Photography 101: Shutter Speed


originally posted July 11, 2011

Day 3 of 31 Days to a Better Photo is all about shutter speed and figuring out when to shoot fast and when to shoot slow. Basically, shutter speed has to do with how long the shutter on your camera stays open during a shot. The length of time it stays open also controls the amount of light you’re letting in during your exposure.

Shutter speed starts out being measured in fractions of a second and then into whole seconds, so 1/1000 of a second would be much faster than say 1/250 of a second, and 2 seconds would be slower than 1/250 of a second. To determine where you need to set your shutter speed depends on the kind of lighting you’re shooting in.

I learned that if I’m shooting in low light and darker situations, then I want to shoot slow. This allows for a longer exposure and more light for the shot. If it’s really bright, then I want to shoot faster because the shutter will not be open quite as long and will allow only a minimal amount of light in for the shot.

I did a little experimenting inside my house, which in most rooms offers very low light. My subject was the hanging basket of tomatoes near my kitchen window, and, although this was near a window, the lighting situation was fairly dim.  Here are my results:

My “gear” as they say:

  • Camera:  Canon Eos Digital Rebel XTi
  • Lens: Canon EF 50 mm f/1.8 II
  • ISO:  200
  • Aperture:  f 2.8

Picture #1: I started out with a shutter speed of 1/500. As you can see this speed was too fast and didn’t let enough light in for the exposure.


Picture #2: This was taken with a shutter speed of 1/250 – also too fast for this situation.

I continued taking shots, each time slowing down the shutter speed. I ended up setting my shutter speed in whole seconds – 10 seconds for the above pic – and that resulted in a much better shot. While I was doing this, I wrote down in a notebook the setting for each shot I took, which I found to be a little helpful in keeping track of what I was doing.

This little experiment helped me understand a little bit better how to shoot in low lighting situations, which I do a lot when shooting inside my house. Now I know that I need a slower shutter speed in order to allow for that longer exposure and more light for the best photo.

My next experiment is understanding ISO, so stay tuned for my next Photography 101 post to see how I did.

Next up: ISO


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