How to Choose a Shutter Speed

The shutter controls exposure by the length of time it remains open. The basic function of shutter speed is to provide correct exposure, but you can also use it to control the expression of your subject's motion and to control the effect of camera movement.

1. Freezing Motion

The faster the subject is moving, the higher the shutter speed required to stop the action. To freeze the motion of a pedestrian, for example, choose a speed of at least 1/60 sec.; for a moving car, as fast as 1/1000 sec. The motion of the motorcycle in this photo was frozen at 1/2000 sec.

2. Blurring the Subject's Motion

Blurring part of the picture can give a convincing sense of action. To blur the subject, simply set a shutter speed which is too slow to freeze its action. In this photo it was blurred at 1/15 sec.

3. Panning

You can blur the background while keeping the subject relatively sharp by "panning." Choose a shutter speed suitable for the subject's motion and release the shutter as you follow the movement, turning the upper part of your body.

Blurring part of the picture can heighten the sense of action. In most cases, however, image blur is undesirable. To avoid blurred pictures from camera movement, choose a shutter speed of at least 1/60 sec. for handheld shooting with a standard lens.

With a telephoto lens, it is advisable to use faster shutter speeds. The rule of thumb is to use a shutter speed no slower than the reciprocal of the lens in use. This means that for a 100mm lens, the shutter speed should be at least 1/125 sec.; for a 500mm lens, it should be at least 1/500 sec.

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