How to photograph your family and life - All about shutter speed

How to photograph your family and your life – All about shutter speed

If you’re looking to learn a bit about photography, to be able to take photos of your family that you’re proud of, and finally get your camera off auto mode, then you’re in the right place.

This post is part of a series that will give you the basics you need to feel more comfortable with your camera.  The series will give you the information in a way that’s (hopefully!) easy to understand, as well as suggesting ideas to try out to put your new skills into practice as you go.

Each post in the series will focus on a different aspect of photography, so you can get to grips with one thing before moving on to the next.

This time the focus is on shutter speed.


In a previous post in this series I explained about aperture, and how we can use it to control how much light enters the camera.

The other setting we can use to control this is shutter speed.

Shutter speed is, basically, the speed at which the camera’s shutter opens and closes again.

In photography shutter speeds are measured in seconds/fractions of seconds.  Each camera is different, but shutter speeds often range from a slowest possible speed of 30 seconds to a fastest possible speed of 1/4000.


A faster shutter speed means the shutter opens and closes really quickly, and this means less light gets into the camera.

On a bright, sunny day you’ll most likely want to use a fast shutter speed to stop your photos being overexposed.

A fast shutter speed also lets you freeze movement, which is so useful when you’re trying to photograph life with children who never sit still.

This photo of Nerys on the beach was taken with a fast shutter speed.  This meant the photo was nicely exposed and not blown out, even though it was a really bright, sunny day at the beach.

Using a fast shutter speed also froze the action of the water pouring out of the spade.  You can see lots of individual drops of water, rather than them all blurring together.


On the flip side of this, a slow shutter speed means the shutter opens and then closes again slowly, so much more light is let in to the camera.

This can be useful if you’re taking photos in low light conditions and don’t want your pictures to be really underexposed.

The main issue with using a slow shutter speed is that it’s really hard to hold a camera steady for anything more than a fraction of a second.  So the slower the shutter speed you use, the more likely you are to need to use a tripod to keep the camera still to avoid shaky images.

Where a fast shutter speed lets you freeze movement in your photos, a slower shutter speed lets you capture really lovely motion blur.

This can create some really beautiful, creative images of things like waves coming in at the beach, or water flowing down a river.

This photo used a slow shutter speed and you can see how the water moving over the rocks is really soft, and almost misty.


How to adjust shutter speed

So now you know a bit about what shutter speed is, you need to know how to adjust it on your camera.

The controls can look slightly different depending on what camera you have, so it’s worth digging out your manual for this.

You might need to go into a digital menu setting, or there might be a dial on the top of your camera that lets you select different settings.

On my Nikon there’s a dial that looks like this:


If I want to be able to adjust the shutter speed then I would select either manual mode or shutter priority mode.

When you’re just getting started it’s best to go for shutter priority mode.

With this setting you can just adjust the shutter speed and the camera will automatically select the other settings for you to create the right exposure for the light conditions.

Once you’ve put the camera into shutter priority mode you can change the shutter speed by moving the dial on your camera.  This dial will normally be on the top or the back of your camera, but again if you’re not sure which dial to use take a look in your manual to find out.

When you’re ready to take a picture, decide what you want the image to look like.

If you want to freeze the action of your toddler running around, then set the camera to a fast shutter speed like 1/250.  Or if you want to take a creative photo of the water rushing into the moat around a sandcastle they’ve built at the beach, then choose a slower shutter speed like 1/30.


So, now it’s time to start putting things into practice.

Here are some ideas for things to try with your camera on shutter priority mode to help get to grips with how it works and the different effects you can achieve by adjusting your shutter speed.


Take your camera to the park

If your children are under the age of about 11, you probably spend a fair bit of time at the park with them.  And this is a great place to practice taking photos with fast shutter speeds, because there’s so much movement and action to have fun freezing in time.

With your camera on shutter priority mode set a nice, fast shutter speed of around 1/250 and then follow your child around as they play.

It can take a fair bit of practice to get the focus right, but keep at it and you can get some beautiful shots of them on the slides, see-saws and swings.

Get out the bubbles

If you don’t want to venture beyond your front door to practice, then let your child loose with some bubbles in the garden and have a play around photographing the action.

You can get so many different images just in the space of a few minutes with a bottle of bubbles, and it’s such a classic childhood activity to capture.

If you select a fast shutter speed you’ll be able to freeze the movement of the bubbles as they float through the air.

Depending on where you focus your camera the bubbles can be the main feature of the photo or a layer of interest around your child.

You could then also have a play around with slower shutter speeds, and see what creative effects you can produce with the bubbles.


Hopefully this post has given you a great start in understanding shutter speed and how you can play with it to freeze the action of your busy family life or to show movement by including some motion blur in your photos.


If you have any questions please do leave me a comment and I’ll try my best to help!

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