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Shutter speed for weddings - WHY are most wedding images taken at 1/60s?

Alen Z , Oct 19, 2009; 03:39 p.m.

Hi guys,
I've been reading a lot of wedding photography books, and it seems a lot of the awesome pics are taken at 1/60s shutter speed, and I'm beginning to wonder why! And please dont tell me it's because of low-light situations or using a tripod...most images I've taken with 1/60 arent tack sharp (full-res). I feel I need to be at least 1/125 to get very sharp images. Boosting ISO isn't a huge problem nowadays with technology, and they could have easily increased the shutter speed to reduce shake/blur, but chose not to. That being said, WHY are most amazing wedding pics taken at 1/60? Is there something magical that happens at that shutter speed?
Note: this question is in regards to non-flash, handheld photography.


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William Porter , Oct 19, 2009; 03:58 p.m.

"please dont tell me it's because of low-light situations...."


Hmmm. So what answer ARE you looking for?

There is definitely nothing magic about 1/60th sec. But my work inside the church does produce a lot of photographs at speeds somewhere between 1/30th sec and 1/100th sec. 1/60th sec might indeed be an average or close to.

I don't usually use a tripod in the church (except for the formals, and then I'm using flash). I shoot Pentax so I have a couple image-stabilized bodies with me. (Nikon and Canon shooters may be using image-stabilized lenses.) A wedding ceremony isn't (usually) an athletic event, and the subjects tend to be pretty still, so I CAN shoot at 1/60th sec and hope to get photos that are sharp or sharp enough. A tripod won't help me much because if I get slower than about 1/30th sec, subject movement becomes a bigger risk than camera shake and neither image-stabilization nor a tripod can do anything about that. In other words, I can get to 1/60th sec or 1/30th sec hand-held - and that's about as slow as I would dare to go even if the camera were mounted in steel.

Now, the ONLY reason that I do this is that the light in just about every church I've shot in is pretty subdued. I push my ISO up pretty high - shots in the church are typically between 800 and 1600. And I open my lenses up wide: I'm typically shooting at f/2.8 or, when possible, faster than that. But if I'm shooting at 1/60th sec it's because, even after pushing the ISO up high and opening up wide, I STILL need to slow down the shutter to get a decent shot. And even then, I simply count on the shots inside the church having a certain degree of noise.

I think there's nothing more mysterious to it than that - and I suspect everybody else's answer will be pretty similar.


David Wegwart - Denver/CO. , Oct 19, 2009; 04:02 p.m.

In low light situations, the minimum you will likely need to stop slower movements is around 1/60th. With that in mind, you can then choose the DOF you want to work with. Once you have those two dialed in, you can set your ISO as low as possible to maintain optimum IQ.

So, low light and human movement is probably why that is a popular shutter speed.

Bob Bernardo - LA area disabled , Oct 19, 2009; 04:31 p.m.

1/60th is somewhat that magic setting to stop motion, yet good enough to pick up background light.

This is probably due to the film days when most photographers used an ISO setting of 100 to 400. Shooting at a shutter speed of 125th of a second often made the backgrounds go too dark. Shooting at a 30th often showed a slight people movements, shooting at a 15th of a second required the use of a tripod and a very steady hand if you don't use a pod. Image stabilizing lenses weren't around until the onset of digital, perhaps about 2 years before digital. I think the first IS lenses were from Canon, the 100-400mm then shortly after that Nikon came out with the 80-400mm, which was in the late 1990's.

During the film days you limited your amount of shooting because you had to pay about 50 cents per print. Most photographers during that time only shot around 200 to 250 images. This is another reason why 1/60th was the standard for most inside work. This resulted in only a few wasted prints. Probably not more than 10 to 15 images. Needless to say it's another world with digital. I've heard of a few people taking 8000 shots per wedding. This would bankrupt you in one wedding during the film days.

Dave Wilson , Oct 19, 2009; 04:54 p.m.

It's a film thing, like Bob already said. I would shoot most of the wedding at around 1/60 at f5.6 or 5.6 1/2 with whatever manual flash setting I needed. If I was in mixed-bright sun I would just adjust the shutter to 1/250, maybe f8. But by far mostly 1/60. Often I would drag the shutter and shoot indoors at 1/15 or 1/8, the flash freezes the motion direct in front of you , the slower shutter picks up the background. Digi will be similar but you have to adjust some, I'm not that sharp with digi yet, so I'm not going to comment on something I haven't done enough of to know exactly what I'm saying.

Alen Z , Oct 19, 2009; 05:13 p.m.

Ahhhhhhh! That's what I wanted to hear Bob/Dave, thanks! I knew there had to be some kind of explanation to this. And I'm not talking about indoor church pics either, I'm talking about scenarios where you could easily choose 1/125 but rather chose 1/60. Makes sense that it's just preference from the film days.
As a side question, don't you find 1/60 gives you hand-shake and isn't as sharp as could be??

Alonzo E , Oct 19, 2009; 05:18 p.m.

Not really but for me I use 1/60 as a benchmark for handholding. Anything slower usually causes issues either with my hands or the subject movement. 1/125 is really where I shoot most times.
It's your preference here..

David Wegwart - Denver/CO. , Oct 19, 2009; 05:28 p.m.

Bob and Dave said the same thing in long form. But if you understand what they are saying, you will realize that half of their answer is to do with "LOW LIGHT" and being able to pull in some ambient, and the other half of their answer is subject movement.

1/60th is the old sand by that most togs who have some experience handholding, choose for the reasons stated. If you go back far enough, it was the number that studios used as the ideal for portraits, after the advent of modern lighting (post 1970 era).

There are a plethora of good reasons for choosing your SS, but those two are the most common.

David Schilling - Chicago, Illinois , Oct 19, 2009; 05:28 p.m.

For some of us real old-timers the preference was also a function of the common flash synch speeds which was typically 1/60th years ago. Hand held for 50mm or less focal length should give good results...........

Bob Bernardo - LA area disabled , Oct 19, 2009; 05:41 p.m.

"As a side question, don't you find 1/60 gives you hand-shake and isn't as sharp as could be??" - Alen

This totally depends on your lens of choice. As a general rule of thumb, not using any stablizing type of lens or body, you go by the focal length of the lens to seconds. For example, if you are using a 50mm lens you probably shouldn't handhold under 50th of a second. If you are using a 500mm lens than this translates to 500th of a sec. So the longer the lens the faster your shutter speed should be.

Camera shake should not be an issue with a standard lens (50mm) and at 60th/sec, but if you are using a 500mm at 60th expect to see a lot of camera shake.

You can shoot at a low speed, such as a 15th of a second using flash. The flash will stop movement. The problem with using your on camera flash unit is often the images look flat. So take a second look at the photos you like in the books you are reading, most likely your favorate pics will be the use of creative lighting techniques and not the on camera flash.

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