Photo 101: Shutter Speed


Photography is ALL about the amount of light that enters your lens and hits your camera sensor for any given shot.  Shutter speed, ISO and aperture all work together to allow more or less light into your camera.  We’ll focus on shutter speed in this post and I’m writing assuming you’re in Manual Mode but just know if you change your shutter speed setting it affects the other two.


If you want to adjust shutter speed ONLY and have your camera automatically adjust the the other settings you can put it on shutter speed priority mode:

Shutter speed is the amount of time that your shutter is open and allowing light in.  It’s measured in fractions of seconds on your camera.   A typical shutter speed setting on your camera could be 125.  Keep in mind this is 1/125th of a second that your shutter is open and allowing light to touch your camera sensor.

If you take a dark photo you can slow down your shutter speed to allow more light in.  If you take a photo and it’s too bright set your shutter to a faster speed.

You can get creative with this setting on your camera!  As you can see in the graphic below you can freeze action on fast shutter speed settings (think fun jumping photos).  You can also blur motion.  Whenever you see blurred, smooth waterfalls the photographer used a slow shutter speed (and a tripod!)slides4

You have to watch out for blurry photos caused by a shutter speed that is too slow.  I usually stick with a speed of at least 1/250 (remember, that’s 1/250th of a second) for photographing children because they are fast!  You can go higher than that to freeze action but remember as the shutter speed gets faster it lets in less light so you have to be in a well lit area, outdoors preferably, to freeze action completely.

photo 101 blog graphic

The graphic below is a general rule for when to use a tripod but let’s get more specific for you photo nerds out there.  You can hold your camera in your hands for shutter speeds faster than the reciprocal of your lens focal length.  When your shutter speed gets slower than that you need to use a tripod.  For example, if you’re using a 50mm lens once you get slower than a 1/50 shutter speed you need to stabilize your camera.  Did your brain just explode? I’m going to leave it at that and get back to the basics.  You can research that more if you want to!

This graphic also shows that you will use faster shutter speeds when you have a lot of light available.  Think about it.  If you have your shutter open for a long time (ex 1/15) in the bright sun your sensor will be flooded with too much light and your photo will be white (overexposed.)  If you do the opposite and use a fast shutter speed, like 1/1000, indoors you’re not allowing enough light in to properly expose a photo and it will turn out black.  If your priority is your shutter speed you can set it then adjust the ISO or aperture to create a proper exposure.slides3Here are some examples of how this all comes into play.  The first image of the waterfall is taken with a faster shutter speed than the second is taken with a slow setting.  Keep in mind that if you increase or decrease the shutter speed you’re changing the amount of light that’s coming into the camera.  So you’ll have to adjust the ISO or Aperture accordingly to keep a proper exposure.chittfalls-1chittfalls-2

Here’s another slow shutter speed setting.  I had my camera on a tripod and left it open for maybe 10 seconds (10″) while my friends used their sparklers to write a letter in Emily’s name.  If I had tried these same settings during the day the entire photo would get too much light from the sun and would be completely white.  *Note: You’ll usually work with shutter speeds written in fractions of seconds.  On your camera it will just show the number on the bottom.  (125 = 125th of a second).  Once you slow it down to whole seconds it is written as 2″ = 2 seconds)*295205_10150905144281277_1570377693_n

Here are a few images using fast shutter speeds to “freeze” action.  This first one is at 1/400.  You can see her hands and feet are a bit blurry so to completely freeze her jump I could have gone faster, like 1/1000.huffmansm-15

In this photo Ben is running so I shot this at 1/640.Melissa Griffin Photography. Charleston, SC Family Photography.

This shutter speed was 1/1250 so even her hair is frozen in place.Mulberry-23

I hope this was a helpful post!  Learn more about:



How to Find Good Light

Tips & Tricks for Photographing Children

If you live in the Charleston area I offer one-on-one lessons!  Feel free to email me at with questions or to book.

Thank you Texture Design Co for creating all of the graphics for me!


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