Get Amazing Results By Understanding Your Shutter Speed

Let me let you in on a little secret: amazing results await you if you understand shutter speed. It is not the most exciting topic but understanding it will totally change how you take photos. Did you ever try to take a photo and it just turned out way too blurry and you didn’t know why? Chances are that your shutter speed was not fast enough. Knowing how this setting works means you will never have to wonder why your images are blurry again AND you can creatively use a slower shutter and the resulting blur to add motion and therefore spark to your images. Exciting right? Read on!

What is Shutter Speed?

There’s a flap in your camera that opens and shuts letting light into the part of your camera that records the image (the sensor). When the shutter is open for a long time it lets in a lot of light. If the shutter is open for only a short amount of time it lets in very little light. When combined with the other elements in the exposure triangle (Aperture and ISO) the shutter speed helps control the total amount of light that is in your image or your ‘exposure’. 

Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second. 1/125 means my shutter is open for 1/125th of a second. In other words, the larger the denominator (125) the faster the shutter speed, the less light coming into your sensor. 1/2000 is much faster and might be a setting you use in full sun whereas you might find yourself using 1/60th at the end of the day when the light is fading.

Why Is Shutter Speed Important?

Shutter speed is one of the settings you will change most frequently on your camera so it’s a good idea to get familiar with it. When you increase or decrease your shutter speed, the total amount of light hitting your sensor will change which will either darken or lighten your image. If you make changes to your shutter speed you need to make changes to your aperture and/or ISO to compensate.

Getting the image you have in your head into an image in your camera is a matter of prioritising what settings are most important to your end result. After choosing what’s most important, you then use the other settings at your disposal to complement your choice and complete the picture. If shutter speed is your most important consideration, you may have to be prepared to give a little when it comes to your Aperture or ISO. Not always, but sometimes.

When To Prioritise Shutter Speed

I most often set my aperture first, however, there are times when my shutter speed is absolutely my most important consideration. Such as:

    • When I want to create motion blur in the background to really showcase movement in my picture I will make sure my shutter slower. I will pan my camera keeping my focal point on what I want to be crisp while having my shutter speed set to around 1/20th sec.
    • When I want to freeze motion I will be making sure that a faster shutter speed is my priority. When my kids are running around in front of my camera and I want to freeze motion I’m looking for at least 1/250th sec or faster to be sure of crisp edges. The faster your subject is going, the faster your shutter speed needs to be to freeze motion.

If you’re not super comfortable with manual mode yet, pop your camera into shutter priority mode for a session or two and watch how your camera automatically changes the settings. Notice what happens to your Aperture and ISO when you increase and decrease your shutter speed. Practice slow shutter speeds to blur backgrounds and faster ones to freeze it.


When you pick up your camera it can be crazy hard trying to get all of your settings right all in one go. Try aiming just to get your shutter speed right as you’re working on this skill. Forget about composition and lighting and just have a go at panning and freezing motion. Once your fingers get the hang of doing it automatically then your brain can find the space to bring in the other elements.

It Doesn’t Need To Be Perfect

A fast enough shutter speed coupled with correct focus will guarantee you photos that are crisp. A slower shutter and the resulting motion you can create by harnessing it is an often overlooked element that can help you create a little magic in your images. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Life isn’t and your photos don’t need to be either. Blurry images are often my most favourite because they seem to salute this imperfectness. As always, the best way to get better is to shoot, shoot and shoot some more. You will improve daily if you shoot and review as often as possible.


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