Best Shutter Speed for Portraits - B&C Camera

Capturing the best photo will rely heavily on the settings you choose. You will need more than just a fancy camera. Understanding each building block camera setting will set your photograph apart from the others. Shutter speed is one of those building blocks. When you can completely understand how shutter speed affects your photos and how it works, you will see an improvement in the quality of your photos.


The three building blocks are ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. Simply called, the exposure triangleI already covered best aperture for portraits, you can read it here: Best Aperture for Portraits

Today, we will cover the ins and outs of the glorious shutter speed.



But first, what IS a shutter speed?

Before you start playing around with your shutter speed, it is best to understand what it actually does. Your shutter speed is the amount of time that the camera's shutter is open. Think of it as a door. The longer you have your door open, the longer you can see what is outside. When you close your door, you can no longer see. What does this mean? The longer your shutter is open, the longer your camera can capture the scene. 


How are shutter speeds measured?

Shutter speeds are gauged in fractions of seconds. Each shutter speed has its own purpose and gives off a different look. Shutter speeds in your camera settings will look like this:

• 1/8

• 1/15

• 1/30

• 1/60

• 1/125

• 1/250

• 1/500


The numbers, like 1/500, represent a faster speed. The small numbers, like 1/8, represent a slower speed. The most common and average shutter speed is 1/60.


Typically, speeds slower than 1/60 will produce blurry images. When you have low light conditions, you will usually opt for slower shutter speeds, so your camera will have a chance to capture movement. Most cameras will also let you measure your shutter speed in full seconds to allow for more time. 


If you opt for a slower speed than a 1/60, you will need to utilize a tripod. Going below this threshold doesn't guarantee that your photo will become blurry, and there is just a better chance that it will. Your tripod will ensure that your camera stays as still as possible to reduce the chances of a blurred photograph.


What is the best shutter speed for portraits?

When taking portraits, you will need to stick with faster shutter speeds. Doing this will ensure your subject isn't blurred, and you can clearly see all of their features. Unless you are being creative and trying to achieve a blurred, double exposed image like our featured photo. When taking portraits without a flash during the day, you will want to stick with a shutter speed of 1/15 on a tripod (for handheld shots, use 1/200).

Related article: Camera Settings for Bright Sunlight


How will you know which shutter speed to choose if you aren't taking a portrait?

You should have a better grasp of what a shutter speed is and how it will affect your photograph. You still might be wondering how to actually pick the speed you need. First, you will need to determine what the photo you are taking needs, and each photography style will require a different shutter speed. 


Example: A sports and/or wildlife photographer will need to different shutter speed than a photographer taking newborn shots


Your subject's movements are what will determine the shutter speed you need. If your goal is to freeze your subject in action, you will need a fast shutter speed. 


Example: You are at a sports event and trying to capture a clear photograph of a basketball player dribbling down the court. The fast shutter speed will help you freeze-frame that action, and when you use a slow shutter speed, it will just show a blurred blob-like figure. 


Unless your goal is to capture a blurred subject to show its movement. An example of this would be a car speeding by. For this, you will use a slow shutter speed.

Related article: Best Camera Settings for Car Photography


More than likely, you will need to do a bit of experimentation to get the right aesthetic.


Take into consideration the focal length.

The shutter speed will determine the clarity of your photograph, but it will also play a massive role in the focal length. When you need long focal lengths, you will need fast shutter speeds. If your camera doesn't have image stabilization, stick to shutter speed numbers that exceed the lens length. If you use a 200mm lens, you will need to aim for a shutter speed of 1/250.


Shutter Speed Cheat Sheet

Shutter Speed Cheat Sheet

1/500 - This shutter speed works best for wildlife, sports, and action photography. 

1/250 - Here is an excellent shutter speed for slower-moving animals or walking people.

1/125 - Use this to take a photograph of a moving vehicle.

1/60 - This is the standard shutter speed on a camera. 

1/30 - Use this to pan a fast-moving subject.

1/15 - Here is another excellent shutter speed for panning moving subjects.

1/8 - This shutter speed will blur fast-moving objects.

1/4 - Will blur people when walking.

1/2 - You will be able to get slow-moving water with a blur.

After reading this article, I feel confident you will have a better grasp of what shutter speed does and how it affects your photographs. Now is the perfect time to start experimenting with various subjects and shutter speeds to see how your photos will turn out.


Related article: Best Aperture for Portraits

Related article: Best ISO for Portraits

Related article: How to Shoot Portraits at Night

Related article: Best Camera Settings for Outdoor Portraits

Related article: Portrait Photography Tips Every Photographer Should Know - 10 Tips


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