What is Shutter Speed? - Learning the Exposure Triangle

At Kindred Photograph Workshops we teach attendees the "exposure triangle"-  how to get the correct exposure (not too light and not too dark) when using manual mode.

What is the exposure triangle? The exposure triangle is named so because there are three basic components on your camera in manual mode that are used together to get the correct exposure in your photograph. The three basic components are:

1. Aperture

2. ISO

3. Shutter Speed

The last couple of weeks we've briefly touched on aperture and ISO. This week we will focus on shutter speed to complete our explanation of the exposure triangle!

Shutter speed is just how it sounds. It is the speed of your camera's shutter, or more succinctly put, the amount of time the camera shutter is open. Shutter speed affects your image because it is the amount of time light is allowed to enter into your camera's sensor.  If you remember from last week's post on ISO, your camera's sensor senses the available light and is basically responsible for producing the image.

Shutter speed is the amount of time the camera shutter is open and is also the component in manual mode that is responsible for how movement in your photograph is represented. In other words, is the movement in your photograph blurry or frozen?

Example of Shutter Speed at Kindred Photography Workshop, photo by Kacey Gilpin Photography, slightly blurred movement in image (50 mm f/1.4, ISO 720, SS 1/320)

Example of Shutter Speed at Kindred Photography Workshop, photo by Kacey Gilpin Photography, slightly blurred movement in image (50 mm f/1.4, ISO 720, SS 1/320)

Shutter speed is measured in seconds and is expressed in fractions- the bigger the denominator, the faster the speed. Again, just like ISO, the numbers double each time you increase the shutter speed. 

Refer to the graphic below. Notice that the slower shutter speeds blur action and the higher shutter speeds freeze action.

shutter speed 2.jpg

You can see how important understanding shutter speed is if you're photographing an active toddler or a fun family scene!

When trying to figure out which shutter speed to use, we recommend starting around 1/60th and bumping it up accordingly until you can "freeze" your image. We usually recommend shooting around 1/250 and 1/320 for busy toddlers in areas with lots of available natural light. 

Shown in  Kindred Photography Workshop  Manual, photo by  Kacey Gilpin Photography , frozen movement in image (50 mm f/1.8, ISO 600 Shutter Speed 1/250)

Shown in Kindred Photography Workshop Manual, photo by Kacey Gilpin Photography, frozen movement in image (50 mm f/1.8, ISO 600 Shutter Speed 1/250)

Note that depending on how you're wanting to represent your subject, you can purposely blur or freeze your image. That's the beautiful thing about shooting on manual mode! It gives the photographer the most creative license over their image. There's no right or wrong way portray the movement in your photograph.