Learn About Shutter Speed

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Learn about shutter speed, part of the abcs of photography, with fun activities for kids from BPhotoArt.com!Welcome back to our ABCs of Photography series!  With 2018, we’re relaunching this as a biweekly series, to help you finish working your way through the alphabet ABCs.  This week, we’re on the letter “S” … so we’ll be learning about shutter speed.

What’s shutter speed?  It’s how long the shutter is open, or the length of time that the exposure is for the photo you are taking (Check out our learn about exposure activity if you’re not sure what the term means).

To simplify things, let’s break down shutter speed into slow and fast.

A slow shutter speed means:

  • The camera is taking the photo for a longer time
  • Your camera has more light for the exposure (you can take photos in darker places this way)
  • Things are more likely to be blurry, or even abstracted
  • The image may look shaky  if you don’t hold the camera steady (tripod, anyone?)

A fast shutter speed, on the other hand, means:

  • The camera takes a fraction of a second to take the photo
  • Your camera has less light for the exposure (you might need flash rather than existing light)
  • Things in the image will likely be crisp and sharp (or, at least, not moving!)
  • You don’t usually need a tripod.

Some typical shutter speeds you might see on your camera are numbers like these (going from slow to fast):

1/2    1/4    1/8    1/15    1/30    1/60    /125    1/250     1/500    1/1000

The bigger the number on the bottom of the fraction, the faster your shutter speed.  Some cameras will even have longer shutter speeds, as in 1″ or 30″ — but we’re not going to get into nitty gritty details here.

Now, the question is, what can you photograph with different shutter speeds?

If you’re a photography guru, you might decry the fact I’m leaving out aperture and film speed here — yes, I know that it’s a multi part equation, but we’re keeping this as simple as possible.  Only one variable: shutter speed.

With slower shutter speeds you can photograph:

  • people or animals that know how to sit still and not move
  • nature landscapes or buildings that definitely don’t move
  • night photos that have streaks of light from moving stars (this would be a really slow shutter speed – maybe even minutes long).

With faster shutter speeds you can photograph:

  • kids running around at breakneck speed
  • sports athletes during a game
  • hummingbirds in flight

Learn About Shutter Speed Activity

Now, onto the fun part!  Let’s learn about shutter speed by doing an activity or two!  Depending on the ages of your kids, you might want to just do one or the other.

First, let’s look at some photos and try to guess which one has a fast or slow shutter speed.  I’m not worried about exactness, so use this as a dialog as to “why” they are either slow or fast.  Click on each photo to enlarge it, and read the caption while it’s enlarged to find out if you’re right!  (these are all stock photos used with permission via pixabay.com)

Alternate Activity for Learning About Shutter Speed

Okay, now for one more activity.  This one might be fun for younger kids.  Get out your camera, or cameraphone, and start taking pictures of your kids.  See if they can “trick” the camera into photographing them as blurs by moving fast so that the shutter speed is too slow to catch them.  You can also have them see if they can sit/stand super still so that the camera can catch them.

If you have more than one kid, you can tell one to sit still while the other runs through the room — and take the photo.  One kid should be crisp and in focus, while the other will probably be blurry.  Make sure to let them take turns!

Wrapping Up

Well, I hope that was a helpful dialog about shutter speeds.  As you learn more about photography, you’ll find that this only touches the surface.  But that was the entire point behind this ABCs of Photography series.  To simplify photography terms so that kids (and adults!) can start to understand them!

Make sure to check back in two weeks for the next activity in the ABCs of Photography (letter T). You might also enjoy revisiting our last activity where we learned about the rule of thirds (including a fun snack activity for kids!).


The ABCs of Photography - An Educational Series for KidsJoin Betsy as she works through the alphabet in this educational series for kids… The ABCs of Photography!  We’ll cover topics from A to Z, with activity ideas for both younger and older kids

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