Cinematographer Film Production Photography

What is shutter speed? Everything you need to know!

The cameras rolling and you hear a light clicking noise, it’s the shutter moving up and down inside the camera – it’s the shutter speed. It doesn’t always move at the same speed altering the pictures you’ll get from the changes in speed. This subtle change has a huge impact on the imagery you produce.

Shutter speed is an important part of photography and filmmaking – understanding it is incredibly important. In this guide, we look at shutter speed in detail, what it is and how shutter speed works. 

Let’s get straight into the guide.

What is shutter speed? 

Shutter speed is how long the shutter is open on your camera, this is measured generally in milliseconds. 

If the shutter speed of your camera is open for a prolonged amount of time lots of light will get into the shot, therefore, increasing the exposure of the shot. 

You want to ensure this doesn’t cause the shot to be overexposed. The slow shutter speed will also allow you to create motion blur within your photo or video. 

Whereas quicker shutter speeds will reduce the amount of light entering your camera. This darkens your shot and if set to a shutter speed too fast you can cause the image to come out too dark.

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds meaning when you are told to set the shutter speed to 1/64 – it’s one sixty-fourth of a second. 

This means the smaller the number the faster the shutter speed.

How does shutter speed work?

Simply put, shutter speed as explained above is the speed at which the shutter of the camera closes. The shutter speed is set on the camera and decides how much light will be let into the lens.

So a fast shutter speed will let less light in than a lower speed shutter setting. Depending on the look you’re trying to achieve you will choose either a fast or a slow shutter speed.

What does shutter speed control?

The shutter speed controls two things. One the exposure on your camera, and two the motion. 

For example, with exposure, a slow shutter speed will brighten the image as more light is let in, and with a faster shutter speed, less light is let in therefore darkening the image.

With the motion – a slow shutter speed will create more motion blur. The quicker the shutter speed the motion will be a lot sharper. 

Carefully scope out the scene with your storyboard to ensure you get the right camera settings to capture your shot. The shutter speed is one of those you must consider when composing your shot, it makes a massive difference. 

Read more: types of lighting in film

What are the different types of shutters for cameras?

Whilst the mechanism is pretty similar across all shutter types, there’s a bit of nuance to each, so we’ve split them up a bit and summarised each type of shutter for you. 

  • Focal Plane Shutter
  • Leaf Shutter
  • Rotary Disc Shutter
  • Global Shutter 
  • Rolling Shutter

Focal Plane Shutter

Most cameras, especially in photography will use a Focal Plane Shutter. The Focal Plane Shutter works using two shutters, one that drops down and exposes the frame, and the other shutter drops to block the light. 

You can see this in full force watching this video below:

Leaf Shutter 

A leaf shutter lens is a lens for digital cameras. Functions similar to the lens aperture – it has multiple blades, these contract or expand away from the centre of the image plane. 

The shutter speed in digital cameras is pretty much a function of a sensor and works by being populated by thousands of pixels (receptors). 

These essentially collect the light when the image or videos are taken. This determines the exposure of the shot, depending on how much light is taken in. 

When the release button for the shutter is pressed the pixels will then turn off or on for a set amount of time – determined by yourselves.

Global Shutter 

The global shutter works by turning every pixel on simultaneously. It eliminates any distortion you don’t want from the rolling shutter – the issue is however that they don’t work well in low-light scenarios. This is due to their low dynamic range.

Digital cameras usually have both digital shutters and mechanical shutters. The question we’re asked is why do they have both? 

The reason is digital shutters need a certain level of power and capturing requirements. Mechanical shutters use less power which gives the pixels enough time to relay information to the memory much much quicker. 

Rolling Shutter

A rolling shutter works as the pixels are initiated sequentially. An example of this is the shutter rolling from top to bottom or bottom to top. 

Rolling shutters create less noise and have a much wider dynamic range allowing for shots in low light to be of crisp quality. 

You can shoot cinematic shots with the rolling shutter due to its dynamism. The biggest disadvantage with the rolling shutter is that the video or image may become distorted due to the use of it’s sequential movement. This is caused due to each pixel picking up a slightly different moment (fractions of a second) but can cause slight distortion.

Hard lighting in film

Rotary Disc Shutter 

These are historical, from the celluloid filmmaking days where old cameras used to use it to take a picture or shoot a scene. 

This is a disc that has multiple openings and rotates to either block or unblocks the light from the film strip. 

The opening is set to 180 degrees usually but can be adjusted full circle 0-360 degrees depending on the angle you wish to achieve. 

Shutter speed vs Frame rate – what’s the difference?

This is something that crops up a lot of whats’s the difference between shutter speed and frame rate, aren’t they similar? Well, nope they’re not. Here’s the difference: 

Shutter speed is how long the shutter is open on your camera, this is measured generally in milliseconds. 

Whereas, frame rate is the frames per second (fps) – the speed at which individual still photos are captured by a recording device. Motion is captured when the frame rate hits the projection rate or fluctuates over or under.

For example: 

  • Slow motion: This happens when the capture fps is higher than the projection fps – for example, 48/24. 
  • Normal motion: Normal motion is happens when the capture frame rate equals the projection frame rate – for example, 24/24. 
  • Fast motion: Fast motion happens when the capture fps is lower than the projection fps – for example – 12/24. 

FAQ’s – Shutter Speed

Here we answer some of the most common questions we are asked about shutter speed.

  • What shutter speed to use for video?
  • Which shutter speed is fastest?
  • Can shutter speed be too fast?
  • Which shutter speed best freezes movement?
  • How does ISO affect shutter speed?

What shutter speed to use for video?

It’s a great question. This entirely depends on what you’re looking to achieve from this. The first thing to remember is that you must ensure your shutter speed is double your frame rate. 

This will enable you to capture smooth footage and makes it much easy to edit in post-production. 

In terms of which shutter speed to use for your video it entirely depends on what the videos for. 

As a slow shutter speed lets much more light in, which in turn can slow the speed and you can get some cool blurred effects. It also allows you to alter the blur in Premiere Pro and create cool streaks. 

But if it’s action your filming you want a faster shutter speed, but remember this lets less light in therefore freezing the shot if you get towards the 1/500-1/1000 rate. 

We ideally advise you to go for one that sits in the middle if you’re just shooting a normal scene, ensure the frame rates double and it will allow you to edit it in a cinematic manner in post-production. Leaving you with high-quality footage.

Which shutter speed is fastest?

1/1000 is the fastest shutter speed you’d look to use. However, remember with a fast shutter speed less light is let in therefore making your video and image much darker. If the rooms light it’s not an issue, but if you’re filming in dark surroundings this can cause a few issues for you. 

If you increase your ISO it allows you to use a faster shutter speed and let more light in – but whacking this up too high will cause you to get grainy, noisy images and video footage. 

It’s a fine balance, but when you get it – it’ll look insane. Remember deciding on the settings prior to the shoot is imperative, and test shooting in the environment a day or week before will help you out a lot.

Can shutter speed be too fast?

Yes, it can. As mentioned above if you have it set too fast and are filming in a poorly lit room, this can be too fast. The reason for this being deemed too fast is the fact that the shutter speeds so fast it doesn’t let enough light in, and the room or area being filmed or photographed is poorly lit, causing a photo or video that’s too dark and the subject is indistinguishable.

You want to ensure your shutter speed is set to the perfect setting for the environment you are shooting in. If it’s well lit and you want to shoot a sharp, crisp image, then the shutter speed can be incredibly fast. 

It’s getting the right balance of shutter speed for the environment of your surroundings.

Which shutter speed best freezes movement?

Faster the shutter speed the better. 1/1000 will freeze movement. This is due to the minimal light it allows in.  If your looking for a crisp, sharp image setting the shutter speed to 1/1000 will freeze movement.

Remember, where your shooting must be well-lit as a fast shutter speed will only allow a small amount of light in. But that image will be incredibly crisp. 

1/1000 is the shutter speed to use when looking to freeze movement. It’s an editor’s dream.

How does ISO affect shutter speed?

ISO tells the camera how much light it will need to produce the image – it tells you the amount of light needed to produce a quality image. 

The higher the ISO number means the faster the shutter speed that can be used in low light situations. This means you need less light to create an image using the same aperture. 

We hope this article on shutter speed was of use to you. Let us know your thoughts down below in the comments. We’re always looking for new ideas, so tell us what you want to learn from our experts next. 

Happy filmmaking!

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