Photography Cheat Sheet: The Right Shutter Speed for Every Situation

Need help nailing your shutter speeds for various shooting situations? To the rescue comes yet another photography cheat sheet from Digital Camera World!

As one of the three elements of good exposure, the right shutter speed is essential to getting the perfect shot. It also determines how the shot will turn out. Your camera can take care of this for you if you’re shooting in auto mode. But if you want to achieve more creative results, you’ll need to take control and shoot in manual mode. With today’s photography cheat sheet, you’ll be on your way to nailing the shutter speed for some of the most common shooting situations.

If you’ve already encountered the Exposure Triangle concept, you’ll be aware that a well-exposed photo is produced by a balance of three elements: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. This photography cheat sheet by Digital Camera World focuses on shutter speed — the duration that the shutter is open to create the exposure. Too slow and you risk getting motion blur and/or overexposure; too fast and you get underexposure or unintended frozen movement.

A previously featured Digital Camera World cheat sheet covers a more detailed shutter speed guide, so you might want to check that out before you proceed below. Otherwise, if you just want a quick reference for some common shooting situations, the cheat sheet below will do nicely.

Today’s cameras can shoot really, really fast, but most modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras have shutter speeds of up to 1/4000 sec. So, the cheat sheet above uses that as the fastest to go for if you want to freeze some extremely quick movement. A shutter speed of 1/2000 sec is enough to freeze birds in flight, while 1/1000 sec is good if you’re looking into freezing fast-moving vehicles. Go for 1/500 sec to freeze runners, athletes, and mountain bikes, and 1/250 sec is enough to freeze slow-moving subjects.

Next comes the slower shutter speeds. Fast or abrupt movements can result in some blur from 1/125 or 1/60 sec, but camera panning works nicely at these shutter speeds. At slower speeds of 1/8 sec, significant blurring stars to occur. This is useful for creative blur effects, such as the “milky” water look in landscape shots, which you can achieve at 1 sec or slower. Keep a sturdy tripod ready when you’re going for these very slow shutter speeds!

Looking for more photography tips and tricks like this? Do check out the rest of our photography cheat sheets so far!