Shutter Speed for Beginners

Shutter Speed – In simple terms, its how long it takes the shutter to open and closes.  This amount of time is known as your shutter speed. Most of the time it is a fraction of a second, and if you’re photographing swift motion, like a car at 60 m.p.h. It needs to be at about 1/1000th of a second. If you’re subject is completely still, you can sometimes get away with a shutter speed as long as 1/40th of a second. When you increase your shutter speed, you do lose light, so keep that in mind. Your image will get darker as your shutter speed increases. This will be very noticeable when you are in the lower light. We suggest you start outdoors where there is plenty of light.

First, let’s find our shutter speed on our camera.  On the main command dial on the top, you will find an S or an A/V depending on your brand. Nikon has an S on the Wheel; Cannon has an A/V.  Turn the wheel to the S setting. You are now in Shutter Priority.  When in this mode it means your priority is to tell the camera what shutter speed to use and the camera will miraculously pick the aperture for you.

The general rule of thumb.

First Put your camera in Shutter Priority.

  • Shutter speed should never be lower than 1/40th of a second without a tripod.
  • 1/60th of a second is for subjects that are completely still.
  • 125th of a second is good for subjects with a little movement.
  • 1/250 of a second is good for someone who is walking by.
  • 1/500th is good for a car at 25 m.p.h. or so.
  • 1/1000th is suitable for super fast-moving subjects like eagles.

See the circle wheel on top>> of the camera? Look for your S or A/V here to go into Shutter Priority.

beginner photography

See the round button on the front left>> That is your shutter release button to take a picture.

beginner photography

Shutter Speed affects the brightness

Keep in mind The faster the shutter speeds, the less light that will come into the camera! Your pictures become clearer when you increase your shutter speed, but it also blocks the light from coming in.

When you start practicing, go outside at first, where there is plenty of light. It will be much more challenging and more complicated when you start losing your light.  It’s pretty simple in the daylight, so start there.

Once you read up on ISO, you can do your homework. Your homework is to go outside in the daylight with good sun. Put your ISO on 400 to let a medium amount of light come in. Find a fast-moving subject like a car. Take a shot of the moving vehicle making sure the focus is on the vehicle as it goes by (most cameras have a red dot or an indicator of what they are focusing on.)  Put your camera in 1/30th sec. Take a shot of the car. Is it clear? Now move to 1/100th of a sec. Take the same picture of a fast-moving vehicle. Is it clear yet? Do the same photo with each increment of shutter speed up to 1/2000th sec.  What is happening as you increase your shutter speed? Are your images getting clearer? Are they getting darker? Good. Because they are supposed to be.

Download your pictures to your computer and look at the metadata. If you don’t have a program, We suggest you click on one of our Corel ads and look at getting their software. Below is a good beginner program in the ad. We love it. On the bottom right side of the screen, it will show you the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO of each image so you can review pictures and see what works. This is how you continue to teach yourself.

Now check out the rest of the beginner section and read up on ISO and Aperture and White Balance and then do your homework!  Keep reading below for a little more advanced information. If you are getting confused, then stop here and practice. Then get a grasp on ISO, Aperture, and WB before proceeding to the more advanced information. Waterfall Photography Simplified and How to Shoot Dark Sky Photography Pages will give you some real details on shutter speed that is very easy to understand. The links are below.

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For some advanced detailed explanations go to:  Waterfall Photography Simplified or How to Shoot Dark Sky Photography

Shutter speed is one of several methods used to control the amount of light recorded by the camera’s digital sensor or film. It is also used to manipulate the visual effects of the final image.


3 second exposure gives the sense of movement.

las vegas night shot with light trails

On a tripod, ISO 100 (to avoid grain) 3.2 second exposure time, F8 Aperture.

Ricketts Glen State Park, Pa, waterfall photography hot spot location, Pamela Goodyer

When on a tripod only the moving subjects will blur. The water is moving in this image.

The effects of shutter speed.

Images that are taken with a slower shutter speed invoke a visual sense of movement. Exposure time 3 seconds.

Slower shutter speeds are often selected to suggest the movement of an object in a still photograph. Shutter speeds lower than 1/40th of a second require that your camera is on a tripod, or everything will blur.

Excessively fast shutter speeds can cause a moving subject to appear frozen. For instance, a running person may be caught with both feet in the air with all indication of movement lost in the frozen moment.

When the slower shutter speed is selected, a longer time passes from the moment the shutter opens until the moment it closes. More time is available for movement, therefore the subject blurs.

Slightly slower shutter speed will allow the photographer to introduce an element of a blur. It can be either on the subject, where, in our example, the feet, which are the fastest moving element in the frame, might be blurred while the rest remains sharp; or if the camera is panned to follow a moving subject, the background is blurred while the subject remains relatively sharp.

The exact point at which the background or subject will start to blur depends on the speed at which the object is moving, the angle that the object is moving in relation to the camera and the distance it is from the camera.  The focal length of the lens in relation to the size of the digital sensor or film also plays a role.

When slower shutter-speeds, more than about half a second, are used to shoot running water, the water in the photo will have a ghostly white appearance reminiscent of fog. This effect is used in landscape photography. Again, you must use a tripod, or everything will blur.

Zoom burst is a technique which entails the variation of the focal length of a zoom lens during a long exposure. At the moment that the shutter is opened, the lens is zoomed in, changing the focal length during the exposure. The center of the image remains sharp, while the details away from the center form a radial blur, which causes a strong visual effect, forcing the eye into the center of the image.

Head over to the Aperture Page

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Head over to the ISO Page

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Head over to the White Balance Page

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