Harrison Elder Photography

Mastering Shutter Speed: The Art of Motion

Motion blurred image of a couple spinning around each other on a cloudy beach

Understanding the intricacies of your camera settings is essential for capturing those stunning moments. When first learning photography the most important thing that you learn is known as the “Exposure Triangle”. The exposure triangle consists of three elements – aperture, ISO, and shutter speed. In this article, I will explain what shutter speed is and how you can use it to improve your photography skills. When I shoot I always adjust my shutter speed first depending on what look I am going for in my photos and movement of the subject.

So what is shutter speed?

Shutter speed is a measurement of the amount of light that hits a camera’s sensor. It is typically measured in units of time in fractions of a second like 1/400th of a second or 1/400. Slower shutter speeds such as 1/50 allow more light to hit a camera’s sensor, while faster shutter speeds like 1/1000 allow less light to reach the sensor.

How does shutter speed affect my photos?

Shutter speed is always displayed as a fraction like 1/10, 1/250, 1/1000. This photo was taken at 1/500. This means that the shutter of the camera was open for 1/500th of a second. The longer a camera’s shutter is open determines how much light hits a camera’s sensor. 

Bride and Groom kissing with veil blowing in the wind in front of Los Angeles City Hall
Example of a fast shutter speed -underexposed photo of bride and groom

Fast Shutter Speeds

The faster the shutter speed, the less light will hit your sensor, meaning your photo will be darker. Let’s say instead of shooting this photo at 1/500th of a second but instead used a faster shutter speed of 1/4000. This would change a few things about my photo:

1. My photo would be darker due to less light hitting my camera’s sensor. 

2. Any motion in the photo would be frozen and there would be little to no motion blur. This is helpful when shooting photos of fast moving objects like sports or vehicles.

Slow Shutter Speeds

The slower the shutter speed, the more light will hit your sensor, meaning your photo will be lighter. If I decided to take this photo at a slower shutter speed like 1/100th of a second my photo would be drastically different. 

1. My photo would be brighter due to more light hitting my camera’s sensor. 

2. My photo would be blurry because of the motion of the bride and groom as well as any unintentional camera shake.

When should I use a faster shutter speed?

Faster shutter speeds should be used to capture fast-moving objects, sports, or whenever you want to freeze motion completely and have all parts of your image sharp. The faster your shutter speed the more parts of your image will not show any motion blur. 

Groomsmen jumping in unison in front of Los Angeles City Hall

When should I use a slow shutter speed?

Couple spinning around with motion blur on the beach

Slow shutter speeds are typically used to show movement or in low-light situations when the option to use a faster shutter speed is not available. When you use a slower shutter speed remember to adjust your other settings so you don’t overexpose your photos.

Recommended Shutter Speeds

When shooting wedding photos I recommend shooting at 1/400th of a second or faster. This will ensure you will capture the movement and help keep all areas sharp. This could change depending on lighting, but I would not go below 1/250 to reduce any movement or blur caused by camera shake. 

When shooting engagement photos I would recommend shooting at 1/640th of a second or faster. This will ensure you will capture the moment clearly and enable you to capture the reaction as well as any movement that takes place. Most engagement photos are outside where there is a lot of light for faster shutter speeds.

Man proposing to a woman looking surprised

When shooting family photos your shutter speed will depend heavily upon lighting as well as the age of all family members. with small children and toddlers, I would recommend having a shutter speed of at least 1/800. Sometimes kids are not very enthusiastic about being in photos so when capturing those moments when they are smiling and looking at the camera it is essential to freeze any movement no matter how much they squirm.

When shooting graduation photos your shutter speed depends heavily on the pose and lighting. For shots with lots of movement in direct sunlight I would shoot at 1/1250, while other poses with less movement and shade could be shot at around 1/400.