Slowest Shutter Speed For Handheld Photography

  • Thread starter EmeraldHike
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May 10, 2021
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I was having a conversation about photography last night with someone and I said something like, “I think it would help people a lot if they focused on the fact that photography is all about light.” And it really is. Without light, no one is taking any photos. Too much light can blow out or overexpose an image and too little light can create dark images or blur. The perfect amount of light can create a stunning photograph.


If you aren’t well versed in photography, please allow me to fill you in quickly with the basics. The aperture of your lens allows a certain amount of light into your camera by shrinking and enlarging itself. It’s a hole that gets bigger and smaller, depending on either what your camera thinks it should do or what you set it to. Your shutter is a piece of material that hides and exposes your camera’s sensor. Again, it allows a certain amount of light in, depending on, again, your camera or you. And finally, the ISO setting of your camera controls your camera sensor’s sensitivity to light. These three things are the most popular settings to fool around with on your camera. Aperture primarily controls depth of field, shutter speed primarily controls blur and ISO primarily controls an in between area. It sort of fills in the gaps and gives you some leeway with the other two areas. It’s oftentimes thought of as the “thing that dictates how much grain you’ll see in your images.”

Boy, as I write this, I’m realizing how I could easily go down a rabbit hole with this stuff. “Aperture controls depth of field…although…” I’m not even going to get into everything else all these settings can do for you because I’m trying to keep things simple here.

Okay, this post is about shutter speed and camera shake. Camera shake is what your camera experiences every time you hold it in your hands and take a photo. No one on earth stays completely still while taking photos and there’s always the possibility that a small amount of blur will be introduced into your images because of this movement. The trick is to reduce or eliminate the blur that’s caused by our “shaking.”

Let me give you a quick scenario. Let’s say you’re throwing a birthday party for a child and it’s held inside during the evening. It’s time to blow the candles out and right before that happens, you pull out your fancy DSLR camera and snap a few photos in “Auto” mode. After the party, you review the photos on your computer and realize that they’re all blurry. Not because anyone was quickly walking by or because the scene was out of focus, but because your shutter speed was too slow.

As you review your camera settings, you realize that your lens’s aperture was opened up all the way, so that was fine. It was letting as much light in as possible. You also realize that you had set your ISO to a maximum of 800 a few days earlier. You didn’t want any grain introduced into your photos, so you thought that would be a good idea. Because of these two settings, your camera had to do something to allow your birthday party images to be exposed correctly. Yep, you guessed it. Your camera slowed the shutter speed down to allow the proper amount of light in. Unfortunately, it slowed it down too much. So much, in fact, that the shutter was open long enough to allow the movement of your hands to blur the image. This happens a lot. Most of the time though, the shutter speed won’t slow down all that much. Your ISO value will simply pop up an extraordinary amount instead and you’ll get grain.

More experienced photographers know that using a lens with a huge aperture is great for low light photography, but that’s not what this post is about. Let me get to that.

When hand holding a camera, there’s a general shutter speed that you can’t go past when you’re looking for sharp images. For most folks, this shutter speed lies anywhere between 1/50 and 1/80 of a second. Obviously, if you’re using a tripod and a remote shutter button, you can use any shutter speed you want, but when you’ve got the camera in your hands, you’ve got to play by the rules. And speaking of rules, here’s one for you: when using a full frame camera, don’t allow your shutter speed to fall lower than your focal length. So, if you’re shooting with a 50mm prime lens, don’t shoot any slower than 1/50 of a second. A 200mm lens, no slower than 1/200 of a second. As you probably already know, longer focal lengths exaggerate any movement your hands my introduce, so it’s critical to quicken your shutter speed to compensate for that exaggeration. Also, the reason I said “a full frame camera” is because I was trying to keep things straightforward here. If you’re using a cropped sensor, you’ll need to do the math to figure out your true focal length.

The rule above also applies to zoom lenses. When shooting, look at your lens to determine your focal length and act accordingly. Also, when you get down in the focal length numbers, this rule may fail. So if you’re shooting with a 10mm wide angle lens, you most likely won’t have the liberty of setting your shutter speed to 1/10 of a second. It just won’t work. You’ll either need to increase the shutter speed or use a tripod. If you don’t have a tripod at hand, you can always try to brace your camera as best as possible. Check out these posts for more on that.

Simple Tips & Tools That Can Help Stabilize Your Camera

5 Tips To Hold Your Camera Steady For Clear Pictures

Although I can write about this topic all night long, I think I’ll stop there. I gave you a quick rundown of photography basics and then offered a fast rule to help you with your shutter speed to all but eliminate camera shake. If you’ve got any questions regarding this post, please ask down below. You can ask in the photography discussion forum as well. I’m always here to help. Thanks for reading!