Experimenting with Shutter Speed (Photography Wednesday)

by SomeGirl on June 7, 2011 · 11 comments

Well, I did something I never thought I would, and that I’ve been quite intimidated by…

I put my camera in Shutter Priority mode (TV on a Canon, S on a Nikon).

I know that introduction sounds crazy, but my husband has tried to explain shutter priority mode to me for quite some time and it’s as if my mind instantly shuts down when I hear or think anything about it. (Weird, hu?) I blame it on the fact that the name alone (TV for shutter speed) is SO confusing that it makes it seem like everything else is going to be SO complicated, but that wasn’t the case once I finally got up the nerve to try it out. :)

So, here’s the low down on my courageous adventure into the world of Time Value (TV) shutter priority shooting…

Updated to say: So sorry, this isn’t a tutorial on how to change shutter speeds, just an example of how action is captured at different shutter speeds. Check out this GREAT post on understanding shutter speed. It’s where I first gathered the courage to branch out from the auto setting. :)

A couple of days ago the boys and I went out to a splash park where they could run and play and  I could experiment with capturing motion (they didn’t know there was an ulterior motive). ;)

After a few (HOT!) hours and hundreds of shots, this is what I discovered…

Shooting at my highest shutter speed (4000) I could capture nearly any motion and make it stand still in time.


However, my aperture was automatically set to 1.8 which meant it produced a very shallow depth of field (very little was in focus), which is nice and artsy, but made it difficult to get what I wanted in focus much of the time . For example, in the next photo I was trying to focus on my littlest one, but he moved and my focus ended up just behind him on the little boy with shirt in hand.


(Btw, my sweet husband says he never uses a shutter speed that high… It’s primarily for SUPER fast motion like capturing car shots at NASCAR events.)

Next I shot at 2000 and my depth of field increased a bit (around 2.8 – 3.1). The pictures looked much like the ones at 4000, but had a little more focus.


I made my way down to shutter speed 1000 and found a nicer place for action and depth of field. My aperture now ran around 5.0 which meant my focal area was larger (more of the picture came into focus). But some of the water started to blur together more than I wanted…


so I went back up to some of the in-between shutter speeds I had skipped like 1600, which was a lot like 2000.


And 1250 was probably my favorite… Motion stood still and my aperture was nice around 5… High enough to keep my subject in the plane of focus, yet low enough to give a little blurred background.

Side note: If I were to go out with my camera again to an area where I wanted to shoot action, 1250 is where I would start and probably stay until I get more comfortable moving around to experiment with creative motion blur.


After that, I took my shutter speeds down lower/slower and found that: the further down I went the less defined the water droplets were, and eventually the blurrier the subjects became.

At 800 the water gets more clumped together (for lack of a better term)… see the difference by looking at the following photo and scrolling back up to the ones shot at a shutter speed of 2000.



At 640 (the next step down on my camera’s shutter speed) a bit of “motion blur” began to appear in my shots. If you look very closely you can see it around my oldest one’s hands…



At 500 there’s not much more motion blur evident than at 640, but now the water is starting to look like ice, which could be cool and cool be weird… (this might be where I’d try experimenting with some cool motion blur photos, fyi).



Well, 400 didn’t provide many good examples… by the time I got down to that speed, the boys were tired of running around so I have very few action shots. But I do have an example of how the motion blur is increasing… look at the bottle falling on the far right of the photo (my son was balancing it on his head when it fell).



320, 250, 200 and 160 all seemed very similar with some motion blur and a loss of crispness (there were fewer photos I was pleased with).



By the time I got down to 125 the water was becoming a blur, my card was full (had to delete some images), I was too tired to try lots of shots and I wasn’t impressed with what showed up on my monitor….


100 was the same story with lots of motion blur (see his hand moving?).


Here’s the bottom line, in order to capture action in mid-motion you need a higher/faster shutter speed, but unless you’re shooting a moving vehicle you probably don’t need to go over 1250.

If you’re shooting active people/children and don’t want any motion blur at all, you probably want to keep your shutter speed above/faster than 500.

I’d suggest you keep your eye on the aperture that is being automatically set in Shutter Priority mode and make sure it is between 5 and 7 (go as high as you can with your shutter speed to get that aperture and start shooting to see how it looks).

Remember that a shutter speed of 100 is about as low/slow as the typical person can go to avoid hand-shake blur (blur that occurs from not holding the camera steady enough).

Hope that helps you some (or at least inspires you to play around with Shutter Priority mode). It’s a good activity to go out and shoot around dialing your shutter speed down a step at a time. You’ll shoot for a long time that way and probably fill up your memory card, but you’ll learn a lot. And most importantly you’ll discover that there’s NOTHING to be afraid of! ;)


Sara @ Happy Brown House

Umm…you totally just spoke Greek to me. Carry on with your bad self.


That’s EXACTLY how I felt when my husband would tell me things… I’ll think about writing a Greek translation post soon. ;)


I just remembered a GREAT, simple to follow, introduction to shutter speeds… Thought I’d share it with you. :) http://www.brookemcglothlin.com/2011/01/journals-of-a-photography-newbie-i-shutter-to-think/


THIS! Exactly! lol Great photos though – love them!


Awesome examples! It sounds like you’re ready for manual now. Once you know the shutter speed you want to stay around and the aperture setting you want, you can easily do it in manual. I’m finding that if I shoot outdoors, overexpose my photos just a tad, and then adjust in ACR, there is a lot less noise in the pictures. Then I just bump up the blacks and my photos have awesome contrast.

Now indoor photos…that is where I struggle! Any tutorials on indoor shooting and lighting?

Thanks again, Michelle!


LOVE this one. Can’t wait to go play with it. I’m really curious now as to what shutter speed those pool pics I showed you last week were…. Hmmm. Must learn how to figure that out. :)

Keep up the great stuff. You’re learning a ton and teaching us even more. Thanks, as always!!

Leigh Ann

Ok, I’m inspired. My husband is always at me to “play” with our camera. I’ve not been too keen on doing it because “I don’t want to miss moments.” BUT this inspired me. I might actually understand a little more than I did on shutter speed by your examples. Now, I want to go “play.” :)

Cranberry Morning

This is such a helpful post. It’s one I need to save and re-read. Thanks for all that info.

Deb Chitwood

I’ve been bookmarking all your photography posts and links, Michelle! They’re so helpful – even though I’d definitely have to spend some time experimenting with shutter speed to feel comfortable. I love your photo examples. Photography definitely makes so much more sense that way! :)


I always learn so much by reading you posts! I also love having the pictures as an example. I have such a visual learner!! Thank you :)
It looks like it was a great day for all!!


A great tutoria! I learn so much from you, thanks! Question: when I go to 1250, great for action, but it is VERY dark. I’ve played around with ISO but nothing makes it brighter. It’s dark-as in you can’t even see an image. When I pop the flash, it knocks the shutter speed to 200. Any suggestions? Is the 1250 only for sunlight? Thanks.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: