September 20, 2015

How Shutter Speeds & Frame Rates Can Be Used to Change the Look & Feel of Your Film

Shutter speed and frame rate are two camera settings that do very different things to your image, but are also very interconnected.

Not only can they be set to give your shots the look audiences have been accustomed to for decades, but they can also be adjusted to give your images a look that will help elicit desired emotions. Emmy Award winning filmmaker Ray Tsang gives us a lesson on these two settings, explaining what they are, what they do, and how they can be used to serve your story.

The Basics

  • Frame rate: The number of frames captured per second
  • Shutter speed: Duration of time each frame is exposed to light
  • Basic rule: The standard setting for your shutter speed is double your frame rate: (e.g. 24p at 1/50)

Tsang does an excellent job demonstrating the differences between high/low shutter speeds and frame rates, which, among other things, result in more/less motion blur and crisp, clear images. If you're asking why filmmakers deviate from the norm (24p at 1/50), or better yet, how different frame rates and shutter speeds can affect the audience on an emotional level, here are some examples.

Slow Motion

We're all pretty familiar with this, since it's more often than not the first thing you try when messing around with your frame rate settings. Higher frame rate settings will result in slow motion; since more frames are being captured per second, the shot can be slowed down without breaking the beta movement illusion.

Action Shots

Faster shutter speeds result in crisper, clearer images, like the ones we see all the time in action films, sports, and other media that contains a lot of movement (video games, too). In fact, this has been dubbed the "Saving Private Ryan look" -- and you've probably noticed it in certain scenes from 28 Days Later as well.

 Notice how the blood doesn't blur?

In the end, shutter speeds and frame rates can change the way your image looks, as well as how it reads to your audience. They're not just settings that you set and forget -- they're can actually become dynamic storytelling devices.      

Your Comment

21 Comments

Great info for film. But what about TV norms?
In the US (NTSC) it is 29.97fps and Europe (PAL) 25fps.
These are the broadcast norms because of the frequency of the electricity being used (us=60htz and Europe=50htz).
In my experience changing the frame rate only causes flicker in the shots.

September 20, 2015 at 5:18PM

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Kevin Lee
Creative Director
81

Thanks for pointing that out Kevin. Definitively a subject that warrants its own post and something anyone shooting for TV broadcast will have to address at one point or another.

September 20, 2015 at 11:15PM

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Ray Tsang
Director of Photography
95

This is true. As always, the rules of video production and filmmaking do not apply to all applications. TV can definitely be different. You have sitcom vs legacy shows like CSI Miami (which definitely used a variety of shutter/fps techniques).

However, I personally believe that if you are a professional videographer or cinematographer, you need to know how these things affect the image for the exhibition you are working in.

September 21, 2015 at 8:41AM

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Ryan Atkins
Cinematographer/Editor/Colorist
101

Most prime time comedies and dramas in the US are shot at 24 FPS and then converted with a 3:2 pulldown for the aesthetic. They were also mainly shot on film until very recently. A few still are.

September 22, 2015 at 6:02AM, Edited September 22, 6:02AM

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While shooting video on a DSLR, what exactly is changing in the camera when changing the shutter speed setting? Is it a 'refresh rate' of the sensor?

September 21, 2015 at 9:12AM, Edited September 21, 9:12AM

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That sounds like a good way of putting it. The physical shutter is lifted up and an electric 'shutter' is used instead, essentially just switching the sensor on and off.

September 21, 2015 at 3:33PM

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Nice explanation.
In 2013 we did similar video about shutter angle in BMCC.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UuTFc4UlAzs

September 21, 2015 at 11:22AM

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Bohdan Koshyk
Edit, Shoot, Repeat
88

Thanks for sharing! Your side-by-side example at 1:40 is a great example of how shutter angle can affect your image and therefore how to use it to push your storytelling.

September 22, 2015 at 1:52PM

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Ray Tsang
Director of Photography
95

As a wedding videographer I would loved to see video of people walking around more. Also, if you're shooting a still object is it alright to bump up the shutter speed to let more light in and drop the ISO down?

September 21, 2015 at 3:42PM, Edited September 21, 3:42PM

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I think you'd want to lower the shutter speed, say to 1/30, and drop the ISO. But any movement will get that blurring effect

September 22, 2015 at 5:05AM

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Matt Jamie
Film Maker / Photographer
147

Echoing what Matt said. You can absolutely lower your shutter speed to let more light in. In a static or slower moving scene, the lower shuttle speed won't be as noticeable.

September 22, 2015 at 1:54PM, Edited September 22, 1:54PM

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Ray Tsang
Director of Photography
95

Since motion blur is controlled by shutter speed, why not leave the shutter at 1/50 since everyone is used to that amount of motion blur but use a frame rate like 30 or 60 to smooth rolling shutter and smooth out movements in general? Convention is not always the best technical method, IMHO.

Also, regarding playing with shutter speed for desired effect (I love movement motion blur in dance, for example), I created a 6 minute experimental dance short film using a 1/6th second shutter at 24p throughout the entire film. I used a camcorder to get the slow shutter since most DSLRs will not let you do this, a physical impossibility on a film (mechanical) camera.

I was unsure how the resulting footage would be handled/created by the camera. Would each of the 24 frames be "overlapped" to account for the 1/6th second exposure/shutter or would the camera just expose for 1/6th second and have it last for 4 frames to get to 24p? I hoped for the former but it was the latter. Looks cool!

See it here: http://dancephotographer.com/video-film-galleries/darkly-in-the-deep/

Fun!!

September 21, 2015 at 5:14PM, Edited September 21, 5:22PM

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Well... having lived through the "Underground Film movement"
taking place in NYC in the 60s and 70s I now feel that making
any kind of negative comment about this issue might brand me
as a Luddite. I lived thru shaky-cam, out-of-focus-cam, tilt-
frame-cam, and last, but not least... dust-film-scratches-cam.
Now that we're not rolling through thousands of feet of film and
aren't that concerned about cost, we can experiment with these
new capabilities... which I do to a limited extent. I say "limited"
because I now only make movies (videos) for my own
amusement and satisfaction.

However... the only justification behind any of these choices is
if they enhance your story and makes your message more
effective. There isn't anyone out there who can honestly say
that the movie "2001 A Space Odessey" would be more thrilling
if it was shot at 200 fps and 1/1000th of a second. These
capabilities are not revolutionary, they are additional tools now
available to the story telling art. Don't jump on any band wagons
just for the ride... get your priorities straight.

September 21, 2015 at 6:23PM, Edited September 21, 6:23PM

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Thanks for the video, guys! I understood why 24p looked calmer - because it's a bit surreal and smooth, but I didn't know about the shutter speed rationale - coolio. One annoying thing I found this past summer was that flourescent lighting can force you to shoot at 1/30 or so (or so a blogger recommends - haven't found those annoying lights again yet). I had this problem at a friend's house in Prague and at the Dali Museum in Figueres outside of Barcelona. Wish I'd known then - now I have these weird waves happening in the background of otherwise good footage.

September 21, 2015 at 11:06PM

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Suzie Park
Director & DP
168

yes I've found that wave/strobe issue with LED lamps as well - not to mention the difficulty of colour balancing for them...

September 22, 2015 at 4:18AM

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Matt Jamie
Film Maker / Photographer
147

Great article!

Any GH4 users out there with a set shutter speed for shooting in 96fps? I usually don't change it too high because of the flicker effect.

September 22, 2015 at 11:56AM

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Christopher Evans
Video Artist
126

The rule of thumb is "shutter speed is double the framerate" or 180º (on cams that offer shutter angle). If you're doing pans or tilts (at any framerate), I wouldn't go faster than 180º or 1/(2 x FPS) or you'll get the dreaded "judder".

So, I'd shoot slowish action at 96fps with a 1/192s shutter speed. As for the flicker effect... take your shoot outdoors (sun is free!), rent special flicker-free HMIs or, say, a 12K Tungsten. Though the latter two options will require a high AMP circuit, which is not typically available in most buildings (or even most studios)... so you'll probably need to rent a generator and hire someone to run it.

September 23, 2015 at 5:36PM, Edited September 23, 5:36PM

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Jon Wolding
DP/Director
148

I'm planning to shoot a documentary with a Panasonic GH4 without any external lights. If I set the shutter speed to "standard" 1/50 for 25fps, how can I control the lighting on the scene? If shutter speed is fixed, an indoor scene and outdoor scene can't be both well lighted. Or should I do it changing the aperture (and ISO)? When taking photo, you just change the shutter speed and thus getting more light into the photo.

Let's say I want to have a shallow depth of field close up of an object indoors and outdoors. How can I control that both shots are equally lighted maintaining the f-stop of the aperture for having a unfocused background? Is it possible at all?

Thanks a lot in advance!

January 13, 2016 at 6:38AM

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.edu
81

Hi,

Where can I find Shutter Speed setting for 180, 172.8 and other Shutter Angles in cameras like Arri Alexa where Electronic Shutter is used and in 35mm Film cameras where Mechanical Shutters are used? E.g. 1/10, 1/60, 1/500. Especially in 35mm Film Camera. Can they be found in the digital display menu of cameras like Arri 235 etc.? An image of actual setting or exact instructions will be helpful.

January 28, 2016 at 7:35PM, Edited January 28, 7:46PM

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saved.

October 30, 2016 at 11:00PM

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Hi guys,

Thanks for the tutorial - Realise this is from 2015 but hopefully you're still monitoring questions. Can you tell me if there's ever any need or benefit in shooting at a higher frame rate if you're NOT planning on playing it back in slow motion and if there is, what would these circumstances be? Thanks!

December 20, 2016 at 8:45PM

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Hi, when I am shooting outdoors in the sun and keep the shutter speed double my frame rate that is (24*2=50) I have a very over exposed image and have to increase the aperture and compromise on the depth of field. Is there any way I can have both motion blur and depth of field where I can reduce my aperture to f1.8? Is the only option to buy ND filters? Please help!

July 26, 2017 at 7:35AM

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