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Why Shutter Speed isn't Important in High Speed Flash Photography

Why Shutter Speed isn't Important in High Speed Flash Photography

Before starting, let me ask you a question, "What would be your reaction if someone told you that they use a very low shutter speed in high-speed photography?" I am sure your first thought would be, "Is he crazy? He is talking about high-speed photography, and he is telling that he uses low shutter speed.   


Well, it's shocking but absolutely true, and before going any further, let me show you some examples. Check out the following image and guess the shutter speed used when taking this shot?

high speed photography

 © Ramakant Sharda –

1/4000 seconds?  or  1/1000 seconds?  or  1/250 seconds?

What would you say if I told you that shutter speed was 1/10 in this picture? Can’t believe it? Well, check the EXIF info of this shot.

shutter speed


Here are some more examples:

high speed photography

 © Ramakant Sharda –

high speed photography

© Ramakant Sharda –

high speed photography

© Ramakant Sharda –

high speed photography

© Ramakant Sharda –

So why is shutter speed not an important factor in high speed flash photography? Because usually, we shoot in a dark room with a narrow aperture, so the ambient light doesn't make any difference in the photo, and we use flash as a light source to expose the shot.

Okay, let's do an experiment. Take out your camera, switch it to manual mode with following settings, and take a picture inside a room where there is little light.

ISO: 100
Aperture: f/22
Shutter speed: 1/10

You should have gotten a dark picture with nothing in it. Why? Because the aperture was so narrow that it let very little light pass to the sensor which was not enough to expose the shot. Now take a flash and mount on the camera and take a picture with the same settings. This time you get a perfectly exposed picture, right?

By now, you may be thinking, "Why do we need to use a narrow aperture?" Well, the reason for using a narrow aperture is that usually our subject is small and we shoot close to it. So, to get a deeper depth of field, we need to use a narrow aperture. If we shoot with a wide aperture like f/4, we may not get the entire subject in focus, and it might ruin the picture.

"But our camera can go up to 1/8000 seconds of shutter speed, why not use it to take the shot? Why do we have to use flashes?" That might be your next question.

Let me answer these one at a time.

There are two reasons for it. First, to capture such moments, we need a  very high shutter speed. If we shoot at the camera's max shutter speed of 1/8000 seconds, we may not get proper exposure as it requires a lot of light, which is very likely not available inside a room. If we lower our shutter speed to compensate for the low light, we start getting motion blur, which is the second reason for not using a camera shutter for high-speed photos.

So, if you use a wide aperture, you won't get the entire subject in focus, and if you use a narrow aperture, you'll get a dark picture. At the same time, if you use a slow shutter speed, you'll get motion blur, and if you use a high shutter speed, again, you'll get a dark picture.

And if you are planning on increasing the ISO, don't even think about it. In a room with low light, if you are shooting with 1/2000 shutter speed and f/8 aperture, you'll need 51200 or even higher ISO, which is not available on many cameras. And if it were available, it would produce a considerable amount of noise that will again ruin the picture.

At this point, the flash comes to rescue us. With flashes, we can get up to 1/25000 seconds of burst, which freezes action, and at the same time, provides enough light to expose the photo properly.

In flash photography, we can't go above 1/250 seconds shutter speed because it exceeds the maximum flash sync speed of your camera.  However, on the slower side, whether our shutter speed is 1/250 or 1/60 or 1/10, the photo will come out the same because our aperture is narrow, so ambient light doesn't make any difference. That's why shutter speed is not important in high-speed flash photography.

I hope it’s clear to you now, so let’s use this information and start creating some masterpieces. Keep clicking and share your shots.

Related Article: 10 Tips & Tricks for High-Speed Photography

Related Article: High Speed Photography Explore Site


About the Author

Ramakant Sharda is an author, iOS App publisher, passionate photographer and a MIOPS Ambassador based in the beautiful “Pink City” of India, known as Jaipur. His work has been published in various magazines, newspapers, and blogs. He has published three Coffee Table Books, he writes about photography and also teaches photography in his workshops. Check out his website to see the masterpieces created by him or download his free app for iPhone and iPad “30 Days to an Ace Photographer“.

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