The Ultimate Guide to Shutter Speed for Macro Photography

Do you struggle to work with shutter speed for macro photography?

Do you want to know how to choose the best shutter speed for any macro photo?

In this article, you’ll discover everything you need to know about macro photography shutter speed. You’ll learn how to choose the right shutter speed for any shot.

And you’ll come away with the ability to capture consistently sharp photos.

Let’s dive right in!

What Is Shutter Speed?

To understand shutter speed, you need to understand how a camera works.

The camera has a sensor. Normally, the sensor is closed off to the outside world. It’s covered by the shutter.

But when you press the shutter button, the shutter opens. And the sensor takes in light to produce a photo.

Now, the amount of time the sensor is exposed to the outside world?

That’s the shutter speed.

In other words, shutter speed is a basic camera setting: The length of time the shutter is open.

Shutter speed is referred to in fractions of a second: 1/2s, 1/25s, 1/250s, 1/2500s, etc. Though it’s also possible to use an extremely long shutter speed, one that’s 1s, 2s, or even 5 minutes.

In macro photography, a short shutter speed would be something in the 1/500s to 1/2500s range.

A longer shutter speed would be in the 1/10s to 1/100s range.

Anything in between would be considered fairly standard.

How Does Shutter Speed Affect Your Macro Photos?

The longer your shutter speed, the more light the sensor takes in.

And the more light the sensor takes in, the brighter the resulting photo.

So when shooting in low light, photographers often use a long shutter speed.

And when shooting in bright light, photographers tend to use a shorter shutter speed.

But here’s the thing about shutter speed:

The longer your shutter is open, the more likely it is that your photo will be blurry.

To understand this, imagine what happens when the shutter is left open for five minutes while you photograph a flower:

  • The flower might wave in the wind
  • A person might wander through the background
  • The camera might shake or tilt

And all of this movement will result in a blurry photo.

That’s why you need to carefully choose your shutter speed.

In general, you should choose the longest shutter speed you can get away with. Unfortunately, it’s not as easy as picking 1/2500s and forgetting about it. As I mentioned above, longer shutter speeds take in more light.

And if you’re shooting in dark conditions, you’re going to need that extra light. You’ll need to choose a longer shutter speed–so that your photo isn’t pitch black.

But how do you choose the best shutter speed for your macro photos?

The Best Shutter Speed for Macro Photography

Here’s the thing:

There’s no single best shutter speed for macro photography.

But, for macro photographers, shutter speed can be boiled down to a few simple tips:

Follow the Inverse Focal Length Rule

When you’re trying to choose your shutter speed, you can use this basic rule as a guide:

Never handhold your camera at a shutter speed that’s less than the inverse of your lens’s focal length.

If you think that sounds super complicated, you’re not alone. But don’t worry! It’s actually really simple.

Let me explain with some examples:

If your lens is 200mm long, then you shouldn’t use a shutter speed less than 1/200s.

If your lens is 60mm long, then you shouldn’t use a shutter speed less than 1/60s.

If your lens is 500mm long, then you shouldn’t use a shutter speed less than 1/500s.

Does this make sense? All you have to do is put a ‘1’ over the focal length to know your minimum shutter speed for handholding.

Now, this isn’t a perfect guide. As you’ll discover in a moment, sometimes you need to use faster shutter speeds than this.

But it’s a great starting point for choosing a shutter speed.

Use a Slower Shutter Speed in Low Light

When you’re doing photography in a darker scenario, it’s best to choose a slower shutter speed.

This is because you need to leave the shutter open for longer–in order to compensate for the lack of light.

Note that ‘low light’ can refer to a number of different situations:

Just pay careful attention to your shutter speed, and you’ll be okay.

Use a Faster Shutter Speed at High Magnifications

In macro photography, you’re often shooting at high magnifications.

And this is when you need to be especially careful about your shutter speed.

Because the higher your magnification, the more potential for camera blur.

This makes sense, if you think about it. When you’re working at super high magnifications, every small movement of the camera is magnified. And so the resulting shot is more likely to be blurry.

Use a Fast Shutter Speed If Your Subject Is Moving

If your subject is moving, you’re going to need a quick shutter speed.

Why?

Because a quick shutter speed will freeze the action. Otherwise, your subject won’t be sharp.

For flowers blowing in the wind, your shutter speed doesn’t need to be too high. Perhaps something in the area of 1/200s.

But for a buzzing bee?

You may need a shutter speed of around 1/1000s.

The Tradeoff: Shutter Speed, Aperture, and ISO

In photography, the goal is always to create a photo that has beautifully rendered colors and beautifully rendered tones.

And one of the best ways to do this is to make sure that your photo is perfectly exposed.

A perfectly exposed photo isn’t too bright and isn’t too dark–it’s just right.

But what affects the brightness of a photo?

You already know about one of the factors that affects the brightness: shutter speed.

The longer the shutter is open, the brighter the photo.

But the brightness of a photo is also affected by two other factors:

Aperture and ISO.

Now, aperture refers to a hole in the camera lens that lets in light. The wider the hole, the more light that’s let in.

And ISO refers to the sensitivity of the camera to light. Basically, a higher ISO means that your camera will brighten your photos.

The three of these variables–shutter speed, aperture, and ISO–together determine the brightness of a photo.

So you, as the photographer, must decide on the best combination for your needs.

Shutter Speed in Macro Photography: The Next Steps

Now you should have a sense of the best shutter speed–whenever you’re doing macro photography.

However, shutter speed is only one component of capturing beautiful macro photos.

And if you want to keep improving your macro photography, I suggest you sign up for my newsletter–where I give all sorts of tips, tricks, and secrets for amazing macro photography.

(Oh, and you’ll receive a free nature photography eBook!)

To sign up, just enter your email below:

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