Photo by Yulia Denisyuk

The shutter is the tiny gate in the lens of a camera that opens and slides closed to control the flow of light into the sensor.

While it’s true that shutter can control how light or dark an image is, the function is generally associated with capturing movement, either as a crisp, clear shot or an extended blur.

Shutter speeds range from longer than one second to a tiny fraction of a second (generally, 1/1000 sec).

As you can imagine, the longer the shutter is open, the more light and movement it captures. The image in motion will show up as a blur, which probably isn’t the best to use for action photography (i.e. capturing a sports game), but it is helpful when you’re trying to photograph light trails from passing cars at night.

Photo by Justin Kauffman

The faster the shutter speed, the more precise the capture — images will be crisp and document a single moment in time. Very fast shutter speeds are useful for photographing sports games, races, or any kind of reaction or movement.

Photo by Britain Peters

Slow shutter speeds are commonly used to photograph a moving object that doesn’t need to be captured in complete clarity. For example, photographers often use longer shutter speeds to photograph the flow of waterfalls — the long exposure will make the spray look dreamy and the water look fluid. Slow shutter speeds will document any movement, so if you’re trying your hand at this kind of photography, be sure to use a tripod to avoid unwanted blur.

If you’re photographing in manual mode and adjusting the shutter speed, you’ll need to take into account the effect on the exposure.

For example, if you set your shutter speed for a longer period of time, you’ll need to close your aperture (increasing the f/stop number)  a bit to compensate for the increase in light on the sensor.

Photo by Olga

Conversely, using a quick shutter speed will require you to open your aperture (choose an f/stop like f/4, f/5.6) to let in as much light as possible during the split second it takes to snap the shot. Increasing ISO to make your sensor more sensitive to light is helpful when shooting action scenes.

As a general rule, the relationship between shutter speed and aperture can be thought of like this: if you’re increasing your shutter speed, close your aperture one f-stop — if you’re decreasing your shutter speed, open your aperture one f-stop.

Photo by Yulia Denisyuk
Photo by Yulia Denisyuk


  • Shutter speeds range from multiple seconds to tiny fractions of a second.
  • Quick shutter speeds result in crisp, clear photos.
  • Longer shutter speed will have a blurry subject, which can work if you’re trying to emulate a certain style.
  • Adjusting shutter speed will require you to adjust your aperture, too.
  • For quick shutter speeds, open your aperture more. For longer shutter speeds, make your aperture smaller.