Shutter Speed Made Easy — PhotoFluent (2023)

We have talked a lot about aperture, so it's only fair we give a little attention to shutter speed. Now it seems pretty obvious what it actually means - it's how fast the shutter opens and closes. Right? But what gets confusing it how exactly that affects your photos, AND what impact it has on aperture, well and on ISO for that matter.

Okay, let's take a step back before we freak out here. Shutter speed IS pretty simple in reality. Like I said, it's how fast the shutter opens and closes to let light in to your camera sensor.We start to really think of shutter speed when we think of movement in our photo. If our subject is moving then shutter speed is even more important. Because if our shutter speed is slow, say 1/30th of a second, then our subject will look blurred. Which I kind of like sometimes. It can be a cool effect for showing action, chaos, or energy. Or just for artistic effect, for that matter. I mean let's get out that inner artist and make some blurred motion photos, what do you say??

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But, on the other hand, if we want a crisp, focused, frozen subject, then we need a fast shutter speed, say at least 1/250th of a second or even faster. This is when you are photographing sports, or fast-moving pets or kids, or even people moving through a scene when traveling. If you want the crisp details, then make sure your shutter speed is fast.

Now what exactly is a "fast" shutter speed? Well it kind of depends. Oh sure, THAT'S super helpful! Stick with me. I'm not going to leave you hanging with an "it depends". It depends on a few things…let's walk through them.

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One thing to consider with shutter speed is aperture. They are related, kind of like you and your little sister. So when you teased your little sister, she tattled to Mom. You didn't exactly cause her to tattle, but your teasing had an effect. Back to shutter speed and aperture. Let's say you choose an aperture of f/20, because you want most of the scene to be in focus. Well that is a tiny little hole in your lens, which doesn't allow much light in. So shutter speed's reaction? Well I better sloooow down to let more light in, to balance things out. Because it kind of makes sense - if the shutter opens and closes really fast, then not as much light gets in. Compared to if you open the shutter for a long time, then that allows for light to stream right in.

Back to our example. You choose aperture f/20, so your shutter speed needs to slow down to accommodate, to allow enough light to get into your camera to make the photo. What that might mean is that your shutter speed slows down so much, that you end up with motion blur. Or even "I can't hold my camera steady enough" blur. That was one of my initial problems with my travel photos.

As the sun would go down, and the light is a little dimmer, I would still choose whatever aperture I envisioned for my photos. The problem? I was shooting in aperture priority, so my camera is choosing the appropriate shutter speed. Which sometimes ended up being 1/50th or 1/40th of a second. For me (I have upper arm strength comparable to a newborn kitten) that wasn't enough for me to hold my camera steady enough to get a focused shot.

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So your aperture does affect your shutter speed. This is the way I look at it.If depth of field is my main objective, then I shoot in aperture priority.BUT that being said, I always keep an eye on which shutter speed my camera is choosing. IF it gets into the 1/60th of a second or slower, then I increased my ISO to compensate. Don't let those eyes start glazing over… YOU GOT THIS!

For now, don't worry about the why, and what the hell is ISO.Just know that if your light is getting low, it's a cloudy day, or if you are inside, then you will likely need to increase your ISO so that your shutter speed and aperture are where you want them to be. We'll get into more details in another post. Don't worry. Baby steps. Patience, grasshopper. All of that.

Nowif shutter speed is my priority, on the other hand, then I shoot in shutter speed priority.When is shutter speed my priority? For moving objects, running pets, waterfalls, nighttimeshots, intentional blurred motion. Let's take a waterfall for example. You can choose a slower shutter speed like 1/2 second or even a few seconds can give you a creamy, white, dreamy looking waterfall. Now if you are using that slow of a shutter speed, chances are you will need a tripod. Otherwise, the entire image would be out of focus. With a tripod and a long shutter speed, the parts of the photos that aren't moving will be in focus, but the moving water will be blurred.

Back to that waterfall. If you want crisp, clean, stopped water, then a fast shutter speed of 1/500 or 1/1000 will be what you want.

So same scene, but different shots. One creamy, blurred and one crisp and stopped. Just by changing the shutter speed. But of course, you know now…that when you change the shutter speed it has an effect. So if you want the SAME aperture for both shots, then your ISO will have to be adjusted.

Here's my rule of thumb. Pick your priority.Let's say shutter speed. Then pick your mode. Let's say shutter speed priority. Then pick your subject. Let's say my dog, Maggie. How do I want her to look? Stopped motion, crisp, focused. Pick my shutter speed. Let's say 1/1000. Make a photo and look at the results. Good? Yes. Smile. No? Adjust to a different shutter speed and try again. Repeat until smile occurs.

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So here we are again. Trial and error. Practice. Play. Your old friends are back! Here is THE best way to understand shutter speed - get out your camera and put it in shutter speed priority mode. Now get out there and try to stop motion. Set your shutter speed to 1/250th of a second, 1/500, 1/1000, keep getting faster until you see what you like. Now make some photos with blurred motion. Set your shutter speed on 1/30th of a second all the way down to 1 or 2 seconds (prop on a table, wall, or tripod for those). If you are struggling to make it work, try to adjust your ISO. If your images are too bright? Decrease your ISO. If they are too dark? Increase your ISO.

I know, I know. It's a lot. So here's what I ask from you. Just give it a try. No judgement, no fear. I mean digital images are pretty much free once you have your camera and memory card, right? And I KNOW you already have both! Yes, this can get confusing. Yes, I understand because I think I was confused for about 10 years. But I also know that clarity is just around the corner. Just around the corner that will be rounding soon with your camera in hand.

I’ll be talking more about shutter speed in our private Facebook group, so come on over and join in the discussion. Vent your frustration, share your wins, or just hang out and listen.

camera settings, creativity, learn travel photography, photography, teaching photography, travel photography

Diane Evans

photography learning, photography education, photography, travel photography, shutter speed, camera settings, creativity


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