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What is a Fast Shutter Speed? (How and When to Use It)

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Related course: Quick Capture Cheat Sheets

Shutter speed dictates the character and atmosphere of an image. It plays an important role in freezing or blurring motion.

A fast shutter speed will let you stop time and show magical moments our brain wouldn’t be able to preserve. Read on to find out how to use a fast shutter speed!


Quick Capture Cheat Sheets
Quick Capture Cheat Sheets
Take your photography to the next level with these easy-to-follow cheat sheets for faster shutter speeds.

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What is Fast Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is the measure of how long the camera shutter stays open to allow the entry of light. It determines the amount of light reaching the camera sensor.  A fast shutter speed implies short exposure to light and vice-versa.

It’s one of the three pillars of the exposure triangle, the two others being ISO and aperture.

Dancer photographed in motion using fast shutter speed

What Is Fast Shutter Speed?

There isn’t an exact point where we can split the scale to differentiate fast shutter speed from slow shutter speed.

Fast shutter speeds freeze motion and avoid a motion blur in your images. These values mean really short times; think fractions of a second.

Illustration of where to use a fast shutter speed, medium and slow shutter speeds

A value around 1/250s or below can be considered fast. When we say 1/250s, it means one-hundred-and-two-fiftieth of a second. Similarly, a shutter speed of 1/500s implies that the shutter stays open for one-five-hundredth of a second. 1/500s is faster than 1/250s.

Larger the denominator, lower the exposure to light and faster the shutter speed. By that logic, any number higher than 250 in the denominator is faster than 1/250s as well.

At fast shutter speeds, your camera freezes motion. It records movement and makes it static. As the light hits the image sensor for only a short time, it doesn’t “see” the whole motions, just fractions of them.

A benefit of fast shutter speed is that your images are less sensitive to camera shake. You can shoot while holding your camera in your hands. This is impossible with slow shutter speeds. You will need a tripod for stability.

The fastest cameras out there are capable of shooting as fast as 1/8000s. High-end cameras generally have faster maximum shutter speeds.

On the contrary, a slow shutter speed allows you to follow drawn-out movements, like a firework lighting up the sky. If you are shooting still subjects, a slow shutter can be necessary for low light.

Water drop photography with fast shutter speed

When Do You Need to Use a Fast Shutter Speed?

For sports photography, wildlife photography, street photography or any kind of action photography, fast shutter speeds are necessary. In these niches, you usually want your subjects to be in sharp focus mid-action.

A fast shutter speed is also necessary in bright light. You need the shutter open for a very short time to have adequate lighting. If you choose a slower shutter speed in bright light, you’ll have overexposed images.

Wildlife photography of a hummingbird with fast shutter speed

How To Use Fast Shutter Speed

How you set the correct shutter speed depends on what you are photographing. Simply put, a faster movement requires a faster shutter.

Each camera is a bit different in where you can set your shutter value. Use the manual of your gadget to find out, which dial or button lets you control it.

Using The Shutter Priority Mode

The Shutter Priority Mode is usually marked on the dial with S or Tv.  It’s ideal when you know how much you would like to freeze motion, but you don’t need full control over your camera settings. In this mode, you can set the shutter value, and the camera adjusts the rest of the settings for correct exposure.

Shutter Priority mode works best in situations where you don’t have time for setting everything.

Using the Manual Mode

If you set up a studio, you most likely have time to adjust camera settings at your own pace. In this case, you can choose the Manual Mode. When you choose a faster shutter speed, you’re in charge of all the camera adjustments to get the correct exposure. Nothing is automatic. Use a higher ISO or a wider aperture (or both) to compensate for the short shutter time.

When using a flash, be mindful of your flash’s sync speed in relation to the shutter speed. If the shutter speed is faster than your camera’s flash, you can experience a black band across the image. It’s because the shutter partially blocks the projection of the flash in that specific moment.

Using the Burst Mode

Burst Mode or “Continuous Shooting Mode” is another commonly used setting. When you press the shutter in Burst Mode, your camera takes several photos back-to-back. Some cameras take photos as long as the shutter is pressed. This helps to catch the decisive moment in any situation.

Be careful while combining Burst Mode with flash. Usually, flashes need some recharge time. You can miss some of the shots because the flash needs to recharge between them.

 Popping champagne on black background


Shutter speed determines how you capture motion in an image.

In a nutshell, a fast shutter speed freezes motion and a slower shutter creates motion blur. What’s the right way to do it? There’s no answer. Perhaps that’s why there are so many options in every camera.

Observe the effects of different shutter speeds and find out which one fits your style on a given occasion. Very soon, you’ll have a portfolio of mind-bending shots.

One can never tire of testing exposures with different shutter speeds. Be it a gushing waterfall or the timeless milky way, there are tricks to get them right. Master the basics of exposure with our Infinite Exposure course and make jaws-drop faster than the fastest shutter speed.

Quick Capture Cheat Sheets
Quick Capture Cheat Sheets
Take your photography to the next level with these easy-to-follow cheat sheets for faster shutter speeds.
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