Shutter Speed – Summer Photography Series

Last week, as we discussed Aperture in our latest Summer Photography Series tutorial, I mentioned that one of the key steps to taking better pictures is understanding how cameras work.

Another basic photography concept that every person who owns a camera should understand is shutter speed.

Summer Photography Series at 5 Minutes for Mom

What is shutter speed?

Shutter speed is the amount of time that the camera’s shutter (or the opening that lets light into the camera’s sensors) stays open. The shutter speed is measured in seconds (or fractions of seconds).

A shutter speed of ½ of a second is considered a very slow (or long) shutter speed, while 1/1000 is considered a very fast (or short) shutter speed. In other words, a short shutter speed has a smaller number on the bottom. A fast shutter speed has a larger number on the bottom.

According to a camera, a second is a very long time.

Shutter speed can be adjusted using shutter priority mode (TV or S mode) or you can use Sports mode to take stop-action shots with a point and shoot.

What shutter speed should you use?

Here’s what you want to remember:

  1. Use a fast shutter speed to stop action, or for fast-moving subjects.
  2. Use a slow shutter speed to let in more light (in lower light situations), for stationary subjects, or to show motion.

Examples of fast shutter speed:

These two shots show how using a fast shutter speed can allow your camera capture a moment frozen in time. Sometimes those “frozen moments” are beyond what even our naked eye can see, like the splash caught in mid-air.

A fast shutter speed stopped the motion of this ride at Hershey Park

A fast shutter speed "froze" these drops of water in mid-air

Examples of slow shutter speed:

In these next two shots, NOT freezing the motion was actually preferable, because the motion in these pictures is part of the story.

A slower shutter speed conveys the motion of the carousel

A slow shutter speed allowed me to capture the "feeling" of my son running fast

Because I used a slower shutter speed in the above photo, AJ is a blur, but there’s something about the intentional blur that really conveys his energy in a way that a stop-action shot could not.

Although blur is typically frowned upon in photography, there are occasions where motion in your pictures is desirable. Say you want to take a photo of a waterfall or a bicycle or car zooming past….or an energetic 3 year old playing at the park. Those are the times when a slow shutter speed would be the way to go.

This week’s photo challenge

This week’s challenge will be to use shutter priority (or sports mode) to capture an action shot. It can be any kind of action–you can freeze the action, or purposely blur it to show movement. Be creative and then show us your results!

If you have any questions during the week, feel free to ask. I’m always here to help!

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Written by 5 Minutes for Mom managing editor Lolli. You can find Lolli blogging at Better in Bulk and tweeting at @1momof5.

Photos from the amusement park were taken by Lolli’s amazing sister, Andrea, owner of Andrea Marie Photography and author of the blog DAVE family. The pool and park shots were taken by Lolli.


  1. Tammy Allen says

    I love this summer photography series. Just one thought to add… when using a slower shutter speed to capture movement or light, the camera will also detect the slight shaking of your hand. It can be helpful to bring along a tripod or place your camera on something sturdy before clicking :)


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