2 : Shutter Speed


What is Shutter Speed?

Welcome to your second Shoot Along lesson! This week, we'll be exploring your camera's shutter speed setting. Following on from last week's lesson on aperture, shutter speed is another factor that controls how much light will reach your camera's sensor.


Shutter speed affects exposure:

Shutter Speed is the measurement of how long your camera's shutter is open when a picture is being taken.  Shutter Speed is usually shown in fractions of a second, although it can also show as full seconds. It's helpful to visualize light as something fluid, like a stream of water. The longer it's open, the more light flows through your lens and onto your sensor. Practically, this means that:

  • The faster the shutter speed, the shorter the time that your camera's sensor will be exposed to light, making your image darker.
  • The slower the shutter speed, the longer the time your camera's image sensor will be exposed to light, making your image lighter. 

Shutter speed affects how movement is captured:

When it comes to photographing your family, children and motion go hand-in-hand. Their constant bouncing, jumping, running, twirling, and wiggling require the photographer to have a clear grasp of the concept shutter speed. If you are going to authentically capture a child, there’s a good chance that movement will play a part.


Try using Shutter Priority

Mode Dial - Shutter Speed.jpg

Last week, we experimented with the Aperture priority mode. Now let's try using Shutter Priority mode, marked on the mode dial by an "S" (Nikon) or a "Tv" (Canon). This mode will allow you to control the shutter speed while the camera takes care of everything else (aperture & ISO).

You can see the shutter speed setting change by looking at the analog numbers at the bottom of your viewfinder. The aperture setting is usually the number on the far left. 

  1. To set your camera to shutter-priority mode, find your camera’s mode dial (or mode setting) and turn it to the “S” or “Tv” setting (depending on your camera model). 
  2. Press your shutter release button down half-way to activate your camera. Often, cameras will “fall asleep” and must be activated before they’ll respond to adjustments. 
  3. Put your thumb on your camera’s main dial and look through the viewfinder. Find the analog numbers at the bottom of the screen and locate the number to the far left. This is your shutter speed setting. If there is no second mark to the right of the number, the number represents a fraction of a second (example: 30 means 1/30 of a second, 250 means 1/250 of a second, etc...). If there is a second mark next to the number, the number stands on it's own, representing that many seconds that the shutter will remain open (example: 1.5" means 1.5 seconds, 5 means 5 seconds, etc...)
  4. Watch that number as you turn the dial to the left, then to the right. You should see the number change as you turn the dial. 
  5. You’ll also see the second number change. This is the aperture setting that your camera is adjusting to match the shutter speed setting you choose. You don’t need to worry about changing this number yourself when using Shutter Priority Mode. 
Shutter Speed Demonstration.jpg

Try it out!

Using Shutter Priority mode, try setting your camera for 1/30th and then 1/1600th to photograph a scene which includes motion, such as your child walking, brushing her teeth, or jumping up and down. Observe which images are blurry and which are sharp. This should help you begin to understand how your camera's shutter speed setting affects the amount of motion blur in your pictures.

Below are some helpful guidelines to consider when capturing different kinds of motion:

shutter speed chart.jpg

Experienced? Try this challenge -

Experienced photographers should use this week to take a creative approach to shutter speed. Attempt to capture your child's motion at both ends of the shutter speed spectrum using creative blur and also tack sharp focus in different shots.  How can blur enhance your storytelling? What can action that is shot with a fast shutter speed add stylistically?

We will be exploring ISO (the third part of the Exposure Triangle) in the next lesson. Understanding how the concepts of Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO are interrelated is vital to improving your pictures - it puts the pieces of the puzzle together! This week, however, stay focused on mastering the concept of shutter speed so you have a solid foundation for adding the final element of exposure!


Creative Prompts

Again, remember that Shoot Along's purpose is two-fold. First, it's created to help you learn and grow in your photography skills. Second, it will remind and encourage you to consistently capture your children through photography. Don't skip a week just because you're already familiar with a concept... instead, use the lesson as a refresher and continue documenting your family's day-to-day life!

Below are a few ideas to help you get started with this week's lesson:

  • Using a slow shutter speed, capture your child sitting still or sleeping. You may need to rest your camera on a solid surface or lean against a wall to steady yourself. Shutter speeds slower than 1/125th may show camera shake, the blur that results from a photographer's own movement during shooting. 
  • Using a fast shutter speed, capture your child at the height of action such as splashing in the bathtub, throwing a snowball or jumping on the bed! Try to "freeze" a moment with crisp focus. 

Share your images!

As part of your subscription to Shoot Along, the moderators will be posting supplemental materials on the Facebook Group as needed. If you are looking for more guidance about a particular lesson, take a moment to hop onto Facebook to get some help!