shutter speed lens rearview

Shutter speed is one of the key manual settings used during product photography. It controls the how long the camera’s sensors are exposed to light (also known as exposure). Read on for more details and examples.

What is camera shutter speed?

Think of your camera as a window. Your shutter is the curtain and the speed at which the curtain is opened and closed is your shutter speed.

Shutter speed is measured in seconds and fractions of a second. The slower the setting, more light comes in. In general, fast speeds are ideal for well-lit areas and slow speeds are used to let more light into a low light situation. 

Slow speeds are also used to capture movement in an image – for example, a splash of liquid or a moving toy/gadget. Since the shutter is open for longer, some of the product movement during that period gets captured in the image. There is an example later in this post to illustrate this.

How do we use it with aperture?

Shutter speed works hand in hand with camera aperture. When using a wide aperture like f22, the image may appear darker than you’d like. To adjust for that, if you make the shutter speed slower, more light comes through and makes your product brighter.

Look below to see what happens when your shutter speed increases and there is not enough light to compensate for the increase. 

Shot at 1/4 sec: the image is too bright because at this setting, there is too much light coming through.

This image was taken with a shutter speed of 1/4 sec. Notice how bright the lighter colors are.

Shot at 1/15th sec: The below image was shot at 1/15th sec, which may not seem like much of a difference but that’s about 4 times faster than 1/4th sec. So as you can see below, the image is a less bright because less light came through.

This was taken with a shutter speed of 1/15 second. See how the lighter colors are not too bright and there are more shadows and mid tones.

Shot at 1/200th sec: Here, the shutter speed is so fast that hardly any light comes through. As a result, the image is too dark.

This was taken at 1/200 sec. Without the flash and additional lighting to compensate for the fast shutter speed, the image is underexposed and too dark

This image was taken at 1/200 sec.

So the process is trial and error. Start with a medium shutter speed and tweak from there. The setting you use is going to be based on your lighting set up, whether you’re shooting at day or night and the type of product. Once you play around with different shutter speeds, you’ll get a better idea of what works for you and when.

Capturing movement with slow shutter speeds:

With a slow shutter speed, the camera can also capture the movement in a static image. Here is a pic to illustrate. Notice the flame is a bit blurry and looks realistic. If this image was taken with a fast shutter speed, the flame would be too clear and wouldn’t look as real.

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How to set the shutter speed on your camera?

You can adjust shutter speed in either manual mode or shutter priority mode. The auto mode or aperture mode don’t allow you to change the shutter speed. On some DSLR cameras you won’t see the speed as a fraction. So if you decide to start at 1/125th of a second, it will probably show as 125 on your camera.

Familiarize yourself with your camera’s display and learn where to find the numbers. Use your instruction manual or just google your camera model and it should be pretty easy to find out how to change the setting. All cameras are different; mine has a touch screen so I just touch the shutter speed and adjust it. Some you have a button or will to navigate to shutter speed via your camera menu. 

Product photography requires a lot of trial and error. Each product is different and everyone has a different lighting set up. So pick a setting to start, then tweak up or down as needed till the image looks the way you want it to.