Shutter Speed Chart as a Photographer's Cheat Sheet
When we talk about the Shutter Speed in photography the first thing that comes to mind is its is relationship to Exposure. The Shutter speed is the essential part of Exposure Triangle (Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed) and it helps photographers to get perfectly exposed photos.
But my belief is that to understand and to master Shutter Speed for taking the perfectly exposed images is the easiest part of the equation. The more exciting but at the same time more challenging part is to learn how to use Shutter Speed as the artistic tool in our photography. By using different settings of Shutter Speed we can achieve some amazing effects.
The goal of Shutter Speed Chart is to summarize and illustrate the different aspects of Shutter Speed to help photographers to master Shutter Speed to get well-exposed photos and to embrace it as an artistic tool.
Full Stop, 1/2 Stop, 1/3 Stop
We all know that together with the Aperture and ISO the Shutter Speed controls the exposure.
And for a long time, it was a pretty simple and straightforward equation, by changing the shutter speed from 1/200s to 1/100s we double the amount of light (1 stop) that reaches the film or sensor. You keep shutter open twice longer you get twice the amount of light.
But with the introduction of digital cameras, we are not restricted to changing the shutter speed by one stop only. Some cameras allow us to change the shutter speed by half (1/2 stop) and some cameras by third (1/3 stop).
The shutter speed chart helps us to do exposure estimations and calculations easier.
Safe Shutter Speed
When you have moving objects in your composition it is paramount to use the right shutter speed in order to get sharp photos. The Safe Shutter Speed illustration let us visualize that by using the shutter speed slower than 1/100s we enter the potentially unsafe area with the regards to sharp photos goal.
This is a simple illustration of correlation between shutter speed values and the amount the light reacheth the camera sensor. Faster shutter speed equals less light and longer speed results in more light.
Shutter Speed Chart and Types of Shooting
This is what I call a Shutter Speed Cheat Sheet that helps photographers to use a shutter speed as the creative tool.
Birds in Flight 1/2000
When wildlife photographers track and photograph a bird in flight it requires an extreme shutter speed of 1/2000s to get the bird perfectly sharp. The variation of this technique is to reduce the shutter speed to 1/400s will result in a sharp body of the bird but blurry wings. This is a more creative approach wildlife photography.
Action Sports 1/500s - 1/1000s
You probably do not need an extreme shutter speed when photographing a golfer putting on the green but any sports that involve fast movements and actions will need special attention to shutter speed value. Photographing professional football game or your kids playing soccer will require shutter speed between 1/500s and 1/1000 to freeze the action and to get sharp photos.
Street Photography 1/250 - 1/500
In general, when photographing the streets the scene is in constant movement. You have people walking towards you or crossing the street, cars moving and stopping, the proper shutter speed is paramount not only for getting the right exposure but also for avoiding blurry or soft images.
Landscapes 1/125 -1/4
It is hard to pinpoint the shutter speed range for the landscapes because the techniques and the setting you use will vary depending on if you shoot hand-held or on a tripod. The slower shutter speed of 1/8 or 1/4 is totally acceptable when using a tripod but if you shoot hand-held you need to reduce the value to get sharp photos.
Panning Cars 1/15 - 1/60
The planning is one of the most interesting creative technique that involves the shutter sped. By using a longer shutter speed (1/15 -1/60) and tracking the moving object (car) when the shutter is open let us create the effect when the main object is in focus and the environment around it is blurred.
Waterfalls or Fast Running Water 1/8 - 2sec
Here we are entering a more creative approach to photography in general and shutter speed in particular. By photographing a fast running water with the longer shutter speed allows us to create the visual effect which does not exist in real life. It is like creating a special effect in movies. You open up the shutter speed for a longer period of time and let moving water to create motion blur effect.
Blurring Water 0.5 - 5 sec
Blurring the water is the foundation of landscape photography. Nothing makes the landscapes and seascapes dreamy and fascination like long exposure effect in the water. When photographing ocean, sea, lakes, and rivers where movement in the water is not too fast or when you shoot from a greater distance, you need a lower value of the shutter speed compared to shooting the waterfalls to get this silky and smooth effect in the water.
Fireworks 2-4 sec
It is not easy to photograph fireworks. You are shooting at night with bright lights popping up randomly everywhere. The logic here is to open the shutter speed long enough to capture the entire lifespan of the shoot. You use faster shutter speed and you will get a tiny unimpressive light in the vastness of the dark sky and it you use too long value you will achieve the overexposed, blurry and unnatural effect. I find that the speed of 3-4sec works the best.
Stars (Astrophotography) 15-25 sec
Shooting the stars or astrophotography allows us to capture something that is not visible by naked eye. By opening the shutter speed for a long period of time helps us to amplify the dim lights of the stars.
Here you need to strike a right balance. If you use a fast shutter speed the stars will be tiny and dim but if you use speed longer than 30sec you get a strat trail effect created by constant movement of earth. So the shutter value between 15 and 25 sec will produce sharp and bright stars.
This technique enables us to take advantage of steadily spinning earth around its axis. If you open the shutter speed long enough you can capture the trailing effect of the stars. The traditional technique requires the shutter speed value of 15 minutes and longer. But with the digital workflow you can simulate the same trailing effect by taking series of photos, let say 120 of them, with 30 sec exposure and blend them together in Photoshop or another editing program. You will be able to create the effect of 60 min exposure.