Part 1 Lesson 3: SHUTTER SPEED

Last week we looked at how aperture controls both the amount of light hitting the sensor, and the depth of field of an image. Shutter speed is one of the other things the camera (or you) has under its control. And, just like aperture, as well as being able to control the amount of light hitting the sensor, it has its own creative effect - the ability to freeze or blur any movement in the image.

If you are struggling with last week's aperture homework, you might find this post useful. In it I run through the most common issues people have: Problems You Might Have When Learning About Aperture.

What is the shutter speed exactly? 

It's simply the speed at which the shutter opens and closes.

The shutter is a metal curtain that is just in front of your camera's sensor (the part that makes the image). Most of the time the curtain is closed. But when you press the shutter button it opens briefly. The time it stays open for is known as the shutter speed. To take a sharp image, this usually has to be only a fraction of a second.

Creative control

With aperture, you get the ability to control the depth of field.

With shutter speed, you get control over the amount of blur in the image. Sometimes you want blur, sometimes you don't. The camera doesn't know whether you do or don't, and it will always always always pick a mid range shutter speed by default. So if you want anything at the extremes - a very blurred image, or a super sharp image, you have to take control:

shutter speed 1.png

Blur, or camera shake?

If your subject is moving too fast, it will record as a blur.

If your hands are shaking, you will get camera shake.

In the first photo below, the boat wasn't moving that fast, but I moved the camera so got camera shake. In the second photo, the shutter speed was fast enough to compensate for my camera shake.

In the last photo, the shutter speed was 4 seconds but there isn't any camera shake because the camera is rock solid on a tripod. The blur you see is all caused by the movement of the merry go round - nothing is caused by the camera moving.

shutter speed 4.jpg

Both blur and camera shake are caused by the same thing (a shutter speed which is too slow for the circumstances), but the blur is related to the subject (which you probably can't control), and camera shake is related to yourself (which you are more likely to be able to control). Don't worry too much about the difference between blur and camera shake - if you're seeing any kind of unwanted blur, it's a sign you need a faster shutter speed.

Fast or slow shutter speed?

A fast shutter speed opens and closes fast. A slow shutter speed opens and closes more slowly.

Can you see that if your subject moves whilst the shutter is open, it will record as a blur?

And can you see that if your shutter opens and closes in a fraction of a second - faster than the subject is moving - you will be able to freeze the action?

So you need to decide whether you want everything in the image crisp and sharp (fast shutter speed), or if you are happy to include some motion blur (slower shutter speed).

You'll need your manual. Download it here if you don't know where it is:


Take 2 photos which are exactly the same, except for the shutter speed.

Step 1

Find out how to put your camera on to Shutter Priority mode. This is where you choose the shutter speed, and the camera sorts the rest of the settings out. (Google it if you don't want to read your manual: "How to put a Fuji XT1 onto shutter priority mode".)

Step 2

Find out how to change your shutter speeds. They are measured in fractions of a second, and will be displayed either as "60" or "1/60" (for 1/60th of a second). Your camera might give you shutter speeds of 1/50th or 1/160th. These are just fractional speeds, between full increments. (Like 2.5 comes between 2 and 3). Check your manual to see how your camera shows shutter speeds.

Step 3

On shutter priority mode, in a well lit place (preferably outside), take 2 photos of the same moving subject (it can be something simple like tap water):

1. with a slow shutter speed (something like 1/30th or 1/2 second - but you may have to move into the shade to avoid there being too much light); and

2. with a fast shutter speed (the fastest you can do with the light you have around, try 1/500 at least, 1/2000 if you can manage it).

These two images of grass were taken in storm force winds (they should have been upright). Even at 1/4000th of a second (2nd image), there is still a bit of blur in the grass:

shutter speed 5.png

What should happen is that you get one blurred image, and one very sharp image (or at least, your subject is sharp - don't worry about the background).

Pick a subject that's moving reasonably fast - someone running (across the frame, not towards you), a car (careful where you stand), something blowing in the wind, water running from a tap, or even just someone's waving hand up close. Those of you with cats, dogs and toddlers will be ahead of the rest of us on this one.


1: Camera won't take a photo at a fast shutter speed

You don't have enough light - the faster shutter speeds let in only a tiny amount of light and your camera might just refuse to take a photo if there isn't enough light. Try at 1/500th and see if you can get the effect you want, otherwise go outside during the day in a well-lit place.

2: Focus

It can be hard to keep your focus on the subject when the subject is fast-moving. Don't worry too much about the focus for this exercise. As long as you can take 2 photographs, 1 with a blur and 1 without, it doesn't matter if your focus is off.

3: ISO is too high

Don't know what ISO is? Don't worry, we'll cover it next week. Otherwise, yes, your ISO will probably shoot up to compensate for the tiny shutter speed. Don't worry about it - this is an exercise in extremes.

4. Image is too dark or too light

You might just have reached the mechanical limits of your camera. If your image is too dark, try somewhere lighter, or try using a slower shutter speed. If your image is too light, try somewhere darker, or try using a faster shutter speed.

Part of the point of this exercise is to see what effect hand-holding your camera has on blur and camera shake at different shutter speeds. Don't delete all your blurred images - they are part of the learning journey.


1. Read this email, and the troubleshooting post if you need to.

2. Put your camera onto Shutter Priority Mode.

3. Do the project: take 2 photos, 1 with a short shutter speed, and 1 with a longer shutter speed.

4. Try and freeze the action with a short shutter speed, and blur it with a longer shutter speed.

5. Don't try and learn all the numbers, or think you have to remember everything in this lesson. If you can do all the steps whilst reading the instructions, you are on track. There will be plenty of opportunities to practise this again throughout the year, and I will keep reminding you what to do and when to do it.

6. If you want to share in the app, find the “Homework” section via the left hand menu and post in a thread. If you are working along at the same pace as an official start group (eg. July 2019), find the thread for your start group. If you are behind, you can post in the current week’s thread but just say which homework you were working on. If you are dipping in and out but not working at an official pace, find any thread that is currently on the Exposure topic and post there.

7. Don't forget - done is better than perfect.

8. If you want to have a look at the optional accompanying workbooks, search for "A Year With My Camera" on your local Amazon store. The "Look Inside" feature is enabled so you can flick through before you buy. More information about the workbooks.

9. You can claim 50% off the video course which covers part 1 of the course: click to redeem coupon