This website uses cookies. More details
This website uses cookies. More details


Learn Photography

Beecher's Handouts >

Assignments >

#3 – Shutter Speed

Why Are You Doing this Assignment?

Shutter speed is a valuable tool for showing time and motion in your photography.

A Little History

Freezing motion, or showing motion as blurs, has been done by photographers from the early days to the present.

The French inventor Niépce succeeded in fixing (making it insensitive to light after developing) a photographic image as early as 1817.

His earliest existing picture was taken in 1827 using an eight-hour exposure.

By 1859, faster shutters, and more sensitive films, enabled photographers to freeze the motion of pedestrians.

The writer and physician, Oliver Wendell Holmes (his son became a Supreme Court judge), used photographs of people walking to design better artificial limbs for Civil War veterans.

Eadweard Muybridge created a sensation in 1879 when he photographed a trotting horse with twelve cameras.

He invented a higher-ISO film and a faster shutter.

The cameras were tripped by wires across the track.

He discovered that horses have all four legs up in the air at one point in their stride, but the legs are tucked under the belly.

The legs never extend out like a hobbyhorse.

In 1880, he projected these images on a screen in quick succession, making an early motion picture.

Do the Following

1) Set your exposure-mode dial to shutter-priority exposure mode (S or Tv).

2) Look for motion.

3) Photograph it using two shutter speeds: slow and fast.

Use 1/8th for a slow shutter speed.

Use 1/1,000th for the fast shutter speed.

Blinking Hi

If you're using a slow shutter speed, and there's too much light, Hi will blink in your viewfinder.

Or, the numbers will blink.

The slow shutter speed is letting lots of light into the camera.

Your camera blocks this abundance of light by making the lens opening smaller.

When your camera is blinking Hi, the lens opening has to be f/32, f/64, or f/128.

But, the lens opening can't go any smaller than about f/29.

Your camera doesn't have such miniscule lens openings, so, it blinks Hi.

You can:

• Lower the ISO.

• Photograph on a cloudy day, in the shade, or at twilight.

Blinking Lo

If you're using a fast shutter speed, Lo will blink in your viewfinder, if there's too little light.

Or, the numbers will blink.

When the light is dim, your camera makes the aperture larger.

For proper exposure, the aperture might have to be f/1.4.

But, your aperture probably doesn't go that wide.

It probably stops at around f/4.

You can:

• Increase the ISO.

• Photograph in brighter light.


• Don't confuse 8" with 1/8th.

Most cameras denote full-second shutter speeds with quote marks.

Thus, 8 represents an exposure of 1/8th of a second.

Whereas, 8" represents an eight second exposure.

Don't set your camera to do eight second exposures when you want to do exposures of 1/8th of a second.

• Set your camera on, say, a newspaper box, when using slow shutter speeds.

• If you're using slow shutter speeds in bright light, set the ISO to the lowest value, such as 100.

Point-and-shoot cameras don’t have small lens openings, due to diffraction.

The smallest lens opening is often f/8.

Therefore, when using slow shutter speeds with a point-and-shoot camera, the light must be dim.

More Tips

• Motion that is moving left to right will be more evident than motion that is coming toward you.

• There's a delay between when you press the shutter, and the shutter actually opens.

Therefore, for action photography, you have to take the picture a little before you think you should.

• Flags are difficult to photograph with slow shutter speeds.

You need a very windy day, with quickly changing wind gusts.

For More Experienced Students

If you know your way around your camera, try some of the suggestions below.

A Bungee Jumper Frozen

In Mid-fall Panic

Use a Camera Is Subject Is Result

Fast shutter speed



Frozen subject

Autumn Leaves Floating Down

A Stream as Streaks of Yellow

Use a Camera Is Subject Is Result

Slow shutter speed



Blurred subject

City Lights as Streaks, Jiggles, & Swirls

Use a Camera Is Subject Is Result

Slow shutter speed

Moved, panned, swirled, etc.


Lights leave streaks

Zooming During the Exposure

Use a Camera Is Subject Is Result

Slow shutter speed

Steady or moving

Steady or moving

Going warp-speed-style streaks

Zoom in or out on a neon deli sign, a blinking don't walk sign, or something else.

Use 1/4th of a second, or thereabouts.

Start zooming and then press the shutter release.


Use a Camera Is Subject Is Result

Slow shutter speed



Background is blurred left-to-right.

Panning is a film/video technique.

You pan, or move, the camera along with the subject.

Panning Tips

• Use 1/8th and 1/15th of a second

• Use a telephoto lens at its most telephoto setting, such as 200mm.

• Set the switch on or near your lens to manual focus.

Manually focus where the subject will be in front of you.

• Plan on continuing the motion of your camera past the time the picture is taken, like the follow-through when you swing a tennis racket or golf club.

• If your camera or lens has image stabilization, turn this feature off, if you can.

A few cameras will sense that you're panning, and will turn of the horizontal image stabilization automatically.