Back to Basics Photography: How Shutter Speed Impacts Exposure

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Back to Basics Photography: How Shutter Speed Impacts Exposure


Back to Basics Photography: How Shutter Speed Impacts Exposure

In the upcoming months John J. Pacetti, CPP, AFP, will be writing a series of basic photography lessons.  To find them all just search “Back to Basics” on our blog. This is the sixth article in this series. John is a frequent visitor to the MCP Facebook Community Group. Make sure to join – it’s free and has so much great information.

In our last article we look at how F-Stop affected exposure.  This time we’ll look at how Shutter Speed affects exposure.

What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter Speed is the time the shutter is open, allowing light to reach the sensor.  The longer the light stays on the sensor the brighter or more exposed the image will be.  The less amount of time the light is on the sensor, the darker or less exposed the images will be.  This is where the other two part of the exposure triangle come in to get to a proper exposure, so that your images are properly exposed, neither over nor under exposed.

Here’s a couple of other things to be aware of regarding Shutter Speed (SS):

  • Faster SS will freeze action, 1/125 or higher.
  • Slower SS will show motion, 1/30 or slower.
  • Hand holding your camera at slower SS is often difficult for many people.  A tripod is recommended for SS at 1/15 and slower, even 1/30.

All that being said, as I had mentioned in a prior article, I would usually set my ISO and F-Stop first in most situations.  Since we are discussing SS here, we are not going to talk about F-Stop or ISO right now. Ignore them completely.


When to use FAST Shutter Speed…

There are lighting situation where I want a fast SS.   For example:  I’m photographing a sporting event where I want to freeze action so, I’ll need a faster SS 1/125 or higher to freeze that action.  I may be in a lighting situation where I’m in a very bright situation; In order to get the exposure or look I want in the image, I want a higher shutter speed.  Possibly a beach portrait or open sun.

When to use SLOW Shutter Speed…

I could be photographing a scenic, like a water fall.  I may want a faster SS to freeze the water of the fall to achieve a clean frozen look to the water fall, but I may want a slower SS, so I can show the movement or motion of the water in the scene.  I may be photographing a darker scene possible a scenic again, on an overcast day.  To achieve the look to the image I want I may need a tripod and a slow SS.  I could be photographing a sunset or sunrise.  Light is changing quickly and I may need to start with a slow SS and increase as the scene becomes brighter.


  • Slow Shutter Speed allows more light into your camera and can show motion if your SS is slow enough.
  • A higher SS will allow less light into your camera and will freeze action.


These are just a few situations where you’ll need to set or adjust your SS.  Go out and practice.  Practice makes perfect.  The next in the series of articles will take a look at one more item before we tie this all together.


John J. Pacetti, CPP, AFP   –   South Street Studios

2013 Instructor at MARS School- Photography 101, The Basics of Photography

If you have question, feel free to contact me at  This email goes to my phone so am able to answer quickly.  I’ll be glad to help in any way I can.


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Back to Basics Photography: How Shutter Speed Impacts Exposure