Shutter Speed is an Under-utilized Creative Tool in Video Production

When learning to shoot video, we’re taught that we should always set our camera’s shutter speed according to our frame rate then keep it there for there until we change frame rates again. Videomaker even wrote recently that video producers are learning the wrong exposure triangle, since shutter speed is essentially removed from the equation most of the time.

Instead of setting exposure by manipulating aperture, ISO and shutter speed, we advocate for a new video exposure triangle that replaces shutter speed with neutral density (ND) filters. Indeed, ND filters give you much more flexibility in setting exposure — you can keep your wide aperture and the desired shutter speed without running into issues with overexposure and clipped highlights. Thinking about it this way, it’s easy to get in the mindset of “set it and forget it,” but in doing so, we overlook shutter speed’s creative potential.

Using the Correct Shutter Speed

Most video production resources will tell you that the denominator of your shutter speed should be double your frame rate. This means that if you’re shooting at 30 frames per second (fps), the recommended shutter speed with be 1/60th of a second. At a frame rate of 24 fps, you’d want a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second, and so on. Setting the shutter speed in this way produces the right amount of motion blur to make on-screen action look natural to our eye. It also conforms to our expectations formed through decades of film and video viewing.

But our cameras do have other shutter speed settings, and there’s no real reason we can’t use those alternate settings to suit our creative purposes.

But our cameras do have other shutter speed settings, and there’s no real reason we can’t use those alternate settings to suit our creative purposes. Like all rules about visual storytelling, the rule about how to set your shutter speed can be bent or broken to great artistic effect — as long as the rule is broken intentionally and the resulting effect makes for a more compelling story.

If you’ve ever watched or recorded video using different shutter speeds, you’ll have noticed that on-screen movement can look a bit weird. If your shutter speed is set lower than normal, you’ll get more motion blur, while if you increase the shutter speed, you see more staccato movements with little to no motion blur.

What’s normal anyway?

Neither excessive motion blur nor its complete absence will look particularly normal or natural on screen — but then the same could be said of time-lapse and slow-motion sequences. Wide angle lens distortion, similarly, gives the viewer an unnatural perspective that can’t be achieved with the human eye. If we are willing to accept these diviations from realism and human perception, we should also accept creatively used alternative shutter speeds just as readily.

Since our newly established video-centric exposure triangle includes aperture, ISO and ND — and excludes shutter speed entirely — shutter speed is somewhat liberated to perform more creative functions. Like non-standard frame rates and focal lengths, non-standard shutter speeds should be used in specific storytelling applications to communicate an idea more effectively.

We might not — and probably shouldn’t — change our shutter speed for every shot, but it doesn’t hurt to consider it as another creative tool in our toolbox when it comes to visual storytelling.

Nicole is all for experimenting with unusual storytelling methods. She’s also Videomaker’s Managing Editor.

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  1. Hi, and thanks for this very informative article. I believe there's a typo in the third-to-last paragraph—you might want to change the word "diviances" to "deviations" or something similar. Thanks again!