A Course in Photography: Shutter Speed

A Course in Photography, Section 1: The Photographic Triangle, Chapter 2: Shutter Speed

I know, I know, not a lot of photos for a photography blog, right? I am working on getting more visuals for these posts, but for the most part I want to get the articles fleshed out and then go searching for images. I hope you are able to understand the concepts while the posts are in their infancy and devoid of pictures!

A Course in Photography is, first, going to detail the most rudimentary functions of a camera. Those functions are often called “The Photographic Triangle,” as there are three things that govern the general appearance of a photograph. Mastery of the triangle is one thing that sets SLR users apart from cell-phone toting selfy snappers. There is the shutter speed, the aperture, and the ISO. Please be sure to comment or message me directly about things you would like to know about!

People love to talk about aperture. Maybe because “aperture” sounds cooler. Shutter speed, however, is often one of the main reasons that someone may botch an image — check out my article on Handheld Photography for more on that. Understanding the effects of fast and slow shutter speeds can be the difference between a sharp image, or a ruined one. An artistic blur or a standard, boring snapshot.

Shutter speed has intense power. A fast shutter speed like 1/3000 of a second can stop a 90mph baseball in sharp detail. A super slow one can turn the hustle and bustle of a mid-day intersection into a desolate blacktop mixed with trailing lights.

Follow a moving subject with the camera and a mid-speed shutter like 1/15 sec and everything behind and around will blur, allowing the subject to jump out of the photograph.

Let’s start with what you might find on most DSLR cameras (and film! The photographic triangle goes way back to the beginning!) Shutter speed is rated in seconds, or, most often, fractions of a second. Most cameras will shoot from 30 seconds to 1/3000 of a second. For longer shutter speeds, bulb mode is used. This is best used with a shutter release, or timer, and a tripod to avoid moving the the camera while it is exposing the image. To get sharp detail from front to back in the night-time image below, a small aperture was used and this required a shutter speed of around 8 minutes.


Your shutter speed is the length of time that your image sensor is exposed to the scene you are photographing. Dark scene? Long shutter. Bright? Short shutter. Those are unavoidable guidelines, though sometimes it’s necessary to bend the rules and make a very long exposure of a very bright scene by using neutral density filters.

Before a photograph is taken, the photographer needs to decide what they want it to look like. If they want blur or super sharp detail from moving objects. Mostly, I find, when considering the photographic triangle (shutter speed, aperture and ISO), one must decide on the most important factor, and compromise on the rest. That’s just the reality of shooting ambient light (what is naturally available) and even flash has its limitations (your wallet, and sometimes the strength of your back).

I hope that’s all you need for a basic understanding of shutter speed, I’ll share more details later and suggestions from different sources. If I’ve left you with any questions, please leave them in the comments!

Understanding the whole triangle will allow you to decide what are the most important effects based on your artistic intent.

Read Chapter 3: Aperture soon! You can like my Facebook page to find out when I have posted new article, or when I’ve added photos to an existing one.

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