Looking to get off the “auto” setting on your digital SLR? That was me but lots of the information I found was way too confusing. I’m hoping to provide a simple, straightforward way to learn the three basics you need to understand to start being more creative: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

This is part 2 – if you haven’t read part one, read about Part 1: Aperture (Fuzzy Factor)

Understanding shutter speed

Shutter speed is how long the camera opens up the lens to take the picture.

The longer that the lens is open, the more light can hit the sensor and make the photo brighter.

So in our original three photos in Part 1: Aperture (Fuzzy Factor), as I made the opening smaller (high aperture, clear background), I had to let more light in by keeping the shutter open longer – a lot longer in some cases.

In the first photo, the shutter opened and shut in just 1/30th of a second – 10 times faster than you can blink. So very fast.


In the second photo, I had the leave the shutter open for 5 whole seconds to get the same amount of light with the teeny, tiny aperture opening.


In the third photo, it was 1 second for the medium-sized opening.


The problem with shutter speed

So that’s all fine and dandy and you can’t see a difference when you have a motionless wonder woman little person and a camera on a tripod (meaning it isn’t moving either), but the longer the shutter is open, stuff begins to blur.

The reasons why are actually really technical so we’ll skip that, but the main problem with slow shutter speeds is that you’re the one holding your camera and you’ve had too much coffee so you’re shaky.

If you’re short on light (either due to being in a dark room or having your aperture cranked up really high) then your shutter has to be open for a while. This leads to this (everything being a little blurry). And this was with the shutter open only half a second.


On the flip side, if you use a tripod or can stay really still, here’s an example of what happens when you’re taking a picture of a fast-moving object and your shutter speed is slow (because you don’t have enough light or your aperture is high):


How to work with shutter speed

So, faster shutter speed, less blur. Slower shutter speed, more blur. It’s really quite simple.

Except, faster shutter speed, less light. Slower shutter speed, more light.

In an ideal world, you’d always have tons of light so you could have a really, really fast shutter speed to eliminate any camera shake, objects blurring, and have pictures that freeze moments in time.

Unless of course you wanted to the blurry effect – then you would want to magically have less light so you could leave your shutter open longer to capture the blur without the image getting way too much light.

Unfortunately, we don’t live in a magical land of perfect light all of the time – that’s where our friend ISO comes in.

It’s the glue between aperture and shutter speed.

Next Up: Read Part 3 – ISO (Light Sensitivity)