Shutter Speed | The Exposure Triangle

We’ve talked about the Exposure Triangle and the first element of that which was ISO. The next element I’m going to talk about in Shutter Speed.


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Simply put, your shutter speed is how long your shutter is open and exposing your camera’s senor to light.


Back in the very early days of photography the cameras used wet metal plates covered in a similar coating to what eventually became film coating. These wet plates were not very sensitive to light so a long exposure (shutter speed) was needed.


Portrait studios were very different in those days, the subject used to have to very still in a chair at the very top of the building (often with a skylight) and often had neck-braces to keep them from moving and blurring the image.


Luckily these days we have kick ass sensors which don’t need long exposures. This means we can take images with very fast shutter speeds which freeze action without blurring.


Shutter speed is measured in seconds, actually for the most part, fractions of a second. The bigger the denomination the faster the speed. You’ll probably not want to use a shutter speed lower than 1/60 for hand held photography as it’s likely they’ll be too much camera shake.


photo basics shutter speed

0.5 second shutter speed

photo basics shutter speed

1/800 second shutter speed


Experiment Time!


I’m a big fan of experiments so here’s a couple to try.


Find a subject that isn’t moving.

Set your camera up to S (Shutter priority mode)

Take a series of images whilst holding your camera. Start off with a second long exposure and work your way up to something fast like 1/1000.

Once you have downloaded your images then closely examine the images to see how stable your grip is. Remember the setting the has no blurring and try and shoot one step faster for your images in the future. That is unless you have a tripod.


Find an overpass or a viewpoint of a road with steady moving traffic.

Set your camera up to S

Set up your camera on a tripod

Take a series of images. Start off with a second long exposure and work your way up as fast as your camera will let you.

Once you have examined your images it will give you an appreciation for what type of shutter speeds freeze action.

You can try the same experiment with kids in the park (make sure they are your own or that the parents know what you’re up to).

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