hits counter

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. I am one of those people who actually read the manual the day I brought my camera home – but I had to read it sitting at my computer constantly referencing Wikipedia to understand the terminology! LOL! So I am SO excited to read more of this series – and I can’t wait to share it with my readers!

    Thank you thank you Darcy for doing this!
    Ann Marie

    PS. Could I add a link to a set on Flickr with this experiment?
    I would love to participate/learn/connect with more folks! 🙂

    • Of course! Please lInk to a specific set instead of your whole stream so we can find it later and learn from your experiments.

  2. Thanks! This was really helpful. I’ve had my SLR for years, but I’m just recently learning how to go about using the manual settings on it.

  3. I cannot thank you enough for this. I have been looking EVERYWHERE for SIMPLE explanations for the modes and settings on DSLRs and YOU are the only one I have found that lays it out clearly and simple. THANK YOU!!!!! I just bought a Canon 7D and have NO IDEA HOW TO USE IT! I’ve used SONY DSLRs all my life, so this is a big change. The best tip was finally finding out the Tv is the shutter mode. Why don’t they just tell you that on other sites!? GEESE. Thanks a million! I’ll be following faithfully, learning more and more 🙂

  4. photo: light
    graph: paper

    I learn something new every day

  5. I will have you know that I literally curled up in bed with my manual and camera last night. And I read. Starting at Page 1. I even read the little illustrated diagram of the camera. “I HAVE THAT BUTTON?! Where???!!!…Wow! I do! Fancy that!” No clue Darcy. None. I’m on page 70 now. You’re right, it really IS a little treasure trove of info. Who knew? (Oh, you did…that’s right.)

  6. Very informative thank you for taking the time to write it.

  7. Nicole W. says:

    Brilliant! Your photos under the tree helped this whole concept CLICK with me! THANK YOU!

  8. I usually use the automatic mode, but now I understand more about the shutter speed. I want to have Abby read these daily blogs. She’s getting so good with her photography! 🙂

  9. Just wanted to add that if anyone couldn’t find their manual – like me – that if you Google your camera name and model you can typically pull it up in a pdf that you can save to your computer! 🙂

    And seriously – thanks for showing this concept with the great difference in pictures shots above. I think this is really going to help me!

  10. Yeah ! I understand !! Thank you for your advices !!

  11. I wanted to stop by and let u know I am loving these lessons, I so need to learn more and this was explained so easily. I did a photo shoot today of a little girl in the autumn leaves, which I had read this before….

  12. Great advice, I need to slow down and pay more attention to the camera settings.


  13. Great tips, Darcy! One question: I have a Nikon coolpix L110. Can I do the same with it?

    • Hey Lakeitha!

      The Coolpix L110 has the following shooting modes:
      Easy Auto, Scene, Sport Continuous, Smart Portrait, Auto, Movie

      You won’t be able to control modes like a dSLR, but you should be able to see what your manual says about those modes. Usually Portrait is similar to shallow depth of field, Sport is similar to shooting fast, etc.

  14. This rocked my world…really. I try to read my manual and it’s like my brain breaks. It makes me feel like I have ADD! I need photos and pretty font and witty commentary, apparently. 😉

    Thanks for this. Learning so much!

  15. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I think PW explained this not long but I forgot shortly after. It’s really helpful to actually get the camera out and practice.

    Anyway, I’m loving this series and can’t wait to see what else you’ve got for us!

  16. Great info and tips!! I am so excited to find you on the 31 days posts, I will come back every day! Thanks so much for doing this!

  17. Thank you, thank you, thank you for putting all this in a way I can actually understand it. I feel like such a dunce when it comes to all the technical stuff. Analogies really help my right brain 😉

  18. You are my hero.
    I experimented with my husband tonight, and got some interesting results! 😉 Tomorrow I’ll try the kids, in motion, and see if I can figure out what I’m doing.
    So so grateful that you are teaching us in layman’s terms!

  19. Oh my gosh I never understood camera talk but you explained it so well!!!! The analogy! Oh wow I love it! My camera doesn’t have shutter speed… or I can’t find it at least! But Santa is bringing me the new Canon t2i for Christmas so I am going to refer back to you! Although I am going to follow along just in case my camera does do what your teaching!

    Thanks!! People pay a lot of money to learn what you are teaching for free =)

  20. What an enjoyable post. I really am enjoying your writing. I’m just now getting to this post so I’m hoping I’ll practice some tomorrow and maybe even post on it.

  21. ok…i’m coming back with my camera in hand tomorrow to play around with it & re-read your posts.

    one more thing….

    thank you thank you thank you for including both nikon & canon pics of the camera dial!!! i am a canon girl myself. including both types (or several) is pure genius especially for us girls who don’t know a whole lot!


  22. this and the fstop are the things I have a hard time knowing where to start. I’ll be experimenting with this later on today

  23. Thanks for taking the time to do this tutorial…super helpful! I’m looking forward to the rest of your posts 🙂

  24. Great clinic. Took it one more step and did a “how to” on the D5000 specifically. I have a new lens and looking forward to getting to know it through your series.

  25. oh, so this is exactly why almost all my photos were overexposed the other day!! i’m a big obsessed with aperture and use my ‘A’ setting exclusively right now. bad, bad.

    i cannot tell you how happy i am you’re doing this ’31 days’ series. can’t wait for tomorrow! thanks!

  26. Thank-you so much for these posts. I’m really enjoying how you’re breaking it all down. I linked to you here: http://thegreeninggirl.blogspot.com/2010/10/walk-in-park.html

  27. okay… I’m coming in late here, but I hope to get caught up. this is just the thing…


    looking forward to a fast forwarded 31 days for me 😉

    amy in peru

  28. Darcy,
    I have had a really nice cannon camera for almost a year and a half, and it has never been on anything but “auto”.
    I know I can do so much more with it, but didn’t even know where to start. Photography “lingo” is like greek to me. That is why I am so glad you are doing this series. I had no clue about shutter speed. It was so much fun to try this exercise and watch the picture change each time. I feel like I am actually learning to use my camera! Thank you for putting this series together. I look forward to every post.

  29. I’m getting a late start. I just did this assignment tonight. Can’t wait to learn more. THank you so much for doing this!

  30. wow. this post alone has improved my photos 100%. i have TRIED to read my camera manual…i even bought a “how to” manual on amazon for my camera. it’s worse than vcr instructions….it’s vcr instructions in a foriegn language. what i’d love to learn is the WHEN and the WHY you’d change settings. i don’t get how i’m supposed to know what the correct setting to use is at the appropriate time…kwim?

  31. So, I saw this October 1st, but, as with everything lately, I am starting a bit late. I am already here to day 4 and have learned so much about my Canon 20D that I was just using auto modes for (an kinda getting frustrated). Thank you so much for posting all these great tips and how to use my camera!

  32. I am SO glad you are doing this series! I haven’t checked out the other ladies yet as my time is limited. But I am LOVING this series as well as The Nester’s series! So great! I just came across these yesterday and I am very much enjoying “catching up”. I am hitting the great outdoors with my camera this weekend!

  33. wonderful analogy

  34. love the water faucet analogy-perfect.

  35. I just tried this exercise. I succeeded by default (I accidentally managed to keep same aperture and ISO for one series of photos, but couldn’t reproduce that again) … I have a cannon T1i. I was able to change the shutter speed and lock ISO, but I couldn’t figure out how to lock aperture. I was in TV mode and I also looked in my manual, but found nothing… I’m clueless…please help.

  36. Remedial help needed? I have a Nikon D3000 and I can’t figure out how to get the aperture and ISO the same…I’m not even sure what that means as they seem to be measured differently. Help anyone?

  37. I have been a faithful follower of you for awhile. I am just now finding the time and energy to do your 31 Days series from last Oct. I have read my camera’s manual and I’m trying to absorb all this info! It’s sort of overwhelming but I am confident it will come together if I just keep practicing and trying. Tonight, I did DAY 3 and am getting a grasp on shutter speed. I wish we could do this face-to-face. I’m so much better with hands-on and immediate feedback. But, I wanted to tell you that I appreciate you putting this up because I am thinking it will help me somewhere along the way 🙂

    I began a new blog so you could follow my journey. I’d appreciate any help you can give me too! Thanks!!


  38. have played with this but never mastered. Is there really a reason for this mode if you’re just shooting portraits?

  39. I’m quite late to this venture but I’d like to follow the lessons. I’ve had a dSLR for a few months now and mostly understand the Exposure triangle. My big problems are with lighting overall and composition. I have read through the first few lessons just to see if there’s anything I might have missed and came across something puzzling.

    In this lesson you tell the photographer to set the camera to Tv and lock in the ISO and aperture. Now I must admit I’m loathe to look through the manual to the point where I purchased a book designed solely around my model of camera, but between that and lots of other places, I’ve read that if you enter a priority mode the other exposure item is automatically chosen based on the level of the priority item. The only thing that can remain constant is the ISO. I’m thinking the only way to test this would be to be in M and then just mess with the shutter speed.

    So, did I miss something?


  1. […] (which I still haven't done) to more challenging and intriguing like this article on "Shooting Fast vs. Shooting Slow." Do check it out. Your fun family memories will look a lot better, as will […]