Understanding Shutter Speed: The Basics - Learn Blog Photography

Understanding Shutter Speed: The Basics

By Amy

May 24

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Understanding Shutter Speed: The Basics

Are you struggling with understanding shutter speed? Personally, I feel this is the easier to grasp than aperture so sit tight and prepare to get it.

Shutter speed is just 1 component in the infamous exposure triangle. Next week we’ll go over ISO, but for now, let’s look specifically at what shutter speed is and what it does to the picture you’re trying to capture.  If you missed my post on aperture, you can check it out here.

Inside your camera, there are little curtains that open and close when you snap the picture.  The slight difference from what you’re already thinking is that these curtains up and down, not sideways like your window curtains.  Anyways, these curtains allow light to pass through to reach the camera sensor.  The amount of time they are open is called the camera’s shutter speed.

The most confusing aspect in understanding shutter speed for me is grasping the aspect that shutter speed is expressed as a fraction when it is slower than a second.  So, if your camera’s shutter speed reads 800 it actually means the shutter is open, allowing light through for 1/800 (one eight-hundredths) of a second, not 800 seconds.   Cameras vary based on the make and model, but typically, your camera for a DSLR ranges from 1/4000 to 30 seconds.  Seconds is represented by (“) symbol so you would see 10” for 10 seconds.  If you want the camera to take a picture for longer than 30 seconds, many cameras also have what’s called a bulb setting which allows you to hold the shutter down as long as you want the shutter to stay open.


understanding shutter speed

Shutter Speed 1/10 – motion blur



shutter speed basics

Shutter speed 1/1000 – stop motion


A slower shutter speed will stay open longer, allow more light to enter the camera, and allow for motion to occur before it closes and the sensor stops picking up the image.

Try it at home with a fan and see if you can get the same results.  Try taking 3 pictures with your camera set to shutter priority mode, or S.  This will allow you to pick your shutter speed and your camera will adjust all other settings until you have proper exposure.  Try taking the picture at 1/100, 1/500 and 1/1000.  Do you see the difference in the amount of motion you can see?

Are you finally understanding shutter speed a little better?

Don’t forget… anything less than a second will be listed as just a number, but it means it is actually a fraction of a second;  ie 1000 is actually 1/1000 of a second and when it represents 1 second or longer it will be represented with a (“) symbol behind the number.

I have a little cheat sheet that I created for you, in case you would like to have a reminder on your phone or print it out to have on hand.

Want more advice and support?

Head over to the FREE Learn Blog Photography Private Members Club inside Facebook and join the conversation!

Download your FREE Shutter Speed Cheat Sheet HERE!

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About the Author

Amy is the owner extraordinaire at Learn Blog Photography and Amy Paris Photography. She's a single mom to an amazing teenage son. She's passionate about photography and skiing (downhill), the faster the better! Sign up for a FREE 30-min call to light up your photos & biz! bit.ly/2udzBXB