September 19, 2018

Last week we took a deep dive into the basics of aperture for winter photography. We learned what it was and how it works and most importantly, why it’s crucial to understand when shooting in manual mode. This week, we delve into the second pillar of manual shooting: shutter speed.


What is it?

Shutter speed is exactly as it sounds: the length of time a camera shutter is open to let light onto the camera sensor. You can think of the shutter as a curtain that sits in front of your lens, keeping light out. When the curtain opens, light is let into the camera, affecting the exposure of the photo.


Why do you use it?

Shutter speed is used for basically Three reasons; To capture motion, to freeze motion and low light photography.

1. Capture Motion:

If anything moves whilst your shutter is open it creates what we call motion blur. This is how you can illustrate a moving object in one still image.

Outdoor winter photographers will use slow shutter speeds (also known as long exposures) to capture the flow and motion of a waterfall. The scenery remains sharp and clear while the water is streaked and milky.

man taking a photo of a silky waterfall with long exposure A long shutter speed is used to turn running water into a silky smooth ribbon while keeping the rest of the photo sharp.


Although the shutter speeds times will vary, the same effect could be used for moving clouds, falling snow or wanting a silky smooth lake.

Winter sports photographers will capture motion in order to illustrate the speed of the sport or athlete. As the athlete goes through the frame the image is blurred, or more commonly the photographer will follow the athlete at the same speed and the background has a sideways motion blur.

snowboarder with blurry backgroundShutter speed can be changed to show motion blur.

2. To freeze motion:
Conversely, you can use a fast shutter speed to capture a moment and freeze motion. A quick shutter speed will eliminate the chance of blur and leaves the entire image completely sharp. In most situations in photography, you are trying to freeze the motion. A portrait is a frozen motion, so is someone mid-air twirling on ice skates.

Obviously to freeze motion will depend on how fast the moving object is, but for general situations, you will need a shutter speed higher than 1/60th of a second to avoid motion blur. To capture snowboarding and other action sports requires a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second or higher.

Snowboarder hitting a jump off the stairs
A fast shutter speed ensures all elements of your photo are crisp and sharp.
Photo by Todd Easterbrook


To freeze your frame and overcome motion blur without using a tripod, you will need a shutter speed fast enough to avoid this.

As a rule of thumb, you can take the focal length of your lens and use that as the ´x´ in this equation: 1/x of a second.
14mm lens = 1/14th of a second
24mm lens = 1/24th of a second
50mm lens = 1/50th of a second
100mm lens = 1/100th of a second
200mm lens = 1/200th of a second

3. Low light
Photography is all about the light, without it your image is black. Thus in low light situations, you will need to leave your shutter open for a long period of time (long exposure) allowing the small amount of light to hit the sensor and build an image. This could be 1/5th of second to 30 minutes and beyond.

Think stars at night, northern lights in the winter or sitting around a campfire. Whilst a slow shutter may solve the problem of having low light, it also increases the probability that your photo will have motion blur. If you are wanting to create a long exposure photo without blur, a sturdy tripod is essential.

Tips for shooting night skies: You’ll want to find the perfect balance of having your shutter open for long enough, but not so much the stars go blurry. If your shutter speed is too slow, you’ll capture the rotation of the earth, resulting in blurry stars. As a bonus: if you were to leave your shutter open for several minutes you could create star trails.

winter night photo with star trails
A long shutter speed is necessary for capturing the night skies. 


To find the right maximum shutter speed for your camera and avoid blurry stars use this simple formula:

Take 500 (for full frame cameras) or 300 (for crop sensor cameras) and divide it by the focal length:

14mm: 500/14 = 35 seconds
16mm: 500/16 = 31 seconds
20mm: 500/20 = 25 seconds
24mm: 500/24 = 20 seconds


How is it measured?

Shutter speed is the length of time your camera shutter is opened and thus, is measured in seconds of fractions of a second. For example, if your shutter speed is 1/250, this means your shutter is open for one two hundred and fiftieth of a second.

Shutter speeds often range from 1/4000th of a second (very fast) to 30 seconds (very slow).

Shutter Speed Scale graphic


How it works with Aperture and ISO:

Because the shutter speed is controlling how much light is being let onto the sensor, you will also need to adjust your Aperture and ISO based on your shutter speed selection. For example, a long shutter speed will allow more light into the camera which may require you to use a smaller aperture or a lower ISO. If you opt for a fast shutter speed where light is let in for only a small fraction of a second, you may need to compensate for the low light with a wider aperture or a higher ISO.


Adjusting Shutter Speed for Winter Photography:


Your shutter speed setting will adjust how bright your photo is. For sunny days in snowy, bright terrain, you may need to use a fast shutter speed because the natural light is already so bright. For winter sports photography where you want to freeze a frame in a fast-moving scene, it’s crucial to have a fast shutter speed to eliminate motion blur. For winter photographers looking to shoot the winter night sky or the Auroras, you’ll want to master the settings for a long exposure, allowing a lot of light into the camera in an otherwise low light scene.

Below are some of our recommended shutter speed settings for winter photography but keep in mind these will vary depending on the lens and camera you use.

Cloudy winter day: 1/250
Bright snowy landscapes: 1/500
Winter sports photography: 1/1000
Winter skies and the Northern Lights: 2-4 seconds

If you liked this post, you’ll love these too!

Winter is no joke! Keep warm and shop our range of Vallerret Photography Gloves.


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