Shutter Speed & Movement

Terry’s Top Tips – Shutter Speed & Movement

Crocodiles move quickly

Slow shutter speed

Rugby players and motion blur

When a photographer has a subject that has a lot of movement or they want to capture the energy or speed of the subject, they will want to control the shutter speed. This is best done by setting your camera to Shutter Priority. Either the (S) or (Tv) setting on your speed dial. A broad reference to fast shutter speeds is 1/500 or above and a slow shutter speed is broadly referred as slower than 1/30. The faster the shutter, the less light. Long exposure is usually when you set the shutter from say 1 second through to 30 seconds or longer.

The key points to remember with shutter are:

  • I recommend the average person at family or party general events will get have good photos if the shutter is between 1/90 and 1/250. I refer this range as the SAFE zone.
  • To avoid camera shake try to have the camera at 1/90 or faster. If you are using a long lens then the rule is 1 over the zoom length. For example, a nature photography that has zoomed their lens to 200mm will try to keep the shutter speed 1/200 or faster.
  • Image stabilizer or Vibration reduction are useful but should only be engaged when you are using a slow shutter speed and you do not have a tripod. Remember to turn off this function when doing long exposure photography.
  • I avoid taking photos hand-held at slower than 1/30 as most photos will appear slight out of focus. This is called camera shake and can be due simply to your heart-beat or breathing pattern as you take photos. See my article about ISO to help you avoid this danger zone of shutter.
  • If you are doing sport or fast action photography you will want to most likely start at higher shutter speeds of 1/1000 plus to freeze the moment. With practice you will learn to enjoy slower shutter speeds that will create motion blur ( see rugby image in this article)
  • Panning is the term we use when we want to focus on the fast moving subject and blur the background. You follow the subject and take the photo but you must keep following with the subject. Depending on the speed of the subject you may have a shutter speed of 1/30 or upto 1/180th. The vintage car photo in this article was panned at 1/30 as it travelled approximately 90km/hour past me.

A good photo is like a good curry or roast. It is always best when slow cooked! You will get better colour saturation from a slower exposure but this needs to be balanced with any subject movement or if you have a tripod. If you are doing sunrise or night photography I always use a tripod and push my shutter to a longer time exposure. Landscape photographers will have richer colour tones when they get their images printed if they set an optimum slower shutter.

Shutter priority is a great setting to lock the shutter speed but you must ensure that the image will be correctly exposed. Program is a great option for the family photographer who does not want to get too technical. Just remember when taking photos at the school function, birthday party or amazing old castle (low light event) that the shutter is not slower than 1/90. The camera will tell you what shutter it will use when you have depress the `take photo’ button.

The same subject can deliver a very different result when you craft the image with different shutter speeds. The water rain forest image was captured at about 1 second to create the blur ( cotton effect) of the water movement. Enjoy crafting an image that you feel reflects the moment.


Panning photo of vintage car driving along the road. 1/30 sec


Twilight Sydney Harbour with long exposure.