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Learning about Shutter Speed | Photography 101

November 10, 2014

It has been a month since our last lesson on photography when we learned about aperture.  (Where did that time go?!?!)  Have you been practicing how to use this amazing feature in your camera?  Another one of the basics in photography is shutter speed, and that is what today's lesson is all about.


Shutter speed affects the amount of light in your photos by changing how long the shutter of your camera stays open and exposed to the light.  The shutter speed numbers stand for the seconds (or fraction of a second) that the shutter stays open.

For example, a shutter speed of 3 means that it will take a whole three seconds from the time of snapping the picture before it shows up on your camera.  This allows a lot of light to enter into your camera making your picture bright.  Whereas, a shutter speed of 1/80 means it will take one eightieth of a second for the camera to capture the picture.  This allows less light into your photo, but also diminishes your chances of having hand movement cause a blurry photo.  Pictures taken with a slow shutter speed have a high likelihood of camera shake unless you are using a tripod.


Changing the shutter speed allows more or less light into your photo. It is a great adjustment to use for more light if you need a high aperture value for a deeper depth of field (where more of your photo is in focus).  Slow shutter speeds are perfect for low-lighting or artificially lit settings.

Adjusting your shutter speed to a high fraction of a second allows you to catch things like a stream of syrup being poured onto pancakes or water splashing down onto fruit being washed.  A high shutter speed will allow you to freeze the motion, while a slower speed will blur motion.


So let's take a look at some pictures I took of pumpkins to see this concept in action. For all of these photos, I used my Nikon D5100 camera with a 60 mm lens.  The pictures were taken on the shutter priority setting (S).  This allows me to choose the shutter priority number I want, but the camera adjusts the other settings like aperture automatically.   None of these photos have been edited or enhanced....they are pictures straight from my camera.

This first shot was taken on the slowest speed I could use on my camera.  It was taken with a shutter speed of thirty, meaning it took exactly thirty seconds from the time I pushed the button until it showed up in my display.  It allows the most light into the camera, as you can see, which totally overexposes or washes out the picture.  Pretty, right?

For the next photo, I increased the shutter speed to one, which means that the photo took one second to be captured.  As you can see, it dramatically changes the light in the picture.  This one is now not over exposed.

My next setting was 1/80 (or on some cameras this may appear as 800).  In terms of lighting, there is not much difference between this photo and the last one.  This is because I was shooting on Shutter Priority, and my camera adjusted the aperture to give my photo more light.  You can notice the aperture changed because the pumpkins in the background of the picture are now blurry.  If the aperture had not been automatically adjusted, this picture would be much darker.

When switching to a shutter speed of 1/320 (or 3200), the photo becomes much darker.  It is almost totally blurry as well because the camera is  trying to compensate with a low aperture to allow more light in.

And finally, I shot with the highest shutter speed possible on my camera....1/2500.  This means that the photo is captured in one twenty-five hundredths of a second.  So.....really fast!  Shooting so quickly allows almost no light to enter into the camera.  Obviously.

Adjusting the shutter speed can allow you to get photos that have much better white balance, which is what everyone seems to be looking for now on their blogs.  At times, though, a picture that is "less-white" can be beautiful and give great definition to your photos.  I'm not sure what setting the picture above was taken on, but I really love how dramatic it looks with a little less light to brighten the photo.  I know not everyone will agree with that opinion, however.

Photography is as much about learning what YOU like in a picture as it is learning how things work and change.  Even though I am trying to achieve bright photos here because that is what people expect, I honestly like this photo the best out of all of them.

After taking the best possible photo you can, you may still want to adjust the picture with photo editing software (like PicMonkey, Lightroom, Photoshop, or Photoshop Elements...which is what I use).  Some of the adjustments I like to make are adjusting the sharpness and levels of color in the photos I post.  This photo was the one shot on 1/80.  I chose to edit this one because it had a nice blurry background, but it was darker than what I was looking for.  While the edit may still not be perfect, it is a great improvement!

I hope that this lesson gives you a little more to practice and experiment with when using your camera.  After getting a basic understanding of how this setting works, you may also want to shoot some pictures on manual mode where you can adjust both the aperture and shutter speed settings.

With all the holiday excitement coming up over the next month or so, I'm going to take a little break away from our photography lessons.  We'll start them up again in January with a lesson on ISO....something I had a few requests for.

What other things would you like to learn about your camera?


      Photography 101...3 Must Haves for Great Photography |

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