The third and last fundamental setting we will be looking at is the Shutter Speed. We have previously looked at both ISO and Aperture and how they impact your images. You are now close to getting out of the Auto Mode and to begin manually using your camera.

This is the third post of the Fundamental series.  

What is Shutter Speed?

In very simple terms, the Shutter Speed is the amount of time the shutter is open. I have previously made the comparison between your camera and a window with curtains. In that comparison I explained Shutter Speed as this “The shutter speed decides the amount of light that is let into the room (sensor). The longer the curtains (shutter) are open, the more light enters the room.”

Shutter Speed is measured in seconds, or fractions of seconds. A larger denominator such as 1/1000 is a quicker shutter speed than a lower denominator such as 1/10 allowing less light to reach the sensor.

Most cameras let you choose an exposure up to 30 seconds. The quickest shutter speed varies between models. Many cameras, especially those of higher quality, also has Bulb Mode. Bulb mode essentially allows you to keep the shutter open for as long as you want.

So what does it actually mean that the shutter lets in light? We can get very technical about this, and for those interested in the heavy technical information I recommend watching this video from John Hess about The Science of Camera Sensors. As this series is intended for beginners, and aims to be less technical than the video above, I will keep it simple and say that the amount of time the shutter is open, is the amount of time your camera can see. Everything that happens while the shutter is open, is registered by the camera.

That is why you can see motion in a image, either its a person walking or water flowing. It becomes blurred. Let’s look into freezing motion and blurring motion.

Freezing and Blurring Motion

As explained above, shutter speed determines motion in a image. A longer shutter will register more movement than a short shutter.

To freeze motion you need to use a quick shutter speed, ideally quicker than 1/100 for most landscapes. If you are photographing animals such as birds you may need to go higher than 1/1000 to freeze all motions.

Shutter Speed in Landscape Photography
Freezing the splash with the use of short shutter speed

It’s not always you want to freeze the motion, in fact many landscape photographers prefers using a longer shutter speed when photographing moving elements. This technique is called Long Exposure Photography, often used to create a dreamy perspective of the landscape.

As I mentioned in Essential Equipment for Landscape Photography you need to use a tripod when photographing with a longer shutter speed. Without a tripod you won’t be able to keep the surrounding landscape sharp. You want to only create the blur where there is movement.

Trollstigen Norway
Slow shutter speed at Trollstigen, Norway

So how do you determine what shutter speed you should use?

To be honest, there’s no exact blueprint for that. It depends on what you want to capture. Choosing the shutter speed is a huge part of the creative process and there is no right and wrong.

Shutter Speed in Landscape Photography
Experimenting with a slow shutter

As a starting point I use a longer shutter for images including water or fast clouds. For photographing animals and people I use the quickest shutter possible while remaining a low ISO.

My last advice is to not get stuck with the same shutter speed for every scene, be creative and try experimenting. Some times it will look horrible, other times you will be surprised by the result!

Part 1: Introduction to ISO in Landscape Photography
Part 2: Introduction to Aperture in Landscape Photography
Part 3: Introduction to Shutter Speed in Landscape Photography
Part 4: The Exposure Triangle