photography 102: shutter speed + WB

by Holly on January 29, 2011

in photography

Today’s lesson must start with one thing: review.

I’ll wait here on my new couch while you go back and refresh yourself on photography 101. Don’t worry about keeping me waiting as I’ve got my new Ben Folds CD playing from Thursday’s AMAZING concert and hot coffee in hand keeping me company.




Alright, ready?

Now that we’ve covered ISO and aperture, it’s on to…


Shutter speed is simply how long your camera is open. Shutter speeds generally rangeĀ between 1 and 1/4000 of a second. It is an especially effective tool if you want to capture motion – either stopping motion (i.e. catching me mid-bite of a giant burger) or catching motion (i.e. seeing my cartwheel technique). However you use shutter speed, remember it is going to work in conjunction with both ISO and aperture to either let in more or less light.

Here is the progression of shots I took to show you this, starting with 1/60 of a second (stopping motion = a quicker shutter speed = less time open) and ending with 1/10 (catching motion = a slower shutter speed = more time open)…

Knowing your shutter speed is also going to help you avoid “camera shake” – the fuzziness that occurs in pictures when the shutter is open for too long. You can correct this two ways: (1) buy a tripod or (2) make sure your shutter speed is NEVER slower than (1/focal length of your lens). For example, I have a stock 18/55mm lens. That means when I take wider shots at 18mm, my shutter should not be slower than 1/18. When I take up-close food shots at 55mm and my camera is zoomed in all the way, my shutter should not be slower than 1/55.

Get it?

Got it?


Moving on.

This next little trick I learned is going to save you from lots of crummily-lit pictures…


Not all light is created equal.

Flourescent light is bright, white and glows like those creepy aliens you see in end-of-the-world movies. Tungsten light is that awful artificial room lighting. Natural light is beautious and a photographer’s best friend. My apartment lighting is gaggy yellow.

When you’re physically in my apartment, these books (all of which I have yet to read) don’t look like they’ve come down with a severe case of jaundice. The colors are clear, bright and beautiful. So, how do I show you, my dear readers, that this is in fact true?


  1. Find a neutral color in the room you wish to take a picture in. In my case, I took a picture of the white walls in my living room.
  2. Hit ‘Menu’ on your camera, and find the custom WB feature (this will vary from camera model to camera model). Hit ‘Set.’
  3. Next, choose the picture you took in step #1. Again, hit ‘Set.’
  4. Set-up your camera for the shot you want to take. Before you snap it however, hit your WB button, and ensure it is set on ‘Custom WB.’
  5. Shoot, baby, shoot.

Amazing, no?

Custom WB is your new best friend. Use it. Abuse it.

As it turns out, I am going to do a photography 103 post, because my talkative Everythingtarian self has more to say. Surprise, surprise, I know. In my last + final post, I promise to put what we’ve learned together and show you some other fun things your camera can do for you.

In the words of my wonderful photography teacher John, the point of learning about your camera is to take more control over it instead of it controlling you.

Case in point: this picture.

All these pictures are about equally exposed. However, each and every one is taken at a different combination of ISO, aperture and shutter speed. They’re all different yet all very similar. Having more control over your camera will allow YOU to find the combination YOU like and give YOU the tools to take fantastic photos.

Stick with me.

I promise we’ll put all this photography nonsense together without you losing your mind.

I’ve already lost mine for you.


Evan Thomas January 29, 2011 at 11:50 am

I’ve never known how to customize the white balance but now I’m determined to do it. I swear, the next time I move the house better be set up for a food blogging environment.

chelsey @ clean eating chelsey January 29, 2011 at 11:52 am

You’re my hero – my pictures are always so washed out in my house!!!

elise January 29, 2011 at 12:20 pm

how do i get back out of custom white balance?

Lynn @ The Actors Diet January 29, 2011 at 12:50 pm

thank you professor holly!

Matt January 29, 2011 at 1:37 pm


I just bought a DSLR, so I can’t wait for 103!

rebecca lustig January 29, 2011 at 2:12 pm

i’m TERRIBLE with cameras. so so terrible. great collection of books, p.s.!

Little Bookworm January 29, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Thanks for the information about White Balance – it makes more sense now!

Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) January 29, 2011 at 2:42 pm

make sure your shutter speed is NEVER slower than (1/focal length of your lens). = thank you!

all these concepts are like science/math class to me. I have to keep repeating them over and over and over in my internal head to really have them soak in and every reminder and new factoid..helps!

the custom WB…glad that you published that b/c i had an email from a girl who sent me that info but misplaced it. I will be customizing today :)

Marci January 29, 2011 at 7:02 pm

Thanks for these tips! I always thought the shutter speed shouldn’t be below 1/60 but now I know why, and I could go lower if needed. Also, THANK YOU for explaining Custom White Balance. I Googled and have been wondering how to do it and couldn’t figure it out. But oh my what a difference. Got it!

Mary @ Bites and Bliss January 29, 2011 at 7:55 pm

You sure do know your stuff! :)

Jenn L @ Peas and Crayons January 29, 2011 at 9:32 pm

ahhh keep the tips coming! Thank you x1000

Diana @ frontyardfoodie January 29, 2011 at 11:59 pm

oh man, this is awesome. I need you to move in with me so you can teach me all your mad skills. I am sadly lacking. Someday I have got to take a class……..that is, if the whole moving in thing doesn’t work out.

Mackenzie @ Whatever, Gatsby January 30, 2011 at 7:04 am

oh my goodness, so without a doubt i lurveee these. it’s making me excited to repurchase a new dslr sometime soon (i miss you, my sweet nikon d40!) but ya know what i love more?

your handwriting. oh my goodness, so cute.

is that nerdy? probs.

Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down) January 30, 2011 at 7:23 am

Great tips, once again! I think white balance is definitely what saved me and my pics from eternal disaster. :D

julie January 30, 2011 at 8:29 am

tell me you love pride and prejudice as much as i do and we’ll run away in search of our own darcys

Dan B January 30, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Very helpful! You’ve shown that photography is a fine art that requires a unique and creative eye. Thanks for the post!!

Dan B
Photographer Detroit

Pure2raw twins January 30, 2011 at 8:59 pm

Girl, loving your photography sessions!!! They are helping me so much :)

Ashey @ 365things January 31, 2011 at 12:59 pm

Completely OT, but I love your handwriting! Mine is so messy and it changes day by day…lol

GirlonRaw February 1, 2011 at 4:35 am

Great website! I found you through Pure2Raw so I am going to bookmarking for sure. Some really great tips and advice, thank you so much for sharing.

(what runs) Lori February 2, 2011 at 6:13 pm

This helps SO MUCH. As does your first lesson in photography. I’m trying to learn my new camera without much success- might help if I read the instruction manual but that’s way too long. ;)
Can’t wait for your last installment!

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