Photography 101: Shutter Speed

A easy-to-understand shutter speed tutorial for bloggers.

A few weeks ago, we started on the first pillar of the photography, ISO, and today we’re moving onto the second pillar—shutter speed. If shutter speed means nothing to you, let me explain. It’s the unit of measurement which determines how long the shutter stays open when capturing an image. Like all the pillars, it works together with the other pillars—ISO and aperture to determine how much light hits your sensor.

Unlike ISO which is expressed in whole numbers, the shutter speed is expressed in fractions of a second or occasionally whole seconds (but you’ll rarely if ever use whole seconds). With each shutter speed increment, the amount of light that is let in is halved.

So how do we go about selecting a shutter speed for a given image? In general, the faster the shutter speed, the better! The faster the shutter can open and close, the crisper your image will be. Using a fast shutter speed will capture an image without it being blurry. As bloggers, or even for general photography, I think we can all agree that a crisp image is a top priority! But it’s not just about setting your shutter speed to something fast and not touching anything else. As your shutter speed gets faster, it lets in less light, so you’ll need to adjust your ISO and aperture as well to get the lighting just right for a fast shutter speed.

The slower your shutter speed, the longer it’s open and more light gets in. You’re also more likely to end up with blurry images because of human error—it’s literally impossible for us to stay perfectly still! If you’re shooting with a slow shutter speed, make sure you have a tripod!

While you’ll always want to use a fast shutter speed, there is a time where you might want a longer shutter speed because it captures movement in a really unique way. You know those night time photos of cars where the headlights are long ribbons of light or a photo of a waterfall where the water looks like it’s still rushing in the image? Those images use a slow shutter speed to capture that movement. In those cases, blurry can really add to the image! If you blog about food, you can try this for any shots when you’re pouring something. Again, if you decide to try this, I definitely recommend using a tripod so only the part you want to be blurry is blurry.

So yes, there is a cool use for low shutter speeds, but it’s not something you’ll use on a regular basis. Since you probably want your images to be crisp, keep the shutter speed as fast as possible to maintain a crisp image, but don’t be afraid to change it when the lighting situation calls for it.

A photographer friend shared a cool trick that tells you the lowest shutter speed you can shoot at and still get a crisp image. Start by looking at your lens. Let’s say you’re using a 50mm, to make sure your images stay crisp, don’t let your shutter speed go below 1/50. I even think 1/50 is pretty low and usually the lowest I’ll go is 1/150, but it’s an easy to remember trick! Now, let’s practice!

Pull out your camera and change the shutter speed and take a few test shots to see the difference in real life. Unless you’re at a very low shutter, the thing you’ll most likely notice the most is that the image is darker or lighter. Out of all the pillars, the shutter speed is the one that I change the most often. I’ll get my other two pillars set and then tweak the lighting until it’s just right by going up or down on my shutter speed until everything looks just right. Think of it as the fine-tuning. As I’m shooting, I’ll change the shutter speed as the light source changes, the sun and clouds can be so unpredictable!

Now, look through your viewfinder, you’ll notice a meter at the bottom and if you roll the wheel either direction, you’ll see that the little notch moves. Ideally, you want it in the middle, but do note that sometimes the light meter can’t read the situation perfectly (backlighting is tricky because of this). For the most part, it’s pretty accurate, but there’s plenty of times where you’ll have to take a few test shots, and decide whether the image is properly exposed or whether it needs more or less light and adjust from there. At the end of the day, the light sensor is a machine and can’t predict some of the things the eye can see, so use your own judgement!

Now it’s time for you to really play around, because practice makes perfect, right? I can guarantee the more you use them and test new lighting situations, you’ll become more familiar with them, and someday it’ll just be second nature!

If you missed our post on ISO, you can read it here! Got questions? Leave them below!

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I'm Blair Staky—I help women turn their blogs into thriving businesses by sharing my secrets to growing a 6-figure blog. I'm so glad you're here!

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  1. 11.7.16
    Britney said:

    Great post! This was a tricky thing for me to understand when I first started using my camera. Now that I understand ISO, shooting in different lighting situations is no longer frustrating.