Shutter speed and frame rate are two often confused, yet very important, camera settings. The good news is that with a deeper look into what each setting actually controls, you can use them in combination to really bolster your storytelling game. Ray Tsang, multi-Emmy Award-winning filmmaker from the production company Locomotive, explores the differences.
The big shutter speed and frame rate takeaways:
Shutter speed is the duration of time each individual recorded frame is exposed to light. Just like in photography, the higher the shutter speed for video, the more you’re going to freeze any moving objects in each of your frames. Conversely, the lower the shutter speed, the more blur will occur for those same moving objects.
Frame rate is how many individual frames you’re capturing per second. The industry standard for playback is 23.976 frames per second or, as it’s listed in most camera menus, 24p. Any more or less frames than 24 per second — if played back at that same speed — feels strange to audiences.
A good starting place for natural motion blur in your film is to set your shutter speed as double your frame rate. For example, if you’re filming 24p, set your shutter speed to 1/48th (or 1/50th if that’s the closest your camera can be set to). This will create the motion blur that your audiences have been conditioned to accept as the most natural by years of watching Hollywood films.
Don’t be afraid to deviate from the 180-shutter degree rule (shutter speed = double your frame rate) when it’s story-relevant. A higher shutter speed than double your frame rate can yield footage that stutters, which is great for those action-packed kinetic scenes. On the other end, a slower shutter speed than double your frame rate can yield blurry footage, which is great for flashbacks or mind-altered scenes.
There are a lot of good articles out there on the interwebs that explores these topics further, like the “Persistence of Vision,” “Phi Phenomenon,” “180-Degree Shutter Angle,” or “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Masterclass in Why 48 FPS Fails.” You can also visit the Academy of Storytellers, which has 100+ filmmaking tutorials, to help you boost your visual storytelling skills.