.  Learning it and practicing it will be to your advantage.

Types of Shutter Speeds

Fast Shutter Speed


fast shutter speed

Fast Shutter Speed: 1/200.

For the purposes of this article, we use a shutter speed definition of “fast” when it won’t be blurry when handheld.  For the most part, anything 1/100 of a second or faster will tend to freeze motion.  I’d recommend 1/320 second to freeze motion if you can afford it (if there’s enough light).  Lots of nice, natural light will allow for a fast shutter speed.  This will let you play with the aperture and lower the ISO so you can get a nice, crisp, fast image with low noise.  If there’s a WHOLE LOT of light, you can close the aperture so that the background and foreground are both in focus (F/8 or smaller) and also have a fast shutter speed and low ISO (200 or 100).  This is ideal for an image.

When you think of a fast shutter speed, you can imagine trying to freeze the action in front of you. For example, use the photo above. In order to stop the things falling, you will require a fast shutter speed, such as 1/200, 1/400,  or even 1/1000, to freeze whatever is in your frame. This tactic could also work for shots consisting of falling snow or fast-moving subjects. A sports photographer could use this method to capture a basketball player in mid-air, getting ready to slam a basketball into the hoop.

Maintaining a Fast Shutter Speed with Flash

We all know, however, that ideal lighting conditions are rare, so understanding your camera’s shutter is KEY to making your image look the way you want it to.  If it’s low light (as almost every wedding is), it can be very very difficult to get images that turn out without a flash.  Once you’ve opened the aperture to its widest possible setting and bumped up your ISO up to 3200 or higher, and your camera is telling you that you still need a shutter speed of 1/30 or 1/15.. what do you do??  As a wedding photographer, flash is a last resort.  It can disrupt the mood and draw attention to you… but in a situation like this one, flash might be necessary.  It’s OK to use flash when all else has failed.  Flash will keep your shutter speed between 1/60 and 1/200, just the right amount of speed to get the right image.

Just keep in mind, with a higher shutter speed you will have to compensate for your exposure. As you scale up on your shutter speed, you’re telling your camera to shut the curtain in front of the sensor quicker. Which in return, will cause less light to reach your sensor.  You can compensate for that by lowering your camera’s aperture to a lower f-stop or boosting up your ISO. Be cautious of your camera’s ISO, because the higher you go, the more grain you could introduce into your image. Now that could be good or bad determining the image you’re trying to capture.

Slow Shutter Speeds

slow shutter speed

Slower Shutter Speed: 1 second

For the purposes of this blog, we’ll use a shutter speed definition as “mid-range” or “slow” for anything between 1/100 and 1 second.  We’ll definite this way because it can be “iffy” if a shot turns out without any blur within this range when handheld.  You can handhold a one-second shutter speed, but it rarely turns out.  For weddings and hand-holding images, we’d recommend a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second or faster.  A slower shutter speed is quite the opposite. With a slower shutter speed, you’re allowing your camera’s shutter to open and close at a slower rate. Which may or may not introduce motion blur. A slower shutter speed is more popularly used. With shutter speeds from 1/100 to 1 second, these speeds could generally be used for all photography that consists of slower-paced movements or no movements unless your intentions are for motion blur like the photo above. The photo above gives you an example of the effect of an object in motion and two subjects not in motion while shooting with a slower shutter speed. While the shutter opens, the water continues to move, but the couple does not. In the end, it creates a dreamy photo where the water is smooth like clouds but the couple remains sharp.

Long Shutter Speed

long shutter speed

Long Shutter Speed (Long Exposure): 15 seconds

Your long shutter speeds is where the magic happens! We’ll use a shutter speed definition of 1 second or longer in this article.  If you’re looking for truly dramatic or dreamy photos, using a long exposure can definitely get you there. Notching your shutter speed to above one second is about the range where you enter into long shutter speeds. Some may refer to it as long exposure. In setting your camera to this, you’re allowing your shutter to stay open for a long time before closing. Which will help a lot of light reach your camera’s sensor and expose for your image? For shots taken in a city, you’ll probably end up with stunning light trails from cars and other moving light sources. In a more secluded place, away from light pollution, you could achieve amazing photos like the milky way.

When attempting longer shutter speeds, you will have to relieve yourself from handheld duty and invest in a tripod to get a decent image. With a tripod, you are able to keep your camera from shakes that would ultimately result in a blurry mess. With a tripod, you could also need a remote shutter depending on how long you leaving your shutter open.

Utilizing Shutter Speed In Wedding Photography

For weddings, shutter speed is your friend along with the rest of the exposure triangle. The shutter speed helps to provide tac sharp photos when you need it. Why it’s important is because you could fix a dark or bright photo in post-production but more than likely you will not be able to do the same for a blurry image. For ceremonies, we recommend not going under 1/60 seconds to avoid getting a blurry image. For receptions, being that there’s a good chance you’ll be using lighting, shooting between 1/200th to 1/60th will provide the best images.

Locate Shutter Speed On Your Camera

You now know more about the shutter speed definition, but now you need to know where to find and monitor it! On many cameras, you’re provided with an LCD screen located on the back of your camera where all your information is displayed for monitoring. You can identify your shutter speed by the number most likely as a fraction such as 1/The Number Here.  If the number happens to be a number above or equal to one second then your number will appear with quotations, such as 15″. Other places you could probably locate your shutter speed are on your camera’s top LCD panel (if applicable) or your viewfinder.


Want to view more beautiful wedding images?  Check out our galleries here!

Article by Clane Gessel Photography