Setting the right Shutter Speed – part 2 – Hand Holding

Many people hand hold the camera to take photographs. This is fine but it is critical that you have a minimum shutter speed for you to  acquire a sharp image. What is this speed? For a normal lens (24-100mm) and a normal person it’s about 1/60 of a second. Some people are steadier and others more shaky.

Portrait at 1/60 of a second










If you have an image stabilized or vibration reduction lens then you might be able to get consistently sharp images at 1/15 of a second.

Portrait at 1/15 of a second with Image Stabilization











If you are using a large heavy lens, ie a 400mm then the minimum shutter speed needs to be faster. Why? Because the lens/camera combo is heavier and therefore harder to hold steady. A general rule is 1/focal length of the lens. For this example you would at least need a shutter speed of 1/400 of a second.

400mm lens hand held from a kayak, 1/4000 of a second

Use the following exercise to determine the minimum shutter speed you need for each lens you have. The lighter the lens the slower you can hold up to a point.

Exercise: Try photographing a written sign 6 times each at various shutter speeds: 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60

Download the images onto the computer and zoom into 100%. You want at least 5 out of 6 images sharp for you to say you can consistently get a sharp image at that shutter speed. For instance, say you got all 6 sharp at 1/60, 5 sharp at 1/30, 3 sharp at 1/15 and 1 sharp at 1/8. The minimum speed you should ever use while hand holding is 1/30 second to get consistently sharp images from your end.

Getting sharp images also depends on the subject, mentioned in the previous lesson on stopping action, and whether you properly acquired focus on the subject. Depth of field, aperture, also plays a role. We will address them all in subsequent posts. For this lesson find out what the minimum shutter speed is for you for each lens you own.  Check the speed before you take the shot! We’ll talk about how to adjust aperture and ISO to get faster shutter speeds in subsequent posts.

Next time we’ll look at how the ambient light affects the shutter speed you can get.

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