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Shutter Speeds: Shooting fast vs. Shooting Slow | Day 3

Did you and your camera manual have a cozy evening together? I hope you’ve become fast friends, because we’re going to put what you learned to the test and play with shutter speed today. I also want to encourage you to not read this post like I watch exercise videos – this isn’t meant to be a spectator sport. I’m not getting skinnier or stronger sittin’ here, and you’re not getting better at your camera sittin’ there. Shall we spit in our hands and shake on it? No? That’d be gross, right? Okay, then I’ll just trust you to go for it!

Understanding Shutter Speed

Imagine you’re at the sink with a small cup. You want to fill the cup with water.
So you reach for the faucet. If you leave the water on too long, the cup will overflow and spill.
If you don’t leave it on long enough, your cup will not fill.

You need to leave the faucet running for just the right amount of time to fill the cup, but not go over.

Using that analogy – you need to leave your shutter open for just the right amount of time to let in light to fill your photo and record your image, but not spill over and overexpose it.

Shutter speed refers to the amount of time your camera’s shutter is open. It’s measured in fractions of seconds. You will see something like 1/1000, 1/250. Sometimes it’s only shown with the denominator, and the 1/ is assumed. 250 = 1/250 second. When the speed is greater than a fraction of a second, and whole seconds are used, it’s represented with quotes. 1″ = 1 second, 2″ = 2 seconds, etc.

Camera meter showing shutter speed

This camera’s shutter speed is set to 1/125 second.

Photo means light in Greek. Graph refers to recording on paper. Photograph translates to recording light on paper. Shutter speed controls how long you will literally graph your photo – or how long you will record the instance of your image.

Shooting fast freezes time. It can allow in only a tiny moment of time, a sliver of a moment. This is important if your object is in motion and you want to capture it still. Shooting fast is also necessary if it is very bright – ie, if the faucet is strong, and lots of water comes out at once. (We’ll talk about controlling the amount of water soon!)

Shooting slow allows a longer exposure. It can allow in more light in darker situations. It can show motion. By leaving your shutter open for a longer period, you both record a longer instance of time and allow more light in.

Compare the following photos:

demonstrating shutter speed. how to control exposure with shutter speed.

Both were shot moments apart and have the same settings, excepting shutter speed. Can you see how speed alone can affect your image?

Shooting in Shutter Priority

shutter priorityShutter Priority means you control only the speed your camera shoots, and allows the camera to best guess the rest of the equation. It will choose the aperture it thinks is best.

S = shutter priority. Found often on Nikon, Olympus E-series, or Fuji S-series
Tv = time value mode. Found mostly on Canon brands.
Running Man = sports mode on some Point and Shoots may allow you to adjust time.

Time to play!

  • Go grab that love machine of yours – no, no, not your spouse. Grab that trusty camera.
  • Put your camera in manual mode. Lock in the same ISO and aperture – keeping them the same.
  • Find a subject, take several photos, changing the speed 1 click on the dial each shot; watch what happens to your photos as you change shutter speed.
  • Pay attention to how shutter speed can effect the amount of light in your photo.
  • Pay attention to how shutter speed can show or freeze motion.

Tip: If you want children to be sharp, shoot faster than 1/125th second. Children have a hard time sitting still.

If you blogged your shutter experiments, I welcome you to link the post here. Please include as much data about your shot as you can, such as: ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and focal distance. You’re also welcome to include camera and lens info, too. It’s okay if you don’t know how to find that info. I hope you will by month’s end.


  1. Rebecca says:

    We just made the plunge and purchased a DSLR and I LOVE it! I really really want to learn how to use it to it’s full potential, and have been thrilled with what I have learned from you already. Thank you for your help! 🙂

  2. Courtney Wager says:

    Just happened upon your site (never really know how I get from blog to blog) but I am SO glad that I did. I’ve taken photography classes online, I’ve spent countless hours on free photo websites – I HAVE had (a few, actually) nights with my owners manual – and I do take really great pictures. But I also find my self in certain situations that I feel like “hmmm, why didn’t that come out exactly as I had intended…what am I missing” . Do you know that in the photography class, the free class online, and in my owners manual – it’s never clicked for me before WHY the shutter represents a fraction of a second. The water analogy – worked like a charm. Thank you!!!

  3. Still Learning says:

    This is awesome! Thanks for sharing this!

  4. wow one year later and I finally get it! lol. Thanks for referencing this post from Tips for Indoor Photography | 31 Days of Photo Tips, Day 9 🙂

  5. alleyballey says:

    Woohoo so glad I stumbled upon you. : ) Been trying to wrap my mind around all this photography stuff for a couple of months now. I hate to sound like a total ditz but I have the hardest time figuring out these shutter speeds. Which is faster 1/1000 or 1/325? I look at it like if you chopped a second up into a thousand pieces it would be a lot faster than if you chopped it into 325 pieces. Is that right? : / Anyway….. I can’t wait to read all the lovely posts. You have a great way of teaching. thank you sooo much!!!

  6. Thank you for creating this series! Im very excited already and have been outside in the yard trying shutter speeds on all sorts of things and learning about distance and shutter speed plus movement and shutter speed, etc.
    However I chose to post about a stationary item… a bag of peanuts!
    You can see my blog post about it here:

  7. thank you so much for sharing this! I’m addicted to pinterest and I saw this on there and said to myself “I NEED THIS!!!” haha. I just got a Kodak Z990 for Christmas and I’m still learning how to use it. I love the camera but the recovery is REALLY slow which makes picture taking difficult. Would you know how to change that or if it is at all possible to change?

    • I don’t anything about that camera to be qualified to advise you how to change settings on a Kodak. I haven’t owned a Kodak since the Advantix back in the 90s. 😉 Hope you can figure it out!

  8. When trying to get a silhouette, would I want my shutter speed to be faster or slower?

  9. Hi, I tried this on several subjects but am having a hard time with it, I tried on a sunflower in the yard at 35mm ISO 200 and I didn’t see much difference between the shots. Between longest and shortest was a slight difference. Then I tried it on water drops in the sink, but the pictures were coming out so dark! I tried changing my ISO but it didn’t seem to help any. I was right in front of a window so thought there was plenty of light. I could see the water change from a stream to droplets, but the photos were of such poor quality I didn’t even want to share them. I’m very frustrated and am thinking I’m not the best candidate for self teaching! Any idea what I’m doing wrong?

  10. Hi Darcy,

    I somehow stumbled onto your site yesterday, and then found this amazing blog series you’ve put together. After burning through the first 13 posts, I’ve now gone back to the start to work on the little projects you set up.

    I can’t add anything that hasn’t already been said by the other readers in the comments, but I will say thanks for putting together such a comprehensive and easy to understand tutorial. I look forward to continuing to follow your blog once I’ve finished reading this series.


  11. Darcy,

    You’ve put together such an amazing series, and this was a terrific first “assignment”. Though I’m coming to this more than two years after you originally posted the lesson, I’ve decided to follow along as many of your other readers have. Since the submission window has closed, I thought I’d include the link to my shutter speed test here… hope you don’t mind.


    I hope you and your family are well.

  12. Is it possible to see picture informations (ISO, shutter etc..) after I put them in my computer(settings or something like that) so I would not need to write my notes on paper and then figure out which was with which picture…?
    thank you!!
    I am so in love with this, thank you for all this info..

    • Yes – programs like Adobe Bridge or Lightroom, for example, will show your camera’s settings as part of the program. I don’t know if the computer can read the exif data without a photo editing program… but I would do a quick search with the words “exif data” and whichever photo editing program you use.

      Hope that helps!

    • Hi Ilze,

      Also, if you open the folder that your photos are in, then: eight click on an image -> click on properties, a box will open and show you everything about the photo – day, time, photo size, camera used, lens, ISO, shutter speed, etc.

      It’s not as efficient as Lightroom, which is the greatest program ever, but it works.

      Hope that helps,


  13. I definately noticed a difference between shutter speeds when I shot outside with no flash required but when I shot inside, they all came out super dark even with lights on unless I used the flash. And then with the flash, they all looked the same???

  14. scrappingjourney says:

    Thank you for this series. I’ve put into practice the assignment you gave us, but the pictures come way to dark. I’ve locked in at different ISO even the aperture, but still to dark. Only shooting at 1/4 -1/25 was the only way to see the subject I was shooting. Otherwise will be to dark even shooting close to the window on a sunny day. Is there any explanation for this?

  15. When you say ” Lock in the same ISO and aperture – keeping them the same.” Does that just mean make sure they are the same for each photo, or is there a specific ISO that should be used with a specific aperture? I’m not sure what to set mine at. Also, I noticed my shutter speed isn’t going above 200 when I have my flash on, is the normal or am I doing something wrong? I had it on because I was inside since its nearly 100 degrees outside! :/

    • Hi Mellissa,

      Locking in aperture and ISO just means to keep them the same for each photo.if you’re indoors you mighty want to set ISO to 400 or 800 for this test. The exercise is meant to show you how adjusting only the shutter speed can affect a photo. And yes, when you have your flash out, your camera will Max out at a certain shutter speed… mine is 160th.

      Hope that helps,


  16. Ugh. I took me 3 weeks to read that dang manual. Every time I sat down to it, my brain panicked and started searching for ANYTHING else! haha. I’m a better person for it, I believe.


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  2. […] Day 3: Shooting Fast vs. Shooting Slow […]

  3. […] explains shutter speed in Shutter Speeds: Shooting Fast VS Shooting Slow –  her faucet, water and cup analogy is perfect for helping to understand what is […]

  4. […] that we’ve tackled shutter speed and ISO, it’s time to tackle the 3rd part of the exposure […]