Shutter Speed


The Photography Starter Kit for Beginners


Lesson Info

Shutter Speed

All right. So it's time to dive in and start talking about how we're gonna take our exposures. And there's three critical elements, and you need to know about all three of these. And we're gonna start with shutter speed because I think shutter speed, conceptually, is the easiest to figure out. It's just a period of time. And we all know what the difference is between a day and a week, but now we need to understand the difference between a hundredth of a second and a thousandth of a second because, to a photographer, that's a big difference. There's a world of difference between a hundredth and a thousandth of a second. Now, this is a little quiz for you, all right? You're gonna get used to little pop quizzes. Which one of these numbers is bigger? All right? Kind of easy question, right? Well, the problem is is that in shutter speeds, we're gonna be dealing with fractions a lot. And it's not gonna be shown in your camera as a fraction. And so when you look at two and you look at eight, ...

two is a bigger number than eight because it really means a half a second compared to an eighth of a second, and so it's just the way our cameras display information and you have to do that translation quickly in your head. So the shutter speeds that we're gonna deal with in most cameras is 30 seconds all the way up to 1/8000th of a second. And as a little side note, shutter speeds is a terrible name for what we're talking about because the speed that the shutters move is the same in all photographs. When one starts and when the other one starts that's the big thing, so what we're really talking about here is exposure time. How much time are we exposing the sensor to. Now let's start real simple. One with the little quotation marks is one full second. We all know what that is. Now, when we double the amount of time, when we go to two seconds, we've doubled the amount of light. It's a one for one scale. It's a linear scale. When you double the time, you double the light. So this is very easy to figure out, and this is what we call a full stop of light. It's one of the terms we use. It actually comes from fstop, which we'll get to in our next section. But for right now, when we talk about the term stop, or a full stop, we're talking about either doubling or cutting in half. That's the increments that we like to talk about in photography because when you go one full step in photography, it's a pretty noticeable jump in something being either brighter or darker. It's a very clear delineation between those two. One of the things you'll notice is that the little quotation marks means that that is in full seconds, and so two, four, eight, 30 with the little quotations means you're in full seconds and it will show this to you in your viewfinder on the back of the camera, on the top LCD, wherever your camera shows you shutter speeds. If you're in full seconds, you'll see the little quotations. If you don't see the quotations, you have to assume that it is a fraction. So when you go from one second to a half second, well, you've cut the time in half. You've cut the light in half, so that is a stop darker because there is less light coming in. And we're not going to get into a debate, and I'm sure you all are very passionate about whether things are either fractions or decimals, but they can be equal, and some camera companies are so cheap they don't have dots, so they just use the quotations, so that's point five of a second, and that's the same as a half second, obviously. A 60th of a second is a pretty normal shutter speed, and in between we do have third stops in here. And so all your cameras will have third stops. Now, I just said we like to work in full stops, but we can also work in third stops, and the reason we work in third stops and not quarter stops or fifth stops or tenth stops, is that when you look from one image to the next, about the smallest amount of difference that a typical person will notice is about a third of a stop difference. If you said this picture needs to be a little bit brighter. Just a little smidgen bit lighter, you'd go a third stop lighter. And you'd say yeah, I could just barely see a difference and it's a little bit lighter. And so we'll have third stops that you can choose from, which is fine. I don't put the numbers in there. It clutters up my screen. And then most high end cameras will top out at 8000th of a second, although there are cameras that will go well beyond that, but that's kind of the top end and we're not gonna worry about that extra high end right now. All right, so why are you going to choose one shutter speed over the other? Well, there's a couple of different reasons. The first part is technical. If you wanna let in less light, you go with the faster shutter speed. If you wanna let in more light, you go with the longer shutter speed. And so if something is not moving, and this is kind of the first type of subject to be really aware of. Subjects that are not moving. Suddenly, whoopie! I can use any shutter speed possible in order to get the right exposure. And so just be aware of subjects that are moving an not moving 'cause that kind of throws you into two different worlds of how you're gonna get your exposure. Now, if it is moving, we can choose a fast shutter speed to freeze the action of that subject, or we can blur the motion if we want. And yes, blurry photos can be really nice if they're done right, all right? And so we have both technical and aesthetic reasons for doing this, and as you might imagine when you have two different things determining your choice, there's going to be a conflict. Sometimes, you're going to say, technically, I wanna do this, but aesthetically I wanna do that. And that's where we're gonna have to start playing around with the controls of the camera. So let's take a tour of the shutter speeds, and take a look at what we can do with the different shutter speeds. And I want you to be very aware of time and motion. The exact period of time, and what is the exact motion that's going on. And I want you to be prepared with those microphones 'cause I'm gonna have some questions, so if you're sitting near a microphone, pick it up because either you or somebody near you is gonna be answering a question as we get here very quickly. All right, we'll start a 4000th of a second. So 4000th of a second is a very fast shutter speed. So 4000th fast enough to stop the hummingbird and its wings in motion. 2000th. We're not gonna worry about the subtle differences between these very fast ones. Fast enough not only to stop the dog in motion, but notice the water droplets. Stopping water droplets in the air requires a very fast shutter speed. A 1000th of a second. Eagle coming into river. Eagle's moving very quickly. Obviously, you're gonna need something in the 1000th of a second to stop this type of motion. Now a couple of key shutter speeds for you. The first one is 500. 500 and up stops fast human action. So if somebody is running, they're playing football, or something like that, and you say I wanna freeze the action, you're gonna need 500th or faster. Now it kinda depends on how fast they are. All right? Is it third grade peewee baseball game, or is it Hussein Bolt in the Olympics? Okay, you might need slightly different shutter speeds for that. So these are variable numbers. A general rule of thumb, about 500th of a second does a good job at stopping fast human action as this photo shows. But it doesn't necessarily stop everything that moves quickly, so our bird in flight, notice those wings. Those wingtips are blurry. And is that good or is that bad? Well, do you like blur or not? Well, on one side if I was working for Wingtip Monthly that brings you the best wingtips every month, I'm not showing those wingtips very clearly. But if I'm trying to show the motion of a bird in a single photograph, and I don't have video to work with, this is one of the ways that we show motion in photography, so blurred use indicates motion, and it can be very good in certain photos. And you'll have to be the judge as to whether it works for you or not. 250th of a second I think is still a fairly fast shutter speed. But if you'll notice the feet of the person jumping. It's starting to get a little bit blurry, which I'm okay with to show that there is motion there. So that's why we wanna choose 500th and up for fast human action. 125th of a second, reasonably fast for stopping the camels walking in the desert. They're not running. They're not moving super fast, but it's stopping their action, so kind of a good middle shutter speed in there. Now, the runner is terrible here. No, he's a great runner. He's a great guy, but he looks blurry here because it's just too slow a shutter speed or it's not slow enough. It needs to be 500 or faster if I want to freeze their actions, so we're gonna get blurriness on these in between shutter speeds for fast moving subjects. The next key shutter speed you should remember is a 60th because this stops casual human action. And for some reason, humans seem to be preoccupied with photographing other humans. And if you are wanting to take a picture of a person walking or talking or just not super active, then you're gonna want a 60th of a second or faster. And just for right now, it's not too bad as a camera hand holding limit. There's a lot of variables on this, but for right now, that's a pretty simple number to remember for hand holding the camera, you probably want to be a 60th of a second or faster. And so when you have people moving around, this is the Ganges in India, they're all moving. Those boats are all moving around. The water's moving around. But it's not a blurry photograph 'cause they're not moving that quickly. So 60th good at casual human movement. Now, I was in Cuba doing one of my photo tours, and I was camped out here. I was actually waiting. I was hoping for a woman in a yellow dress to walk by the blue doors, okay? It didn't happen, but these boys came runnin' down the street, and I decided I'd just fire a picture and see what I got. And so this is what happens when you have your camera still. 'Cause it's just sittin' in my lap and they come runnin' past at a 60th of a second. Now is the blur good, or is it bad? I kinda like it. One of the things the blur does is it shows motion, but it also adds a little bit of mystery, and there's just enough sharpness that you can see the boy on the left is turning around and he's smiling. He's laughing and the boy in the back has one shoe, and I think maybe the boy in the front has the other shoe. Okay, there's shenanigans going on, and there's just enough information to let you know what's going on. And so the blur can be kind of nice for hiding a little bit of information. And this might seem strange to someone just getting into photography. Don't you want to present everything? No, it's a story. I want you to figure things out, all right? We don't want to be presented everything in the first chapter. We want a little bit of mystery to work with, and so we can use slower shutter speeds for mystery. All right, a 30th of a second. So now, we're getting down to slower shutter speeds. And as these dancers are moving, you can see the feet are a little bit blurry, but you can see the spot on the floor below the feet is still sharp. So I'm holding the camera steady, and I'm wanting to see a little bit of their motion to show you what their motion is. And so this is a purposeful blur. And this is a panning shot. Panning shots are a lot of fun. When you have a subject that's moving at a fairly even speed, and you're following the subject in the frame. And so if the subject, you know, is runnin' around the track or something like that. Drivin' down the street. You keep them exactly in the frame and you choose a slower shutter speed. Now, what shutter speed should you go with? It depends on how fast they're moving and a few other variables on it. But 30th, 15th, eighth of a second, that might be a good place to be for doing a panning shot. That way, your subject is sharp and everything in the background, maybe that cluttered background is suddenly nice, a nice little blur. All right, so this is the first picture in the series where we're on a tripod. And I've got some questions for you here. Here's the dilemma here. Notice this front row of flowers is kind of blurry. But as we go back, they aren't blurry. So my question to you is why are the flowers in the front blurry, but the ones in the back not. Because there's a wind blowing over all of these flowers at the same speed, all right? So does anyone understand or anyone know, looking for volunteers here in the audience, why the ones in the front are blurry? Somebody's gonna know. Grab a mike. Let's see what you got. So like, it's a high shutter speed. Or, no. Sorry. It's a long shutter speed. Right. But then you bumped up the fstop to a higher. We haven't even got to fstops yet. Oh, okay. Then I don't know. Okay. That's all right. That's all right. Anybody else? Is anybody in physics? Does anybody take physics classes here? Somebody have a guess? We have. I think it happens when the motion is really close to the camera, the motion is recorded slower closer to the camera. It has to do with the proximity, right? It does. It does. Because these are larger on frame. If you think about how much this flower is moving, and it's not how much it's really moving, it's how much it's apparently moving to the camera. This one's moving quite a bit. This one back here, it's like moving one pixel back and forth. And so it's the apparent movement. And so the size and proximity of a subject matters. How close it is. And so when I gave you shutter speed recommendations, remember a 60th for casual human, 500th for fast human. These are soft numbers. It depends on how big that subject is in the frame. And so size and proximity matter to motion. Remember that because we're gonna have another one. We're got another quiz for another thing comin' up here in a second. All right? So here we have the camera on a tripod and we have the marathoners running past and their torsos are a complete blur, but their feet are not because as you know, when you run, your foot lands on the ground and it's there for, you know, a quarter second, half second, I'm not sure how long, but it's there for just a moment in time, long enough so that we can see a little bit more detail in that. And so we've got the blur, which adds motion and mystery to our photograph, but we have some solid objects down there to give us a key and understanding for what's going on in that photograph. Down at a half second. Okay, so here's the question again. Here's the train. It's comin' through our photo. Down here in the foreground, it's all out of focus, right? And we all know trains move at one speed, right? They're not moving faster here and slower back here, but the ones around the turn are much sharper than the ones down here. And there are two reasons why. One which we just talked about, which was the size of it, but there is something else going on with those cars going around the turn. Does anyone know another reason why they're sharp and the other cars are blurry? This is a little bit trickier one to figure out. We have a volunteer. All right. When the train's passing in the front, it's like moving like this way, so it would be like actual moving, but that one is like coming at you, so it's not like the motion wouldn't be blurred 'cause it's like not, like where the camera is it's not like moving differently. You're right. It's the direction of travel is very important. And so if you think about, and if we could turn on this camera right over here. Just hold off. Stay locked off. And so as I move from side to side, there's a lot of apparent movement in this. But as I walk straight towards the camera, I'm not really changing that much to the camera. And so the direction of travel is really important. If you're gonna photograph something that's moving across the screen, you're gonna need faster shutter speed than if something's coming straight at you. Think about driving down a road that is a mile long and you see a car at the other end. As it approaches you, it doesn't appear to be changing in size at all until it gets right next to you, and then it goes super fast, when in reality, the speeds are exactly the same. And so it's the appearance of movement to the camera. Size on screen matters and the direction of travel matters. One second. One second is my goal shutter speed when I wanna do those blurry waterfall, river type shots. And you can actually do it at a half second and about a quarter second. But one second and longer, you're gonna get that long dreamy look with your subjects, so if you wanna shoot a waterfall, see if you can get down to one second. That's where it's gonna look good. Now all of these in this region that we're talking about are done with a tripod. So if you wanna get these done right, you really need a tripod because you just can't hold your camera steady for two seconds in most cases. And so fireworks can be shot at many different shutter speeds. Two seconds is not a bad place to be. You could be anywhere from a 30th of a second down to something much longer. It kinda depends on what kind of fireworks display is going on. Down here at four seconds, once again, we got our river flowing, and the longer you do this, the more dreamy and soft the water gets. Eight full seconds. Now, I needed this technically because it's pretty dark out. This is well before sunrise. There's just that little hint of twilight in the sky, but from an artistic side, the thing I like about eight seconds is that the water movement kind of evens out after eight seconds, and so any sort of ripples you see in the water has been smoothed out. And if you didn't know better, it would look like Lake Union here in Seattle has frozen over, 'cause it kinda looks like the reflections you would get off of ice, but it's just water slowed down. Get a better reflection off of it. 15 full seconds. Here, I'm actually going for more motion. I wanna see those boats moving. I might have liked a shot of them not moving, but having them move just adds a different element to it, to know that that water is kind of rollicking back and forth, but the background is nice and sharp, so you know I used a tripod. And 30 seconds is the longest on most cameras. This is where you can get into nighttime photography, so you see star points up in the right hand corner. This is the one and only self portrait shot in today's class. And so I actually had a red LED light that I was spinning around, and it's what I call my ball of confusion, which follows me everywhere that I go, and so light painting is another very fun thing to do, but you're gonna need a longer shutter speed, usually 15, 30 seconds. And sometimes longer. All right, so those are your shutter speeds that you're gonna work with. Let's see if there's any questions about recommendations for shutter speeds, or anything I can finalize here. Yes, Kenna. So we'll start online, and then guys grab a mike as well. But question from Olga Knott says, "What shutter speed/exposure time requires a tripod to prevent shaking of the hands?" And you talked a little bit about that, but can you reiterate that, maybe talk about the difference with different lenses as well. Right. So what shutter speed you need will depend on you and your equipment. And so different people have different levels of shakiness. Now a 60th is pretty good for an average person with an average lens, and so then we can go off of, there's actually three different variables. First, there's you. How steady are you at holding still. And so I know holding still, I'm good at a 60th. I can probably get down to a 30th. If I can get a little bit more support into this body and if I can lean up against something that doesn't move, I can probably get down to a 15th of a second. Now, if I'm using a longer telephoto lens, I need a faster shutter speed because that magnifies my movement more. If I'm using a wide angle lens, I can go with a little bit slower shutter speed. And it's pretty relative to how big that lens is, and so one of the rules of thumb is that you need one over the focal length of the lens. So if you have a 250mm lens, you would need 1/250th of a second. If you have 500mm lens, you would need 1/500th of a second. And so you could use that rule, but then on top of all of this, is technology and the stabilization systems that are either built in to our cameras, some cameras have stabilized sensors in them, or some have stabilized lenses. And they can help out, and it depends a little bit on which system you're talking about. They can often help out by two to five stops of light. So it varies from one piece of equipment to the other. You'll have to check in with your manufacturer to see how good yours are. But there have been some new cameras out where people are getting occasional sharp pictures at one full second. But just keep in mind, no matter how still you can hold a camera, that doesn't make one bit of difference if you have a subject that's moving. They're gonna be blurry out there. So those are two separate issues to tackle when it comes to shutter speed. I was curious about your night photograph of Seattle and looking at the Space Needle, and it was taken from the water, right? Yes. And so were you on a ferry because there was no movement of what you were on. Even when you're on a tripod on a boat, a lot of time there's movement in the picture. Shooting from a boat, you have to be aware of the boat's movement and the water, and so yeah, you need faster shutter speeds from a boat. That picture was taken from Gas Works Park, and there's a little shoreline where you can get right down next to the water, and if it's a calm day, you get that nice calm reflection in there. And then later we can talk about this, but I'm curious about why there's no reciprocity failure with digital and there is with film, and it's pretty huge with film with longer exposures. It is, yeah. And so luckily digital doesn't have that problem and it's really opened up nighttime photography and made it a lot easier to deal with.

Class Description

“This is a great starter class. I thought I understood how shutter speed and aperture worked together, but this class made it come together in a matter of minutes. I'm already taking better pictures and this is just the beginning!” -Jennifer Manley, CreativeLive Student

Learn how to take the kind of photograph you’ll want to print and pass on to the next generation. John Greengo is back to teach this updated photography for beginners class. You’ll learn the principles of good beginner and intermediate photography and get the skills necessary to create amazing photos. 

Advanced cameras are available at modest price points, but learning how to use them takes an investment.

  • Learn the the most essential functions of your camera 
  • Gain confidence in putting new functions into action 
  • Get the swing of basic photographic terminology 
  • Feel prepared to move on to more advanced classes 
  • Gain a solid understanding of must-know lighting and composition techniques 
  • Lean to position yourself and your subject to capture the best photo possible with the camera you have – no additional gear needed 
If you want to take more memorable and inspiring photographs of your travels, your friends and family, or the great outdoors then this photography for beginners class is for you. Learn how to make average pictures amazing photographs and gain the ground necessary to continue your photography education.  

“This is a super introduction to photography for anyone who really wants to learn how to understand and begin to use the camera to its full extent. John is an excellent teacher, very easy to follow, with great graphics and examples.”  -Sarah, CreativeLive Student  


Kanoelani Patenaude

I am a pro photographer in my dreams, where I know the in's and out's of my camera; however, reality proved differently, as real life would tell you, I was a deer caught in headlights just looking at my new 7D Mark II. I am a photographer enthusiast without the skills, but a lot of love for the moments one, or the profession/hobby of it can capture. I mostly shoot my husband, friends, and community surfers in the lineup, and of course, my children, who rarely sit still. Thus, I switched from Nikon to Canon, venturing on the 7D Mark II for the grand reviews of how stellar of camera it is for action shots (surfing, and kids, this was a no brainer). That said, and overwhelmed with the way beyond my skill set, but noted desire and aspiration to grow, I made the purchase, and sought help rather quickly as I wanted to feel confident with what I was utilizing to capture the best memories possible. I came into this John's courses knowing the "on/off" button, and "auto" shoot mode. I came out of the course feeling like the pro in my dreams, and ready to shoot manual. John's teaching style is on point, and his detailed visuals are a huge plus. My first shots post this photography kit course, I thought were great for my first educated shoot, and shockingly, I even received and email from one of the sponsors of the surfers I captured, asking if they could use my image for their sites and publications. Not bad for a newbie. Though, my intent was never a business purpose, I did not know if I should charge a small fee, or give it for free. I don't mind free as it's not my business, yet I don't want to ruin it for any professional photographers in town doing the same thing that are charging. Perhaps another course to help me with that. I highly recommend courses by John Greengo! Thank you so much, John!

Megan Wagner

John is extremely articulate and is a great teacher with lots of visual aids and metaphors to help understand photography. I have been doing photography for a few years now and this class was a tremendous help in boosting my knowledge and refreshing my memory in multiple aspects of photography. The graphics that John uses are helpful and he even goes through images and asks which settings would be best to use and will go through the why. He makes things easy to understand and is very clear about the information he provides. I am so glad I took this course and I would highly recommend it even to an experienced photographer. Thank you John Greengo!