My name is Ashley McLaughlin and this is my blog, Edible Perspective. To learn more about my journey head on over to my about + FAQ pages. I'm thrilled that you stopped by. Enjoy!


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photography 101 {shutter speed}

Maybe it’s a bad idea to post a photography lesson the day after a long Thanksgiving weekend.  Are you still in a food coma?  Tired from shopping?  Hungover?  Still?

Well, at least I gave you a few hours this morning to catch up.  Time to get your brain working again! 

Aperture Recap

In the last photography 101 post, we learned a few key definitions, relating to aperture.

f-stop : focal point : focal length : focal distance : depth of field : exposure 

Learning photography vocabulary will help you immensely.  Time to bust out the flash cards!

Important points to remember:

  • the wider the aperture -> the more light will be allowed through the lens
  • the tighter the aperture -> less light will be allowed through the lens
  • the wider the opening -> the smaller the f-stop # -> the narrower the depth of field
  • the tighter the opening -> the larger the f-stop # -> the wider the depth of field

f/1.8 = wide opening = more light coming in = less in focus = narrow depth of field

f/22 = tight opening = less light coming in = more in focus = large depth of field

*Also remember, it’s not just the aperture/f-stop setting that determines your depth of field. The further away you stand from your object, the wider the depth of field becomes [more is in focus as you stand further back] and vice versa.

  • As your depth of field widens/expands, the opening of your lens becomes smaller.
  • As your depth of field narrows, your lens opening widens.
  • *So, if you want a wider depth of field [larger f-stop #, more in focus in your photo] you will need more light to properly expose the photo. 

Now, let’s transition into Shutter Speed.

Measured in seconds, shutter speed refers to the amount of time your shutter remains open while you take the photo.  During this time, your camera collects light + records the photographic data.

  • 1” = the shutter will remain open for 1 second
  • 1/50 = the shutter will remain open for 1/50th of a second
  • shutter speed affects the amount of light coming into the camera and the way movement appears in a photo
  • the faster [less time] the shutter stays open, the less light enters through the lens opening
  • the slower [more time] the shutter stays open, the more light enters through the lens opening

slow shutter speed -> more light in -> blurs motion

fast shutter speed -> less light in -> freezes motion

When the shutter closes faster, less light comes into the camera.

The photo examples below, show a constant ISO and aperture setting, while the shutter speed quickens with each photo.

f/4 : ss 1/10 : iso 800

(3 of 5)

f/4 : ss 1/20 : iso 800

(2 of 5)

f/4 : ss 1/30 : iso 800

(1 of 5)

f/4 : ss 1/60 : iso 800

(4 of 5)

f/4 : ss 1/100 : iso 800

(5 of 5)

As we were talking about in the aperture review, when you’re looking for a wider depth of field [maybe f/8 instead of f/2], you’ll need more light coming into the camera for proper exposure.  One way to achieve that wider depth of field [with proper exposure] is by adjusting the shutter speed to allow more light into the camera. 

To be more specific, you would want to slooooooow your shutter speed, to allow more light to come into the camera.  The longer the shutter stays open, the more light that will come in.


As you can see below in the first photo, the depth of field is quite narrow, with a fairly wide aperture of f/4.  You can tell I was focused on the 2nd peanut butter cup bar, which stayed constant for all 3 photos.  In the next two photos, I wanted to widen the depth of field, so more of my photo was in focus. To do this, I slowed the shutter speed.

Had I only changed the aperture, to f/8 or f/22, and not adjusted the shutter speed, the photo would have been dark [under exposed].  This is because the shutter would have closed, before allowing the camera to collect enough light to properly expose the photo.   


The downside of slowing your shutter speed?

Your camera needs to remain completely still to do so!  Now, it of course depends on exactly how slow you’re setting your shutter speed.  For all of the photos above [and almost all naturally lit, indoor, food photos], if the camera wasn’t attached to a tripod, the photos would not have been as crisp. 


While the shutter speed remains open, it’s collecting more than just light.  It’s recording everything that happens during the time the shutter remains open.  If your shutter speed is set to 1/15, that means for one 15th of a second, your camera is recording. 

slower shutter speed –> allows more light in –> camera is more sensitive to shaky hands

What happens when your hands shake slightly with a slow shutter speed?  Your photos won’t be as crisp, because the movement of your hands is recorded in the photo.  If you have your camera on the tripod, there is no movement for your camera to record, which is why tripods are so beneficial. 

My general rule is that if I slow my shutter past 1/80, I use my tripod.  Sure, sometimes I still go handheld at 1/50 or 1/30, but quality is definitely lost.  You may not notice at the 4x6 size, but when you start to blow up the photo, the degradation is evident.  When using my tripod, I can slow my shutter speed to about 1 – 1.5 seconds, without noticing any loss of quality.  When I go slower than 1.5 seconds, even the slight shake from pressing the shutter button, will be visible in photos. 

90% of the time, I use my tripod.  It takes some time to get used to, but allows you much more flexibility in your photos.

using a tripod –> allows significantly slower shutter speeds to be used, while maintaining sharp photos –> allows more light into your photos –> allows a wider depth of field –> gives you more options when photographing

In this post, from last year, I show the difference that using a tripod makes.  I also talk about what to look for when choosing a tripod.

Next up in the series?  Exposure!

See you soon, with some non-Thanksgiving FOOD.


And don’t forget!  You still have time to enter the Fall Stationary Giveaway with Brand E Paperie and Custom Design!  If you win, you’ll receive 25 personalized stationary cards of your choice.  And just for entering, you’ll receive a 10% coupon code for any holiday card purchase.  Courtney just added a few brand new designs to the collection.  This is my new favorite. 

Giveaway + coupon offer end November 30th!


Reader Comments (29)

Thank you Ashley! I have noticed a huge difference in my photos since I started using a tripod regularly. Not sure why it took me that long to get it out and use it! One thing I learned from a pro photographer/stylist recently is when you use a very slow shutter speed to use the timer to avoid camera shake from pressing the button. It totally helps too! Awesome post, again!

Thank you so much for all of this -- the explanations, the diagrams, and the examples. It all comes together to help me so much with my photographs. I swear I can see mine getting better after each one of your photo101 posts!

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterlauren @ spiced plate

Yes! The timer is a great thing to use for a slower shutter speed, and it avoids having to buy a handheld shutter remote that you can plug into the camera.

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

That's awesome!! I am so happy to hear!

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Ahahah girl I love your illustrations! Pictures definitely make the post ;)

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKatelyn @ Chef Katelyn

Thanks for yet another awesome photography post, Ashley! I *just may have* bought myself a Canon Rebel T3 on Friday (Black Friday sales --> couldn't resist) and although my camera is currently in auto and I know you urged your readers to take it OFF of auto, I'm still experimenting! I will be taking all your advice soon though as I'm off to Italy at Christmas time and can't wait to experiment and learn more about it (and Italy, of course, mostly because I want to take pictures of the food!!!!)

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAngela @ Eat Spin Run Repeat

Omigod, I got a dSLR camera a couple of months ago and aside from playing with the extra set of lenses that came in the bundle, I've been taking pictures with the camera set on Auto >_< I know, I know, it's a crime to do that to a dSLR camera but I can't help it! I'm dreading reading the manual that came with it. Luckily for me, I don't have to do that anymore because your post just helped me figure out what the heck aperture and shutter speed is. Thank you :)

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSylvia @ LifeIsGoodWithFood

i love that this is a concept i already had my head around. that is rare! once again, you did a great job at explaining things. whiz kid! xo

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterjanetha

Thanks for all of the hard work you're putting into this series, Ash. I find it so, so helpful!

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGena

That means a lot Gena! I'm glad you're enjoying the series.

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Whiz kid?? Hardly! I'm glad things are making sense for you!

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

You're so welcome!

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Congrats!!! Have fun with your new toy.

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

I love your illustrations, Ashley, you make it sound so simple! ;) I rarely use tripod, but I'll try to start using it when shooting close-up photos etc.

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJessy (squeezetheday)

I love it when you do posts like this and then post all the shots as a progression. The difference is just so apparent and fascinating to me.

"90% of the time, I use my tripod. It takes some time to get used to, but allows you much more flexibility in your photos." <-- that is so interesting b/c I find my tripod locks me in and I shoot freehand. Yes, that is risky too b/c you have to be reallllllly careful of handshake and then the inevitable blur but I find my tripod with my 5D and 24-70mm lens is just too top-heavy and I don't get the shots I want with it b/c I can't maneuver it in the right angles and I get it all set up...only to have to change things. So time consuming! hand shooting (and fingers crossed I didn't have that extra cup of coffee..jitters) is what I do :)

Thanks so much! I always use aperture control, I think after this I'll be ready to move on to full manual. I have all your 101 posts bookmarked. Now to get practicing!

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKaitlyn@TheTieDyeFIles

I just got my very first DSLR this weekend so I would just like to say THANK YOU for these posts. I just discovered the Photography page, so I'll be obsessively reading it now. :)

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterIrina G (Fit Flexitarian)

What would we do without you, Ashley? Seriously. ;)

By the by, I found my memory card so I can pass on the pics of your beautiful self while you were giving that fabulous presentation at Foodbuzz.

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKelly @ Foodie Fiasco

I love these little lessons :) Thanks so much for teaching us!

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAli @ Around the VeggieTable

these tutorials are great!!! i took a photography class but i always forget what everything means. just gotta practice! thanks!

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered

Ashley, I've read your blog for a while now and just started my own after my boyfriend surprised me with a camera. I LOVE these tips. Thank you. My boyfriend joked that he couldn't get me to read the "how to manual" but it was no problem to get me to read your tutorial. Thank you!

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterSarah

Whoa!! Awesome surprise!! Have fun learning! :)

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

You're so very welcome!

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

You are too sweet. :) Glad you found the memory card!

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Congrats!!! That is SO exciting!!!!!

November 29, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

Thank you so much for all of these tips Ashley! I used Black Friday to get my first dSLR and I immediately put it in manual to start using your tips. Already I'm flabbergasted at how much BETTER and CLEARER the pictures are compared to my point and shoot. I'm having so much fun! Ok I'll stop babbling now. :D Thanks again!

November 30, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBalancing Sylvia

Woohoo!! So exciting. Have fun!

December 1, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAshley

[...] to talk about exposure in the next lesson, but I think we should discuss ISO first, since aperture, shutter speed and ISO all affect exposure.It is affect right?  Even after googling affect/effect, countless [...]

December 6, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterphotography 101 {iso} «

[...] about the lens…Why aren’t my photos sharp?  You’re hand-holding your camera, and your shutter speed is set too slow.refer to the shutter speed post for more detailed information on thisWhat is too [...]

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