Shutter Speed and Shutter Angle, and How To Achieve a Film Look – Beginners Guide

In photography and filmmaking, shutter speed and shutter angle are used to calculate exposure time.

Whether you’re shooting photos or videos, digitally or on film, the exposure is the foundation of the process: how long you expose your film or sensor to light. Simply put, the longer the exposure time, the more light will reach your film or sensor.

In photography, your shutter speed is referred to as your exposure time. It will be something like 1/10 second, 1/50 second, or 1/2000 second. A shutter speed of 1/10 second is relatively slow and lets in a lot of light, whereas a shutter speed of 1/2000 second is fast. 

Shutter speed is used in filmmaking when shooting with a DSLR, but shutter angle is used when shooting with a cinema camera. The shutter angle is measured in degrees, and it is usually 180 degrees. 

In a moment, you’ll understand why it’s called shutter angle, as well as why you usually stick with 180 degrees.

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What Is the Difference Between Shutter Speed and Shutter Angle?

The main distinction between shutter speed and shutter angle is how they are measured. The speed of the shutter is measured in fractions of a second. Shutter speed is the rate at which the shutter moves.

For example, if the shutter exposes the film for 1/60th of a second, the shutter speed is 1/60. Slow shutter speeds allow for more light, but if the subject is moving, the image will have motion blur. Faster shutter speeds, on the other hand, allow less light but are effective at freezing motion.

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What Is a Camera Shutter?

The shutter is a protective covering for your camera’s sensor that remains closed until you take a photograph or record a video.

When the camera takes a picture, the shutter opens, exposing the sensor to the light passing through the hole in the camera lens, known as the aperture. When the sensor grasps the light, the shutter closes to prevent the light from striking the sensor.

What Is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is the amount of time it takes for the camera’s shutter to open. In terms of still photography, this is the definition.

When it comes to film photography, shutter speed is the time it takes for the film to be exposed to the scene being recorded.

What Is Shutter Angle?

The term “shutter angle” refers to the shutter speed as it relates to the frame rate. Shutter angle is commonly used for rotary shutters, which use a disc with an angled opening that spins and lets in light once per revolution to expose each frame. 

When the angle is greater, the shutter speed is reduced. The maximum angle is 360°, at which point the shutter speed becomes as slow as the frame rate. When the angle is reduced, the shutter speed becomes arbitrarily fast.

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Look and feel 

It’s important to understand how and why you control shutter speed and shutter angle, not just because you don’t want your photos to be too light or too dark if you’re a photographer, but also because it affects the overall feel of your photos or videos.

film lighting

Longer exposure times will introduce more motion blur into your images as a photographer. A longer exposure time, such as a 270-degree shutter angle, means that one frame blends into the next, giving your video a dreamy quality. 

A shorter exposure time, such as a shutter angle of 45 degrees, produces a much more jerky effect, similar to watching old-fashioned news footage. If you’re shooting an action sequence, you might want to use a narrower shutter angle to avoid excessive motion blur.

In general, filmmakers will not change their shutter speed or angle based on how much light they want or need, though. The aesthetic impact on a video is simply too great. Instead, they will use the other elements of the exposure triangle, such as their lighting setup and modifiers, as well as neutral density filters, to help them adjust their exposure.

Shutter angle 

But why is exposure time in filmmaking referred to as shutter angle? Why is it measured in degrees rather than time? This explanation is based on analog cinema camera technology, and the mechanics no longer apply if you record digitally. But first, let’s take a look at how it evolved, what it does, and why its principles are still relevant today. 

First, a refresher. Your frame rate is the number of film frames exposed (or recorded) or played back per second. You’ll probably be shooting at 24 or 30 frames per second, but you could try 48 or 60.

shutter angle

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Consider a disc that spins on its center point, shielding your film from light exposure. It’s known as a rotating shutter. Each rotation of the disc corresponds to one exposure of one frame of your film. 

The disc rotates once, and the film moves on one frame at a time. With a frame rate of 24 frames per second, each frame is positioned behind the lens for 0.0417 seconds–1 that’s divided by 24–which is also the time it takes for the rotating shutter to complete one rotation. In one second, it will rotate 24 times.

However, the disc isn’t complete. A quarter of it has been removed, or 90 degrees. Each film frame is exposed for a quarter of its rotation every time the disc is spun. This is referred to as a shutter angle of 90 degrees. In terms of duration, the exposure lasts 0.0417 seconds or 0.0104 seconds.

180-degree shutter angle 

While I only used 90 degrees as an example, films are mostly, but not entirely, shot with a shutter angle of 180 degrees because it produces the most natural-looking footage.

A shutter angle of 180 degrees indicates that the disc is actually a semi-circle, and each frame is exposed for half the duration of the disc’s rotation. Again, the precise exposure duration in seconds is determined by the frame rate. 

A shutter angle of 180 degrees for a movie at 24 frames per second results in an exposure time of 0.0208 seconds for each frame.

With a frame rate of 60 frames per second and a shutter angle of 180 degrees, the exposure time is 0.0083 seconds. Of course, if you’re shooting with a cinema camera, the exposure duration isn’t as important. You’ll be experimenting with the shutter angle. 

However, if you’re using a camera that uses shutter speed, you’ll need to make some conversions.

How to Convert Shutter Angle to Shutter Speed 

We already know that natural-looking footage is typically shot with a shutter angle of 180 degrees. We also know that when shooting at 24 frames per second, the shutter must remain open for 0.0208 seconds for each frame. 

To express it as a fraction, which is how we usually refer to shutter speed, it is 1/(2frames per second), or 1/(224), which is 1/48. 

Because 1/48 is not a common shutter speed, you would round it to 1/50 second. 

So, for natural-looking films shot at 24 frames per second, a shutter speed of 1/50 second is required.

If you’re shooting at 60 frames per second and want a shutter angle of 180 degrees, you’ll need a shutter speed of 1/(260). Because 1/120 second is not supported by most cameras, use 1/125 second. 

If you want to use a narrower shutter angle, say 90 degrees, to help eliminate motion blur in an action sequence, your equation would be: 1/(4frames per second). 

Assuming a frame rate of 24 frames per second, that is 1/(424) or 1/96, and with rounding to accommodate standard shutter speeds, that is 1/100 second.

Don’t be afraid to experiment to get the look you want in your short film or YouTube video, but a 180-degree shutter angle is a good starting point to help you achieve consistency.

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About the author: Trent (IMDB Youtubehas spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

Shutter Speed and Shutter Angle, and How To Achieve a Film Look - Beginners Guide

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