Our Favorite Shutter Speeds

Digital Photo Magazine


January 4, 2021

Our Favorite Shutter Speeds And Why We Love Them

William Sawalich  

Are you trying to learn to take manual control of your camera settings but you’re having a hard time understanding the nitty-gritty details—like why you might choose one shutter speed over another? Depending on what you’re shooting and how you’re doing it, some shutter speeds are ideally suited to specific photographic situations. Whether you’ve set your camera to full manual or shutter priority mode, here’s a primer on shutter speeds and how to best put them to use.

1 Second

Need a long exposure? Look to the shutter speeds of 1 second and slower. I use 1-second exposures when my camera is on a tripod exclusively, and with a cable release or at the very least a self-timer so that my hand doesn’t let camera shake from pressing the shutter ruin the exposure. I find myself regularly relying on second-long exposures when photographing architecture, both indoors and exteriors, because of the small aperture that provides for greater depth of field and maximum sharpness. In the landscape, such long exposures are a great way to introduce deliberate motion blur thanks to wind and moving water.

¼ Second

One thing that quarter-second shutter speeds are very useful for is intentional motion blur with living subjects. If I’m handholding the camera and panning with a moving subject, that quarter-second shutter speed is perfect for creating intentional motion blur of a cyclist pedaling or a jogger running. For even more blur, slow down to a half second or even a full second. If you’re getting more blur than you’d hoped for and need more sharp detail, shorten up to an eighth or fifteenth-of-a-second exposure.


1/60th Second 

The default shutter speed? Once upon a time it sure was. It was even indicated by a different color on the dials of manual cameras for decades. That’s because it was the maximum sync speed for using a flash with a focal plane shutter—until modern DSLRs upped that limit to 1/250th. But 1/60th is still an immensely useful shutter speed. To my mind, it’s the minimum safe shutter speed at which I can handhold a “normal” photograph. What defines normal? Using a medium focal length lens in bright light on a subject that’s standing still. If I’m using a very long telephoto lens that may put that to the test, but generally speaking, 1/60th is a comfortable lower-limit for handholding the camera.

1/125th Second 

This is the shutter speed I use most often with strobes. Why? Because it’s fast enough to eliminate most ambient light when working indoors at low ISOs, yet slow enough to safely synchronize with the strobe 100 percent of the time. Even though most cameras claim a sync speed of 1/250th, I often find banding at that speed—and even 1/160th. So 1/125th is my default strobe shutter speed when I want to eliminate ambient light and maximize the exposure from the flash.

1/250th Second 

A lot of people think that because a photographer can handhold with a normal lens at 1/60th of a second, that speed is sufficient for most subjects—including portraits. But if you find yourself photographing people at 1/60th of a second with regularity, you’ll begin to notice something when you look closely: your pictures won’t be sharp, especially if you’re using a slightly longer than normal portrait lens. People move! And those movements, even when “sitting still,” can be fast enough to put motion blur into your pictures. So instead my rule of thumb when shooting natural light portraits (as opposed to those illuminated by strobe, which necessitates a slower shutter speed for flash synchronization) is to use a shutter speed of 1/250th or faster. The resulting wider aperture that’s required also tends to provide the benefit of shallow depth of field, thus better isolating the subject from the background.

1/1000th Second 

Shooting sports? Whether it’s soccer or basketball, baseball or field hockey, the faster the shutter speed the better. In normal daylight, with an aperture of ƒ/5.6 or so, you’ll find yourself with a shutter speed of 1/1000th. This is the ideal place to be if you want to freeze fast-moving action without having to crank the ISO or open up to a maximum aperture and shrink the depth of field to a point that tack-sharp focus becomes difficult. 1/1000th is a great starting point for action photography and will ensure even fast runners will remain sharp on the sensor.Advertisementnull

1/8000th Second 

What on earth could you accomplish with such a fast shutter speed as 1/8000th of a second? You could freeze incredibly fast-moving objects—like splashes and helicopter blades and hummingbird wings. These are the kinds of subjects that we’re not able to discern with the naked eye and that are most often photographed with high-speed stroboscopic photography. Sure, you’re going to need to open up that aperture and crank the ISO at 1/8000th of a second, but when you need it, it’s great to have—and these days it can be found on a wide variety of mirrorless cameras and DSLRs.

Popular Articles

5 Top Guides To Becoming A Better Macro Photographer

It doesn’t take too much expertise to make creative images of the world that exists just outside our perception, just patience and the right tools and techniques

12 Best Travel Photography Guides

This collection of ideas, techniques and concepts will help you bring back photos from your travels that are more than snapshots

6 Top Guides To Lenses

Digital Photo reviews a few of the outstanding lenses introduced this year, plus an overview lens guide, how to build a prime lens kit and shooting with cine lenses

Top Road-Tested Camera Bags

From backpacks to cases to messengers, when it comes to camera bags, there isn’t one perfect bag—just the right one for the photo assignment. Here are five we took on the road.


The silver bullet of lighting solves some difficult photographic problems.Advertisement

© 2021 Madavor Media, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Back to top

Posted by

A Natural Light and Pro Light Photographer who enjoys Photography and the world around it.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s