Shutter Speed Chart as a Photographer’s Cheat Sheet

When we discuss the Shutter Speed and its place in photography the principal thing that rings a bell is its link to Exposure. The Shutter speed is the primary element of Exposure Triangle (Aperture, ISO, Shutter Speed) and it assists photographers to get well-exposed photographs.

But my opinion is that to comprehend and to master Shutter Speed for taking the correctly exposed photographs is the simplest part of the equation. The more interesting but at the same time more complicated part is to master how to use Shutter Speed as the artistic tool in our photography.

By modifying Shutter Speed's values, we can produce some astonishing artistic effects, even some that do not exist in reality (long exposure photography).

The sole purpose of Shutter Speed Chart Infographic is to visualize the various aspects of Shutter Speed to aid photographers and artists to adopt it as the primary artistic tool.

Shutter Speed Chart Infographic

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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.

When you are doubling or halving the shutter speed you are changing the exposure value by 1-stop.

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

Shutter Speed Chart - 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.

Light

Shutter Speed Chart - Light

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

Shutter Speed Chart - 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

Shutter Speed Chart - Action Sports

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

Shutter Speed Chart - Street Photography

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

Shutter Speed Chart - Landscapes

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

Shutter Speed Chart - Panning Cars

The panning is one of the most interesting creative technique that involves the shutter speed. 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

Shutter Speed Chart - Waterfalls or Fast Running Water

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

Shutter Speed Chart - Blurring Water

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 slower shutter speed value compared to shooting the waterfalls to get this silky and smooth effect in the water.

Fireworks 2-4 sec

Shutter Speed Chart

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

Shutter Speed Chart - Stars (Astrophotography)

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.

Star Trails

Shutter Speed Chart - Star Trails

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.

  • Alev Kaplan says:

    Thank you very much Mr.Viktor

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