Shutter Speed

The shutter of your Canon opens and closes to allow light onto the sensor. The speed at which it opens is referred to in digital photography as shutter speed. It's usually measured in fractions of a second, 1/2, 1/8, 1/2000, etc. The smaller the fraction, the faster the shutter opens and closes, and the faster the shutter opens and closes, the less light can hit the sensor.

Think of the shutter as your eye lids. The camera's eye lids remain closed until the shutter button is pressed. If you open and close the lids very fast (1/2000th of a sec), not much light will enter in that short time period and you probably won't be able to see much. If you open and close them slower (1/2 sec or 1 full second), more light enters your eyes and you might be able to see more around you. Cameras works in a very similar fashion.

Here are some examples of shutter speed settings to give you an idea of their relative speeds.

  • 1/4000th - Very very fast shutter speed. Will freeze almost all motion. Good for action shots or freeze frames.
  • 1/1000th - Very fast still. Will freeze most motion.
  • 1/300th - Fast but not fast enough to freeze sports shots. Most pictures of people in everyday activity will be still.
  • 1/50th - Some motion will become apparent at this setting.
  • 1/10th - Considered a pretty slow shutter speed. You'd better hold the camera still and get your subject to stay still
  • 1 sec (or more) - Very very slow. You won't be able hold the camera with your hands and still get a clean shot. Tripod!


PHOTOGRAPHY GEEK: Use a faster shutter speed.
TRANSLATION: change your shutter speed to be a SMALLER fraction than your current setting.

PHOTOGRAPHY GEEK: Use a longer shutter speed.
TRANSLATION: change your shutter speed to be a LARGER fraction, or even a whole number (in secs).


Having a slow shutter speed (i.e 1/2 of a sec) will cause any moving objects to show up as a blur. The faster they are moving, the more blur will be present. This can look bad in the image, or if properly used, can add a cool sense of motion in your shots. (see the image of the tunnel to the left) A faster shutter speed (i.e. 1/4000 of a sec) will basically freeze most moving objects in your shot. Nice for freeze frame photography in sports or shooting your hyper active kids running around in the park.


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