Typical rules for using shutter speeds in photography

When first starting out in photography one of the most asked questions is “What is the best shutter speed to use?”

Generally speaking, using the standard rule of thumb is to make the shutter speed equal to your focal length when hand-holding your camera. For example, if you are shooting with a 200mm lens then you want to keep your shutter speed at 1/200 sec or above to avoid any blur occurring from camera shake.

To be on the safe side though, I’ve come up with a new rule to allow for non-full-frame sensor cameras…

Make sure you checkout my new in-depth article The Ultimate Guide to Shutter Speed in Photography for more tips and lots of examples of how shutter speed is used in photography.

Photographing a surfer using a very fast shutter speed

Surfer ‘floating’ on wave – fast shutter speed

This action shot was photographed near Byron Bay in Australia. Here I used double for shutter speed compared to the focal length of the lens: I was using a 600mm lens therefore I used 1/1250 sec shutter speed to avoid any camera shake which can result in a blurred (soft) image.

Brent’s Shutter Speed Rule: Use double the shutter speed compared to the focal length of your lens.

In this case, if you are photographing with a 100mm lens you would use a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second.

In this list below, I’ve given you some general examples and guidelines you can use depending on what you are photographing.

  • 1/2000 sec: Use to capture birds in flight
  • 1/1000 sec: Good for photographing sports action
  • 1/500 sec: Capture your kids playing or freezing the motion of a moving car
  • 1/250 sec: Anytime you have people moving, jumping and dancing, this will help stop the action.
  • 1/125 sec: For portraits, this is a good rule of thumb in order to avoid blurred images
  • 1/100 sec: Keeping your camera above this speed helps to avoid any camera shake
  • 1/60 sec: Once you start using 1/60 or less it’s time to get out and use the tripod
  • 1/20 sec: You can use this speed to blur water or people walking
  • 1-3 seconds: Creating blur and smoothing out moving water and waterfalls
  • 21-30 seconds: This is where you can start in order to capture the night sky with stars
  • 10 minutes: To create star trails this is the baseline exposure time.
Bird photography - use a longer lens and fast shutter speed

Bird photography (long lens = fast shutter speed

To photograph this Lilac Breasted Roller in Africa I used a long telephoto 500mm lens lens and because I was hand-holding my lens I used “Brent’s shutter speed rule” which is double the focal length of my lens which equals 1/1000 sec shutter speed.

By using my rule when hand holding a longer lens I overcome any camera shake and ensure that my image is tack-sharp!

Experimenting with shutter speed – how slow can I go?

In this video you’ll see how changing your shutter speed will affect your subject and surrounding elements. I’m photographing my model in a small waterfall kicking and splashing the water.

You’ll notice how the shutter speed changes the look of the water droplets. Slower shutter speeds will also blur the model’s movement.

Reminder: If you are hand-holding your camera keep your shutter speed equal to two times the focal length of the lens you are using (to cover smaller sensor cameras that have a magnification effect on the lens)
Check out this comprehensive article…

The Ultimate Guide to Shutter Speed in Photography

Photographing the night sky - you'll need a very sturdy tripod

Did you enjoy this article? Check out these related articles, too:

How to use shutter speed to make water more appealing and exciting by capturing movement.

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Please leave me a comment below – I’d love to know what you think. Brent

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