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What Is a Remote Shutter Release: Photography Basics Explained

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camera shutter remote
Image Credit: AjayTvm, Shutterstock

You’ve set up the perfect shot. Then, you press your camera’s shutter button, and the unthinkable happens—motion blur. It’s fine when you want it to add interest to an image, but probably not when you’re trying to snap a pic using a telephoto lens. You don’t have to be a pro photographer to figure out that it doesn’t take much movement to ruin an image. And it’s not something you can usually photoshop away, either. 

That’s where a remote shutter release steps to the plate.

shutter camera divider 2

How Does It Work?

The best way to understand how a shutter release works is by reviewing its place in the exposure triangle. You probably first learned about it when you jumped into the deep end of the pool when you first started using manual mode on your camera. A well-exposed shot depends on three factors working together: aperture, ISO, and shutter speed.

The aperture is the adjustable opening that allows light to your device’s sensor or film. ISO determines how sensitive it is to the light entering through the aperture. The shutter speed controls how long it remains open. The release triggers the motion measured in fractions of a second. A balance between the three exists that gives you the creative license to manipulate your shots based on the conditions and your subject.

Usually, you’ll depress the shutter release button on your camera to control this action. Smartphone apps often give you an option to touch the screen or use your audio buttons instead. A remote shutter release allows you to work the shutter away from your camera.

Remote Shutter Camera
Image Credit: AjayTvm, Shutterstock

What Are the Different Types of Remote Shutter Release?

The two basic kinds of remote shutter release are wired and wireless. We can break these types further and delve into the specifics of how they work.

The simplest and least expensive is a mechanical cable. It attaches directly to your camera and doesn’t need batteries to get the job done. Another riff on this theme uses a battery-operated remote to control the shutter release. It’ll work with just about any device that supports these kinds. As you may surmise, the main disadvantage is the length of the cable. It may be all right for close-up shots, but it can be an issue with others.

The alternative is an untethered remote shutter release. You are not restricted by how long the cable is. That’s a good thing if you’re taking a self-portrait and don’t want the wire showing in the pic. You can get either an infra-red (IR) or wireless radio release. Both require batteries. The former only works if your camera has an IR receiver. The latter has a longer range, which you may find useful. It’s also more expensive.

Another option is a smartphone app. They may use either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to connect. That’s fine if you have an excellent signal but can be a hassle if you’re roaming or in a place that could interfere with its reception. On the positive side, developers often add some extra bells and whistles or at least settings that can give you more control over your shots.

The primary consideration on which one to choose is the app or the release’s compatibility with your camera. Then, it’s a matter of convenience. A tethered release means one more thing you have to have on you or in your camera bag. Wireless ones mean spare batteries on hand or a phone charger.


When Is It Used?

You can use a remote shutter release with or without a tripod. It gives you added assurance that you’ll avoid motion blur. It’s a godsend if you’re trying to photograph a flighty bird, insect, or animal. It can give you enough distance from your subject to pull off the shot. We also like to use a remote shutter release for HDR photos and macro photography.

If you’re getting creative with the exposure triangle, a remote shutter release will come in handy for long exposure pics or motion images. We think you’ll find them indispensable in these situations no matter how lightly you believe you can tap your camera’s button.

You may find a remote shutter release useful when setting up your shot. It can give you the distance to get the big picture better for making any last-minute adjustments. Of course, there’s always a benefit of having another set of eyes take in the scene, too.

Advantages of a Remote Shutter Release

The primary advantage of using a remote shutter release is to get more control over your shots. It’s a variable that you can use to your advantage. Timers only go so far. If something changes, you’re not stuck with a lousy setup when it reaches showtime. You may find that those extra seconds with a remote can help you frame a scene better.

The device itself may give you more freedom to adjust your camera’s settings. It also opens up new photographic opportunities, such as multiple exposures. You may find that some pics aren’t possible without one, like wildlife photos.

camera set up in an autumn landscape
Image Credit: flutie8211, Pixabay

Disadvantages of a Remote Shutter Release

The disadvantages of a remote shutter release often depend on the type you use. A longer cable is helpful sometimes with tethered devices. However, it’s something else that can snag on objects or trip someone. It’s also another thing that can go wrong, whether it’s tethered or untethered. We’ve discussed the cons of a battery-operated release, which make these products more expensive to use.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What should I look for in a remote shutter release?

We suggest comparing the available settings after confirming that it will work with your camera. These products aren’t expensive, so you can shop around to get more for your buck. Features we like to see include an easy-to-read display, low-battery indicator, and multiple shutter functions.

mirrorless camera on a tripod
Image Credit: Fesus Robert, Shutterstock

What are some other cool things I can do with a remote shutter release?

Using a remote shutter release opens up a lot of possibilities for unique shots. Painting with light is an artsy effect that can help you tell stories with your photography. Of course, if you want to get the most out of HDR, you can’t beat a remote release.

A Quick Reference Guide

When to Use a Tethered Remote Shutter Release When to Use an Untethered Remote Shutter Release
Compatibility issues Distance considerations
Expense concerns Easier setup for shots
Battery usage (mechanical cable) Low-light conditions

shutter camera divider 2 Conclusion

A remote shutter release gives you the freedom to take shots without fear of ruining your photographs because of motion blur. It allows you to set up pics to capture subjects that might not cooperate with you in full view, such as wildlife scenes. It also opens up new opportunities to get unique angles and pictures that you may not be able to do so otherwise. It won’t be the priciest accessory bag, but it’ll likely get the most use.

Featured Image Credit: AjayTvm, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.