OK, so let’s continue our beginners photography guide with shutter speed.

If you’re just joining us, go back and check out the first part of this guide, Beginners Photography Guide: Aperture. Then when you’re ready, head back here.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is the length of time that the shutter in your camera stays open when you take a photo.

Your shutter opens to let light into your camera to make an image. The longer the shutter is open, the more light is let into the camera.

If it’s a bright, sunny day, your shutter speed only needs to open a short time in order to let in enough light.

In this image, the shutter speed is fast enough to freeze the moving water. Shutter speed 1/800.

If it’s a dark, overcast day, your shutter speed will need to stay open for longer to get enough light.

But just like aperture, there is another side to shutter speed…

Shutter speed also affects motion blur

Motion Blur

Motion blur happens when the camera captures movement. If what your photographing is moving faster than your shutter speed, the moving part of your image will be blurry.

Remember your shutter speed needs to be slower when it’s darker? That’s why you get blurry photos indoors, where there is less light. Hello, kids parties in dark leisure centres, I’m looking at you!

For portrait photographers, motion blur is generally not a good thing, since we want our subjects to be in focus.

Some photographers use motion blur to their advantage. In this image, the photographer, Jacek Mleczek, has used a very slow shutter speed to blur the water. For shutter speeds this low, you need to use a tripod, as even the movement of the photographer holding the camera will make the image blurry.

Photo by Jacek Mleczek from Pexels

But for us portrait photographers, most of the time we want to keep our shutter speed fast enough to avoid motion blur, and keep or images sharp.

How Do I Change my Shutter Speed?

You can change your shutter speed in manual mode or in shutter speed priority mode. In manual mode you control all the settings, in shutter speed priority mode, you control the shutter speed, and your camera controls everything else.

I recommend using shutter speed priority mode when you’re learning, so you can focus on shutter speed and let your camera worry about everything else.

How to Us Shutter Speed Priority Mode

To change your camera to aperture priority mode, change the dial to S, or Tv on Canon cameras.TV stands for Time Value, which is used instead of shutter speed by Canon.

You can then control your shutter speed, whilst the camera will take care of all the other settings for you.

Check your manual to find out how to change your shutter speed. Most cameras have a dial that allows you to change your shutter speed quickly.

Move the dial to see how your shutter speed changes.

Shutter speed is usually extremely fast, so it is measured in 100th of a second.

E.g. 1/400 is 1 400th of a second. Quick right?

So your shutter speeds will look something like this

1/100 1/125 1/160 1/200 1/150 1/320 1/400 1/500 1/640


Practice Changing Your Shutter Speed

To test your shutter speed, find a spot with plenty of light, so that you can increase your shutter speed and still get enough light into your camera.

Have someone model for you since you need a moving subject to photograph. Get them to stand in one spot and jump or twirl. Don’t have them run around as it will be harder to focus.

A ribbon wand is a perfect prop for practising shutter speed. Have your child strand still and wave the wand, so you can see how shutter speed affects the movement.


Set your camera to shutter priority mode and set your shutter speed low, around 1/50. Take some photos. See how blurry they are?

At this shutter speed, the camera captures a lot of motion, not just from your subject moving but from camera shake as you move slightly and press the shutter button.

Increase the shutter and take the image again. Keep increasing your shutter speed and taking images until the movement looks sharp and in focus.

What’s the lowest shutter speed that gives sharp results?

Living Arrows

Here, the shutter speed is 1/400/ Can you see a little blur on her hand as she spins? I could have increased the shutter speed slightly to reduce the motion blur.

Here’s a quick guide to help you figure out what shutter speed you should use.

I hope you found this guide useful. Don’t forget to share your images with us on Instagram using hashtag #mamacameraclub.