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Sunday, 15 December 2013 12:17

What's the right shutter speed to shoot video?

Written by Mike
Extreme motion blur Extreme motion blur

Shutter speed when shooting video is an interesting question that typically nobody thinks about much, but it’s surprisingly critical to how your final video appears.  It’s something I’ve stumbled a bit over, but having now checked out the theory and done a few tests, here are my thoughts.


The important concept to keep in mind is that there are two ‘speed’ questions with video that are related, but not connected.

Frame rate is the number of frames being shot per second.  It’s typically either 30 or 60 frames per second (fps), though my GoPro will shoot at up to 120fps under certain conditions.  The higher the frame rate, the more data is being captured, and interestingly, the greater the potential for slow motion playback, the current fashion of the week.  If you shoot at 120fps and then render at 30fps, your video is playing at quarter speed.

Shutter speed is the length of time the shutter stays open as it exposes each frame of the video.  Its connection with ISO and aperture is identical with that of a still camera.  Bear in mind that if you’re shooting at 60fps, there are mechanical limitations that making using a shutter speed at much under 1/125th second impossible.

Given thinking

When you start reading around, you start finding those silly rules about photography I love to debunk.  Given thinking with video is that some motion blur in each frame is perfectly OK.  It’s referred to as the ‘TV look’ or the ‘film look’ if you really want to big it up.

The way you achieve this is to use a shutter speed that is twice the frame rate.  So if you’re shooting at 60fps, you choose a shutter speed of 1/125th second.  If you’re shooting at 30fps, you choose a shutter speed of 1/60th second.

That’s the theory, what’s the practice?

I’d suggest before you cling onto the given thinking, you consider two questions.  The first is what do you like, and the second is what are you shooting?  Let’s attempt to answer those points.

Shutter speeds

When you make a still picture, you choose an appropriate shutter speed for the effect you want.  So with flowing water, 1/500th second will stop the action, freezing it at a point in time.  At the same time, a 1 second exposure will render the water almost as a mist and will give a strong sense of its movement.

Exactly the same applies with video.  A longer exposure might not stop movement, so you will get a slight motion blur in each frame.  As you view the final video, the movement appears to be softened.

Equally a short shutter speed will stop any action.  I shoot a lot of motor sport and fast trains, so I often use shutter speeds of 1,000th second or less to be confident I’ve got a pin sharp picture of the car or train in action.

If I shoot video with such short shutter speeds the final video will comprise a series of frames where the action has been stopped and the resulting video looks crisper and sharper – though slightly more frantic.

You choose

This is a theory worth mastering because it enables you to choose your creative approach to how your final video will look.

Filming a dreamy scene with little movement where you are implying peace and harmony?  Shoot at 1/60th second.  Filming high speed action where you want a pin sharp rendition of the subject?  Shoot at 1/500th second or less.



Mike McCormac has been a photographer since about ten years old.  He's a Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, and splits his time between living in Olney in the United Kingdom and a village in the hills near Paphos in Cyprus.

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