This is a three part series in which I’ll discuss the three basic camera settings, which together comprise your final exposure. Those settings are Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO. Without a solid understand of how these settings work, you will not be able to accurately shoot in manual mode. The key to getting the most out of any camera is being able to use it in manual mode. Today I’ll introduce you to the Shutter Speed setting.

Understanding Shutter Speed by Cristina Elisa Photography

How shutter speed works –

Shutter speed is the amount of time your shutter stays open for a given photo. The time it is open is the time in which your image is being captured. The slower you set your shutter speed, the longer it’s open and more light is let into your camera. This produces a brighter image. The faster it’s set, the less light you let in and you will produce a darker image. Aside from allowing more light into the camera with a longer shutter speed, there is more lag time for movement.

What do I mean by a lag time for movement? A fast shutter speed can freeze motion. A slow shutter speed will show movement, or motion blur. Depending what you are shooting, you can use this to your advantage. When I try to capture my crazy toddler & 6 year old, I always try and keep my shutter fast… very fast! Kids move so quickly, it’s almost a guarantee your images will be blurry if you have a slow shutter speed. I shoot my stock photos however with a very slow shutter speed and I use a tripod. Why use a tripod if my subject isn’t moving? I am moving! Even when we don’t realize it, we are moving. The simple act of breathing is enough to introduce camera shake when you are holding the camera. That’s why I use a tripod most of the time when I am indoors. I really don’t like using flash, that’s a story for another day, so in order to keep my images sharp with a small aperture (read more about aperture here) I need to keep my shutter speed slow to allow a good amount of light into the camera’s sensor.

Let’s take a look at a few examples, shall we? If you’ve started following @filmgirldigitalworld on Instagram you may have noticed I posted a picture of my fireplace. The movement and light the fire was giving off gave me an idea of how to display exactly how shutter speed works. I took three pictures, all with varying shutter speeds. Let’s take a look at how that changed the look of the final image.

Understanding Shutter Speed, Slow Shutter, freeze motion, Cristina Elisa Photography
  • Fast Shutter Speed 1/500th of a second
  • Motion is frozen
  • You can see the shape of the individual flames
  • Image is pretty dark
Understanding Shutter Speed, Slow Shutter, motion blur, Cristina Elisa Photography
  • Average Shutter Speed 1/160th of a second
  • There is some blur of the flames, but they are still pretty well defined
  • Image is slightly brighter than the last
Understanding Shutter Speed, Slow Shutter, motion blur, Cristina Elisa Photography
  • Slow Shutter Speed 1/6th of a second!
  • All definition is gone. Flames blur into one huge flame.
  • Image is much brighter than the others

Setting your shutter speed –

So, how does this all get set anyway? While I can’t tell you exactly how it will work on your camera, I can show you how it works on my Nikons. Depending on the manufacturer of your camera, this may look a little different.

Shutter speed explanation, Cristina Elisa Photography, Film Girl Digital World

My DSLRs all have this command dial in the back. I can turn it left or right to change the shutter speed. I can also see the changes if I’m looking through the viewfinder, which comes in very handy. I don’t have to stop to look at the top of my camera each time I want to change my settings. Below is a little diagram of how your shutter speed will display in seconds. I think it’s useful as some of these had me confused when I first used a DSLR. You’ll notice one of the settings isn’t in numbers at all, it’s a mode called “bulb” which allows you to control just how long the shutter stays open. This can be a really fun setting & it actually deserves it’s own post.

Shutter Speed Diagram by Cristina Elisa Photography

Did you find this useful? If so I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Still have questions? I’d love to hear from you too. I do check my comments and respond.