Tips & Tutorials

Shutter Speed Tutorial for Beginners


Beginner Shutter Speed Tutorial

Are you just beginning in photography but want to get better and start taking pictures that look more professional? Understanding how to use shutter speed is a key element. This Shutter Speed Tutorial for Beginners is going to help you with this, without getting overwhelmed by all the technical stuff.

Whether you are using a DSLR, Mirrorless, Point and Shoot, or a Camera Phone you can benefit from knowing how light affects your photographs.

For every photograph that you take, your camera has to go through a ton of different calculations and assumptions. If the shot turns out bad, we blame it on the camera because it doesn’t know what we want. Here’s the fun part though. YOU can take control of some of that “automated” stuff, and use it to get professional like photographs.

The shutter speed, in my opinion, is the most important function that every photographer should know! If you don’t know what it is, or how to control it, don’t worry because this is exactly why I wrote this article.

Once you get a feel for how to use this tool you’ll love experimenting with it.

It may seem like your camera is a complicated tool, but in this shutter speed tutorial/guide, I’m going to break it down as simple as possible, the same way I wish someone would have told me when I started. This means little to no technical terms in this tutorial that you’ll rarely use. Only the real stuff that you can actually experiment with now.

bear-freezeThe bear and water look “frozen” thanks to a fast shutter speed

What is the shutter speed?

  • Simply put, every digital camera uses a sensor to capture light which then gets processed into images that we see, and can print/share etc.
  • This digital sensor is always covered by a black curtain, blocking all the light. However, when you press the shutter button to take a picture, this curtain moves away for a short amount of time, sending the light directly to your sensor!
  • Why is this important? Because you can control for how long those curtains let the light to the sensor, and that’s what we call the shutter speed.

In other words, how quickly they go back together is what shutter speed is. That can last for a couple of minutes, or just fractions of a second. It may not sound important to you right now, but with proper knowledge (nothing complicated) you can get amazing results.

So now that you’re able to control the light, you can either choose long shutter speeds or really quick ones.  This all depends on what you’re taking a picture of, or what effect you want to achieve.

  • The faster your shutter speed, the less light hits the sensor
  • The slower your shutter speed, the more light hits the sensor

As a beginner photographer it’s not always that easy though. If you’re using a fast shutter speed at night, with no light available, your images will end up black because the sensor didn’t receive enough light! In this case, you would need to select a really long shutter speed, but anything that moves in your scene would look blurred.

For starters, the more light available (like outside on a sunny day) the faster you can choose.

How do you control blur with Shutter Speed?

Sometimes you are trying to introduce blur with your shutter speed choice. Other times blur is a result of not selecting the correct shutter speed.

For example, if you are a beginner photographer and want to recreate this “dreamy” water effect you’ll have to be in control of the shutter speed on your camera. (See the “When should I use slow Shutter Speeds” section down below)


If you tried something like this using the Auto mode, you would be pretty disappointed. Only you know what you want, the camera is programmed to help you but rarely does the job perfectly.

Why are my images blurry?

As you’re beginning to learn about photography it’s good to know that if your shutter speed is too slow while trying to photograph a moving subject, it will appear blurred.

Blurred Moving Subject  >  Shutter Speed is Probably Too Slow

However, you can’t just always use a fast shutter speed.

For example, your subject may be static, but you may still need to use a slow speed, such as like at night, or indoors with bad light. Then you need to make sure you use a tripod or move as little as possible. Here a slow shutter speeds can also make your entire shot look blurry if you’re not stable enough.  So you know some lenses do offer Image Stabilization to help counteract this.

Shutter Speed Values

Every good camera should allow you to have at least some control over the shutter speed. DSLRs have modes where you can be in charge of everything, while cheaper point and shoot cameras usually require a little bit more work to get there.

Here’s our shutter speed cheat sheet for best speeds to use in certain situations (similar to the one above):ss2

It may seem like a bunch of random numbers, but it couldn’t be more simple to understand it fully.

The bigger the number, the faster the shutter speed. (Yes, we do understand that with fractions 1/4 is smaller than 1/2. But just think of the denominator as the number you’re worrying about. So just the numbers after the ‘/ ‘, meaning in this case 4 is bigger and faster than 2.) So this means:

  • 1/8000 is much faster than 1/4
  • 1/4 is slightly faster than 1/2

Your camera already has those values available, you just have to learn which ones you should use depending on the situation.

Look at the list above, memorize/write it down. Every next shutter speed mentioned is twice as slow as the one above it. In other words, 1/250 is twice as slow as 1/500, meaning it brings in twice as much light.

  • 1/8000 is twice as fast as 1/4000 (meaning you get half as much light to your sensor)
  • 1/250 is four times as slow as 1/1000

Then we also have shutter speeds of a couple of seconds. There is even a ‘Bulb mode’ where the shot lasts for as long as you are holding the shutter button (not an option on basic cameras).

Don’t worry if you don’t instantly get this. It takes weeks/months before it gets super easy.

Which Shutter Speed should I use?

Art and rules don’t always go together, but here’s an “unofficial” rule that most photographers use.

Anything over 1/125 is considered a fast shutter speed. Remember that the next time you are out shooting some action.

When should I use Fast Shutter Speeds?
  • Whenever you want to freeze the motion!

Perhaps it’s a sports match, car race, your dog running, or an airplane in the sky. The more you want your subject to appear sharp and frozen, the faster you will have to go. The problem with that though, is that you the higher you go, the more light you will need!

It’s easy to capture a dog at 1/2000 on a sunny day, but trying to do the same inside would leave you with an underexposed (dark) image. To get more light, you would have to open the aperture and/or increase the ISO speed, but more on that in other tutorials.

As a beginner you may find it hard to immediately know which shutter speed to use, so I recommend you to start with 1/125 if it’s relatively bright. Final image too dark? Change it to 1/60 and keep on decreasing until it’s the way you want it. Don’t forget about the aperture and ISO though.

Here are a couple of examples with specific speeds.



Both photographs were taken at 1/500, and as you can see on our sheets above that’s somewhat the minimum for freezing action. If you look closely at the dogs feet on the ground, there’s still a little bit blur visible. If the shutter speed was 1/1000 or even higher, then that would look much sharper/frozen.

When should I use slow Shutter Speeds?
  • In low light situations
  • When you want to show movement (subject appears blurry, like the “dreamy” water effect)

Slow shutter speeds are a little bit more complicated because there’s a whole lot of bad side-effects if done incorrectly.

If you are photographing static objects, and your camera is still, then the slow shutter speed will help you at getting the proper exposure. However, if you are trying to take a picture of a moving subject in the middle of the night, that’s going to be much harder.



Same spot, one at night, one during the day. Can you guess which photograph required a long shutter speed, and which one was good enough for a fast speed?

The night one required a long shutter speed (1/2) so hopefully you got that right! 1/500 was used for the latter.

Again, remember that for low light situations you want more light to hit your sensor, hence why you would select a ‘slower shutter speed’.

Shutter Speed and Static Objects vs. Moving Subjects

Since that tree below isn’t going anywhere it’s okay to use a long shutter speed. Plus, in order to make everything appear in focus the photographer had to use a small aperture, which blocks the amount of light hitting the sensor (and the longer the speed, the more light goes to the sensor).


There are also a lot of cool types of photography you can do with long shutter speeds, the easiest one is definitely shooting car trails. Put your camera on a tripod, make sure it’s dark outside and choose something like 2 to 10 seconds. You should get similar results to the image below!

The same goes for the waterfall image on top of this post.


How to change the shutter speed?


If you are using a DSLR camera, simply switch the mode dial to Tv (Time Value) on Canon, or S on Nikon (Speed). You can’t mess up anything by changing these values, so go ahead and start selecting random speeds and watch what happens to your photographs.

  • Switch to Tv on Canon (you only change the shutter speed)
  • Switch to S on Nikon (you only change the shutter speed)

If you know a little bit about aperture or ISO, feel free to switch to M (Manual) already. In this mode you can control everything, and it’s not hard. Let’s not rush yet though.

What you can do now is put your camera somewhere stable so it won’t move, and take 5-10 pictures, going from the fastest to the slowest shutter speed. So, start with something like 1/1000, then choose 1/500 and so on until your reach a full second. This is hands down the best way to learn!

Point and shoot cameras do sometime offer such modes, but you’re probably limited and can’t control everything.

If you want to take photography to the next level but want to start with something small, yet ten times better than a phone or a P&S, we recommend these two:

All DSLR cameras allow you to change the same settings, from the cheapest to the most expensive one. You can also click here for more beginner camera choices.

Panning & Low Light Fun


Sometimes you want to have your moving subject sharp, but everything else blurred. How to do that? This is what we call panning.

You need to follow your subject while still taking the picture. This will “trick” your camera into thinking that the subject isn’t actually moving, because you’re both going at the same speed.

Don’t choose something fast, or over 1/250, as it is simply too short and will freeze everything.

Stick to 1/8 – 1/125 and adjust depending on the speed of your subject. It takes some practice, but results are often amazing and are an excellent way of showing action.



Car trails, light painting and fireworks are one of the best subjects for slow shutter speeds.

In order to get this, your camera needs to be absolutely still, and you must be in a dark place. When ready, select a speed that’s between 1″ – 10″ (1 and 10 seconds), and simply turn on the light of your laser, phone or any little device, then start waiving around.

I also recommend using a 5 second timer so you have some preparation time.

There’s also a B (Bulb) setting on all DSLR cameras. The exposure lasts for as long as you’re holding the shutter button, which could be a few seconds or even a few minutes.

Shutter Speed Explained Again

Shutter speed determines how much light you’re going to let in.

Whenever you want to freeze movement and get sharp results, use a fast shutter speed.

Freeze Movement  >  Faster Shutter Speed (1/125+)

When you’re in a low light place or are doing cool tricks, use slow shutter speeds but remember than at certain speeds you need a tripod or your images will look blurry.

Low Light  >  Slower Shutter Speed

If your shots are underexposed, increase the length of the shutter speed (aka: make is slower) and/or mess with the aperture and ISO

The fastest on most cameras is 1/4000, and then each slower speed after that is exactly twice as slow as the previous one.

Here are some additional resources if you want to keep learning more.

Additional Tutorials

Now, Ready Set Go!

The best thing now is to get in some practice. Pull out your camera and experiment with the different shutter speed settings.

If you love wildlife and bird photography or the fast paced action of sports photography visit our sister site, Best Photography Gear, for a list of the best lenses to help you get those image results you want.

If you are new to photography and need to purchase some gear to get going or to expand into another type of photography it is helpful to find some good deals. Due to its shear size and popularity Amazon Prime Day may be a good time to buy. If you feel overwhelmed by the options check out our guide to the best Amazon Prime Day deals for photography gear and we’ll help you select items that you need, not stuff just because there’s a sale.

If you miss out on Amazon Prime Day, or didn’t want to sign up to be a Prime Member to access some of the deals then check out our list of the best Black Friday Photography Deals.

Related Articles

Now that you have better understanding of how to control light by selecting the best shutter speed,  one next step is learning to select the right lens. Having the right lens to pair with your camera for the type of photography you like can make it much easier to get the results you want.