Understanding Shutter Speed

Hello All

Another week goes by in the Firetree World! This week after a little update I thought we would take a good look at shutter speed. If you are new to my blog, since Christmas we have been looking at photography and helping you understand EXPOSURE and how ISO/Shutter Speed/Aperture act together in photography to give you a photograph. If you are here for the first time you can catch up HERE

A Little Update:

Mothers Day Photography

with Mothers Day approaching on the 15th March, now is the time to book your Mothers Day Portrait session if you would like to give a portrait gift in time. I am taking bookings all next week of the 23rd. If you want something a little different you can book me for £125 to include a £25 credit towards products and a Bamboo Panel Desk Block. I thought it would be good to continue the run of my Valentines day offer. All sessions take place at home of location, perfect for family photographs of the children to give to mum for Mothers Day.

Shutter Speed|Photography Tips

Previously I have discussed the way the three things, ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed act together to create an ‘Exposed’ shot. This is how to start thinking about photography creatively and working towards getting your camera off auto and manually adjusting the exposure of your shots.

Last month we looked at ISO  now we are going to turn our attention to Shutter Speed.

What Is Shutter Speed?

In very simple terms, shutter speed is ‘the amount of time the shutter is open’. In film photography it is the length of time your light sensitive film was exposed to the scene you are photographing. With digital photography it is exactly the same but it is the time your image sensor sees the scene you are attempting to capture.

The key thing to remember about shutter speed in relation to creative photography is that in visual terms it effects the way the camera photographs MOTION. and this is very important.

If you are arty and have a creative brain and have no head for numbers this is where you get a headache with the manual and all the numbers 1/1000, 1/30, 1/250, and so on and then you stick your camera back on Auto. Don’t! it really is very simple. Before I go on to explain the creative and visual implications of shutter speed let me explain the numbers.

Measuring Shutter Speed:

Shutter speed is measured in seconds or milliseconds.

The shutter can open incredibly fast, in split second time, or for a duration of seconds or longer, so there is a wide range of shutter speeds. These speeds are measured in seconds or milliseconds. It’s very simple, if the shutter speed is 1/2000 is it opening and closing at 2 thousandths of a second. 1/250: 250th of a second, 1/60: a 60th of a second, 2s: 2 seconds, 4s: 4 seconds and so forth. The numbers need not be overwhelming or confusing. The bigger the number the faster the shutter speed. Have a look at your camera’s menu screen, it may look something like this on the back of the camera:


 th-3 :

Or like this, at the top of the cameraL


You will also be able to see the same information along the bottom of the viewfinder when you look through the lens. You shutter speed is the number top left, in the image show at the top it is 1/15, one 15th of a second and in the camera window on the top of the camera shown it is 1/125: 125th second. If you put your camera on manual, one of your dials or buttons will be able to adjust this setting. Find out and have a go.

Shutter Speeds Available:

Shutter speeds on your camera usually double with each setting. Have a look. You usually have the options of the following shutter speeds 1/500, 1/250/1/125,1/60, and so on. This ‘doubling’ is a good thing to keep in mind as aperture settings also double the amount of light that gets in, but we will discuss this in a later blog.

Shutter Speed and Motion:

The key to understanding shutter speed and how it will effect your photography and the final image is to understand it’s relationship to motion.

Imaging you are photographing a drop of water as it falls from a tree to the ground. You have your camera at the ready, the drop falls. If you take a picture as the drop passes across your camera lens and your shutter speed is set to 4 seconds, it is going to open and close relatively slowly. As the image is recorded on the sensor you will see a blurry trail as the light hitting the sensor does so over 4 seconds. Also, if you are holding your camera in your hand and it is not on a fixed surface on on a tripod, any movement of camera in your hand will also be recorded and you will have a blurry picture. On the other hand, if you set your shutter speed to 1/200 of a second or higher, your shutter will open and close incredibly fast, the light hitting your image sensor to create the image will do so in a split second, freezing the motion of the rain drop. This should explain how your shutter speed has a visual relationship with motion.

For most general photography you will be using a shutter speed of 1/60 second or faster. This is because anything below 1 60th second will show the motion blur of camera shake on your image. It is very difficult to photograph anything below 1/60 second without a tripod or some type of image stabilisation, even the slightest movement of your had as it depresses the shutter button could create a blurry image.

Shutter And Creativity:

So once you have grasped the above and how the shutter works, it is easy to understand how you can use shutter speed to capture motion in photography. When you start to use your camera on manual you can start to think creatively. What do you want to see in your final image? Is motion important? do you want the scene to have frozen motion to capture the action? Or maybe you let the moving object intentionally blur. If there is movement in a scene you can choose how you photograph it, you can freeze the motion or you can give your images a sense of motion. In the portrait photograph it was important to freeze the motion of the leaves as the children threw them in the air so a fast shutter speed was used.


Have a look at some of Holly’s landscape photographs here:


Holly Norval my second photographer takes beautiful landscape photographs. In these cases she has set a tripod up next to a stream and as the water is the only moving object in shot, with a slow shutter speed she is able to photograph the motion of the water as it moves through the frame.

(Holly takes all the baby poolside photographs on my underwater shoots and also works as an assistant editor. She is a talented artist and photographer in her own right. To see some of her photography work please navigate to HERE. She also has an Arts Page on FACEBOOK – come and ‘Like’ x.

Shutter And Light:

As I have discussed in previous blogs, you can’t think of shutter speed in isolation of the other two elements. Photography is all about light and you still need to consider getting an ‘exposed’ shot. If your shutter is open for a long time then it will let a lot more light in than if it is open for a split second, so as you manually adjust your shutter speed you will need to change one or both of the other two elements ISO/Aperture to compensate.

Without Getting Too Techy:

If you speed up your shutter speed one stop 1/125 to 1/250, you are going to be letting in about half as much light, for this you will need to increase or open your aperture. We will be looking at Aperture in a later blog so don’t get bogged down with it now. What is important that you understand what shutter speed is. What it is measured in, and how it effects motion.

Get Started:

Now lets have a go. Go outside with your camera and set it to TV or S function on the top dial, it varies depending on your camera make or model:


Don’t worry about understanding these functions we will look at them in a later blog. The TV or S function is a ‘partly manual’ function and your camera will set all other settings automatically apart from your shutter. No manually adjust your shutter speed moving the dial or setting so it is at its fastest and slowest settings and take some photographs. Get a feel for the difference both in how fast the shutter opens and closes (you will be able to hear it) and also visually. Have a look at the difference in the shots. If at any point your camera won’t take a photograph it will be because your shot will be too under or over exposed for an image. Have a go at photographing the children on a trampoline both with a fast and slow shutter speed!

So that’s it for this week. In a later blog I will be looking at Aperture. Then we can start bringing all this knowledge together.

Happy snapping

Kyra x







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