Photography Fundamentals: Shutter Speed

This is part 3 of a 5 part series on the Exposure Triangle.

Understanding and learning to control your exposure through ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture is the foundation of photography. Consciously controlling your exposure opens up a world of creative possibility.

Today, we’re exploring Shutter Speed.

Shutter Speed is simply the length of time your shutter remains open during a shot. The longer the shutter remains open, the more light will reach the sensor.

Fast Shutter Speeds are good for bright light and freeze motion.

Slow Shutter Speeds are good for low light but require a tripod under about 1/80 second. If I’m in the studio, I generally shoot on a tripod when my shutter speed is below 1/100. Very slow shutter speeds blur motion.

Shutter speeds are measured in fractions of a second. Each increase or decrease in shutter speed doubles or halves the amount of light hitting the sensor.

Here’s a visual representation. Notice how the image gets DARKER as the shutter speed changes from 1/15 of a second in the middle to 1/30 second on the left and 1/60 second on the right.Shutter Speed Comparison

Fast shutter speeds “Freeze” motion, allowing you to capture sporting events and other motion-filled scenes.

Not much in cheese photography requires a super fast shutter speed unless you’re capturing some gamboling baby goat – and, even then, a shutter speed of 1/320 should be plenty fast to freeze that frame.

For food photography, use a fast shutter speed to capture a drip or drizzle mid drop.

Shutter Speed - Capturing Drips and Drizzles | Cheese Photography 101

Slower Shutter Speeds “Flow” motion. I used a tripod mounted camera at 1/15 second to capture this bit of motion blur.

Slow Shutter Speed to Capture Motion

Slow shutter speeds are essential for low light situations, provided you have a tripod. Shutter speeds below 1/60 – 1/80 second will show camera shake when handheld.

For most of my shooting, Shutter Speed and ISO take a backseat to the third corner of the Exposure Triangle, Aperture, which controls Depth of Field, that gently out of focus background often found in food and fine art photography. We’ll be discussing this key variable in the next installment.

Lesson: Vary your Shutter Speed to Freeze or Flow Motion. Remember to use a Tripod if your shutter speed is below about 1/60 sec.

Bottom Line: Shutter Speed is there to help you freeze and flow motion and shoot in low light situations. Use Shutter Speed as a tool in conjunction with ISO and Aperture – the other aspects of the Exposure Triangle – to achieve your perfect shot.


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Each article is digestible in one sitting and helps demystify your camera settings and what they do.

Bonus: Knowing your way around your camera will improve your all-around photography skills – whether you’re shooting family, landscape, documentary or food! More importantly, your confidence behind the lens will skyrocket and you’ll understand HOW to capture the shot you imagine!

When you’re ready to go deeper, I invite you to join my comprehensive, six week online workshop, Cheese Photography 101 for Makers Mongers & Bloggers.


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