Shutter Speed – Part 2 of the Photography for Beginners Tutorial

The shutter speed is the second of the¬†fundamental light controls as it is the next phase light passes through on it’s way to becoming a photo. The shutter speed is how fast the shutter moves to allow light to pass through.

Shutter speeds are measured in standard time, so a slow speed can last for seconds. A high speed on the other hand can last for only a fraction of a second. Digital cameras can have speeds that last from 1/2000th of a second on the fast end to 30 seconds on the slow end. You can even have use bulb mode and have a custom length for as long as you hold down the shutter button.

How this Affects Your Photos

The shutter speeds main impact is on motion. Fast speeds can freeze movement as if you froze time like QuickSilver in X-Men. On the other hand slow speeds capture movement over time creating motion blur.

Shutter Speed Examples


Slow Shutter Speed

A slow shutter speed is is great for capturing movement which is good in cases where you want to emphasize the speed of a subject like in sports photography. You’ll often see it when a photographer pans while tracking a race car. This makes the race car look perfectly sharp while the background is a blur. There are other creative uses of slow shutter speeds like slowing water to create smooth, milky waves. You can also use a slow shutter speed to trace moving objects like for example star trails in the night sky.

The other impact of a slow speed is that more light can pass through. This is great for low light conditions but normally means you need stabilization.

Tip: When hand holding don’t let the shutter speed drop below the focal length of the lens. i.e. at 100mm don’t go slower than 1/100th of a second.

Faster Shutter Speeds

A faster shutter speed is used to freeze time and capture a moment. If you are taking photos of your kids in the garden and you want to capture a moment of them playing you would use a fast shutter speed. This is also great for wildlife photography when an animal is about to pounce.

Faster speeds also mean less light can pass through so are not ideal in low light conditions. You will need to find another way of introducing light like changing the aperture or ISO if you want to use a fast speed.


To summarize, your shutter speed is a great control when it comes to creativity. It’s up to you, the photographer, to decide what effect you are going for. Think of it as deciding how much time you want to capture. Just remember the below info when it comes to shutter speed.

Small Number = Fast Shutter Speed = Freeze Motion = Less Light

Big Number = Slow Shutter Speed = Motion Blur = More Light

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