First camera crash course: simple solutions for mastering your new camera

First Camera Crash Course Lesson 3: How shutter speeds work

As explained on the previous page, the aperture and shutter speed work together to determine how bright your exposure will be. Like apertures, shutter speeds are also measured as 'stops', such as 1/250 sec and 1/125 sec.

Shutter speeds are easier to understand; a shutter speed of 1/60 sec lets in half the amount of light as 1/30 sec as it's half the amount of time. The speed dictates the amount of time the shutter inside your camera stays open to let in the right amount of light.

Moving subjects

  • When photographing fast-moving wildlife and sports, use a fast shutter speed to freeze the action
  • Shoot handheld for greater freedom to move and recompose as your subject moves

Static subjects

First Camera Crash Course Lesson 3: photograph static subjects

  • If the subject is not moving, you can use a slow shutter speed - if you avoid camera shake
  • Keep ISO low to reduce grain and noise appearing in your images
  • Use a tripod to ensure your new camera is rock-steady throughout the exposure and to ensure sharp shots

Low light

First Camera Crash Course Lesson 3: photograph in low light

  • Shooting scenics in low light and at night, a long shutter speed and a tripod will be necessary to capture an accurate exposure and sharp result
  • The 30-second shutter speed necessary for this night shot has captured ambient light in the sky and also blurred the water in the foreground

Shutter speed vs focal length

The longer your telephoto lens, the more that camera shake can become a problem.

To make sure the longer focal length doesn't result in blurred shots, follow this simple rule, if you are not using a tripod: at least match your focal length with your shutter speed, so if you're using a 300mm lens, make sure your shutter speed is at least 1/320 sec or higher.

Increase your ISO accordingly to achieve a fast enough shutter speed for sharp shots.

First Camera Crash Course Lesson 4: fast vs slow shutter speeds

Which shutter speed you use depends on your subject. The main point to remember, when considering shutter speed, is if your subject or part of your scene is moving.

If you use a slow shutter speed it will show a sense of movement (captured as blur), whereas if you use a fast shutter speed it will freeze any movement.

Using a slow shutter speed (such as 1/15 sec or even 1 sec) is ideal if you're shooting a landscape with water in the scene and you want to blur the movement of the water.

Whereas you'll need to set a fast shutter speed (eg 1/500 sec or 1/1000 sec) if you want to freeze subjects in motion, such as sports or wildlife.

Fast shutter speed

First Camera Crash Course Lesson 4: Fast vs Slow shutter speeds

  • Faster shutter speeds eliminate camera shake problems, enabling you to shoot handheld
  • Any movement in your scenes (such as the sea in this photo) will be frozen in action by fast shutter speeds

Slow shutter speed

First Camera Crash Course Lesson 4: Fast vs Slow shutter speeds

  • Slower shutter speeds record any movement in your scene as blur - creating dreamy-looking water and clouds in this coastal shot
  • Use a tripod when using slower shutter speeds to keep your camera still for sharp shots


Phil Hall

Phil Hall is an experienced writer and editor having worked on some of the largest photography magazines in the UK, and now edit the photography channel of TechRadar, the UK's biggest tech website and one of the largest in the world. He has also worked on numerous commercial projects, including working with manufacturers like Nikon and Fujifilm on bespoke printed and online camera guides, as well as writing technique blogs and copy for the John Lewis Technology guide.