A Beginner’s Sports Photographers Guide to Shutter Speed

Mastering your DSLR camera and taking it off auto mode is essential to taking great photos. While there are many different settings you can use, there are a few that will help you improve your sports photography skills. Today we are discussing shutter speed.

First, let’s explain what is the camera shutter. The camera shutter acts like a curtain in front of the camera sensor. It stays closed until the camera fires. When the camera fires and takes the photo, the shutter opens, fully exposing the camera sensor to the light that is passing through the aperture. When the sensor is done collecting light, the shutter closes immediately and stops the light from hitting the sensor.

Shutter speed describes the length of time a camera shutter is open to expose light into the camera. Shutter speed controls ability to demonstrate or stop motion in a photography.

Fast shutter speeds help freeze action completely. The shorter the time your shutter remains open, the more motion it will freeze. While slow shutter speeds can create a motion blur effect. The longer a shutter stays open, the more motion it will have time to record. Landscape photographers often use slow shutter speed to create a sense of motion in rivers or waterfalls.

Just remember that as long as the shutter is open, the camera is recording the position of the subjects in the frame and if one of those subjects move, there will be blurriness in the photos.

For sports photography, you will typically want to use a faster shutter speed, depending on the type of photo you want to take. But if you want to capture motion blur for artistic effects, like if you’re photographing a runner, you would use a slower shutter speed. In general, because the action is so fast in sports photography, you want to use a faster shutter speed.


Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. Usually 1/4 means a quarter of a second and 1/250 means one two hundred and fiftieth of a second. Some DSLRs have shutter speeds as fast as 1/8000th of a second.

You may be wondering how to control the shutter speed or where to find it on your camera. You can see the shutter speed on the bottom left side of the screen in the view finder. If your camera has a secret at the top of the camera, the shutter speed is usually displayed next to the aperture. It’s not usually displayed as a fraction though. so 1/200 is written as 200. to see if the number is a fraction or a second, look for the “ symbol. The “ symbol is used with shutter speeds of a second or longer.

There are two ways to control the shutter speed. The first is by using the camera in manual mode. The second is by using the shutter priority mode. In this mode, you as the photographer set the shutter speed and the camera automatically sets the aperture based on the shutter speed you set.

The shutter speed is often set by the camera. When the camera is in Auto mode, the shutter speed and aperture are selected by the camera. If you shoot in Aperture priority, you set the aperture while the camera sets the shutter speed.

While we’re talking about shutter speed, it’s important we bring up camera shake. Camera shake occurs when you are hand-holding your camera. No matter how steady your hand may be, it’s not going to be perfectly still and the movement shows up in your photos as blurriness or lack of sharpness. You can avoid camera shake by using a faster shutter speed. if you want to avoid camera shake, the best advice is to not use a shutter speed that is slower than the focal lengths of your lens. In fact, most photographers advise that you set your shutter speed to the fraction of the focal length of your lens. So if you have a 200mm telephoto lens, you would use a shutter speed of 1/200 seconds or faster.

Now in our last post, we talked about aperture so we want to address how aperture and shutter speed work together. The aperture and shutter speed work together to determine how much light is let in to the sensor. If you remember, a small aperture lets in more light and a wide aperture lets in less light. When the aperture is wide, the shutter can go faster but the shutter speed must slow down for smaller apertures to give more time to let the light in. This is something of a balancing act and it may take some practice experimenting with both the aperture and the shutter speed.

Just like everything in photography, if you want to really master shutter speed, it’s best to practice experimenting with it. Take the same photo using different shutter speeds to see how the photos differ.

In our next post, we’re going to cover ISO and begin discussing how these three important components work together to create great photos.

If you haven’t checked out our post on aperture, you can read it here. 

2 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Sports Photographers Guide to Shutter Speed

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s