Common Questions

Shutter Speed

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I’m often asked how I know what shutter speed I need to get sharp photos in different situations. The short answer is trial and error. However, since I lived through the trial and error phase years ago, I can save you some time and aggravation.

The first rule of thumb for action is to shoot at the highest shutter speed you can for the light available. If you’re in low light, you will have to consider using a high ISO sensitivity setting on the camera. I recommend you experiment with your ISO settings on your camera under varying conditions of bright and low light to determine your comfort level for noise/grain, especially high ISO, before you get out in the field. I think experimentation is important, because higher ISO settings can cause lower contrast, less color saturation and more noise in photos which can be more noticeable in prints. Newer cameras tend to allow shooting at higher ISO speed settings with less noise and better color than cameras made even a few years ago.

So, back to the topic at hand…
The need to have sharp photographs often requires a high shutter speed if action or moving subjects are involved. Before the advent of Vibration Compensation (Stabilization) in lenses, photographers had to guess the minimum shutter speed they could safely shoot when hand-holding. The formula is simple. Your minimum speed should be equal to the focal length of the lens. For example, a 400mm focal length would need at least 1/400sec shutter speed. That formula is still a good starting point even with stabilization in your lens or body.

Now that I’ve shared the basics to get you started from your body and lens standpoint, here are my recommendations for shutter speeds for the various shooting conditions you will encounter in the field. Remember to experiment. As the saying goes mileage may vary.

Still Subjects: 1/60sec

Walking Subjects: 1/125sec

Jogging, Running, Birds, Youth Sports: 1/250-1/500sec

Cycling, Aircraft, College and Pro Sports: 1/1000-1/2000sec

Car Racing, Other Fast Action: 1/2000sec and above

© Jeff Allen
Dog Running in the Park: 1/250sec, f11, ISO 200, Tamron 18-400mm Di-II VC HLD
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© Jeff Allen
Pro Indoor Soccer: 1/500sec, f4, ISO 2000, Tamron SP 70-200 f2.8 G2 Di VC USD
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Don’t always shoot at the highest speed possible…

© Jeff Allen
Birds Roosting at Sunset: 1/25sec, f11, ISO320, Tamron 70-210 f4 Di VC USD on tripod
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