Beginner Cat Photo Skills, Let's Talk About

Let’s Talk About Shutter Speed

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Taking captivating cat photos requires an understanding of your camera’s shutter speed. A shutter can freeze movement or blur it, depending on your camera settings.

Shutter speed also covers depth of field, and bokeh but in this post I want to show you simply how your shutter actually does its job and how it can help.

Yes, your shutter is working for you even if you are on Automatic or a ‘Mode‘!

  • Remember: Shutter Speed is one of the three pillars of the Exposure Triangle (see bottom of the post), along with Aperture and ISO. Seeing how they work together becomes something you grasp as you learn about the three elements in small steps. Don’t panic, or try to learn it all at once.

What Does Shutter Speed Do?

Shutter speed determines how long your camera’s shutter stays open. The two cat photos below will show you the difference between fast and slow shutter speeds when I tried to capture cat movement.

If you can’t see the video click to go to Vimeo

How fast the shutter operates affects the amount of light that enters into the lens and this affects how your camera captures your cat as it moves, as you can see in the quick video.

My video shows you what happens to your shutter and the settings you can experiment with. I am also including a helpful quote from Photography Life that describes how shutter speed is measured.

Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second when they are under a second. For example, 1/4 means a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means one-two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second (or four milliseconds).

Photography Life

Quick Start Shutter Speed Prompt

Slow Shutter SpeedShutter Setting 2″ (seconds) for dim light, interiors or night photography
Medium Shutter Speed1/125 A cat walking at moderate pace
Fast Shutter Speed1/1000 or 1/2000 Catch a cat sprinting or jumping
What the back screen of my Canon camera loos like.
The maximum shutter speed on my Canon EOS 1300D (Right of Tv)

What Happens When Your Shutter Speed is Wrong?

When I began to take photos I had no idea what the impact a difference in my shutter speed could make. I got it wrong a lot of the time but, like you, I keep going and I keep learning. We all take a lot of ‘artfully blurry’ photos that might have been cats.

  • As your skills develop and expand. You can enter contests to win prizes and Certificates.

Remember, things don’t need to be perfect, you just have to be a bit more in control. You will learn that small adjustments to your shutter speed, balanced with your ISO make a real difference.

Let me show you two examples of shutter settings. One is a failure and one is a success.

Shutter speed fail

Two cats running on grass

To set the scene in my sample image. It was a warm summer afternoon and the Dash Kitten Crew were ready to play like mad things with a Neko Fly wand gifted by our friend Erin the Cat Princess. I took the opportunity to try my action photo skills and improve my shutter speed experience, which is what you should do too.

My first attempts included the photo above. Nothing is in focus, every cat is moving so fas. It is a settings disaster! Silver (the pale tabby facing the camera) flies off after the toy leaving Toulouse far behind. 1/250 is the shutter speed and f4.5 the aperture setting. As you can see I misjudged the shot completely!

Shutter Speed Success

Tabby Cat playing on grass with a butterfly toy

Toulouse in a dramatic solo roll. You might be able to see the blur of the butterfly toy closer to the camera. I focused on the top of his body with my camera’s ‘focus point’ on his chest. The settings were balanced differently this time. 1/125 is the shutter speed and f8 the aperture setting. A wider aperture matched with a slower shutter speed.

The spectacular shot worked because the camera did not have to work so hard. More light was being allowed in (remember in the video at the top of this post?) so the shutter speed did not need to be as fast. This is why you get better with practice and feel more in control of your camera.

Focus Dots as seen in a camera viewfinder
CAMERA FOCUS POINTS

Most modern SLR cameras have an array of focus points ranging anywhere from 5 to 75 and more. these are within the viewfinder. You can normally select either one specific point or all points at once for auto-focusing.

All Things Photography

A final note that might help you improve your focusing skills

If you have trouble focusing on a cat’s eye, or a specific point, I suggest you explore your camera’s focus points.

The quote above from All Things Photography is an easy explanation to take in. Your focus points are zones on the camera sensor that are sensitive to changes in image contrast, each zone might be a square or other mark you see through the viewfinder and the number of points varies with each camera. You can change these as much as you like when you gain experience.

Cat Photography Shutter Samples!

Brown cat yawns showing pink mouth
Kitty Yawn Fun with Medium Shutter Speed 1/125
Fast walking Cat moves towards camera
Fast Walking Cat Capture 1/1250

Shutter Speed and Aperture form part of the Exposure Triangle (with ISO) and there is a great explanation of how these work together on the Photography Life blog. I want, here, to focus on understanding shutter speed at its most basic level for this post.

Photography Definitions

17 thoughts on “Let’s Talk About Shutter Speed”

  1. Always excellent photo tips! I used to be very proficient with shutter speeds and all things manual “back in the day” before automatic settings (and, gulp, now phones!) that this is such a nice refresher! Pinning to share!

    Reply
  2. I am trying to just take a lot of pictures and hope one of them is any good. Most aren’t. Wish I had been close enough to capture my Ryder climbing the scratch post at one ring this weekend – all 4 paws off the table like a monkey – I missed the moment.

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  3. My photo library is filled with pictures of what seem to resemble cats and dogs. Hopefully your tips will help, and you’re right about it being so much about practicing.

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    • It takes time to become familiar with shutter speed. I am still learning to capture fast cats sometimes!

      Reply
  4. You always take the mystery out of these complicated things, thanks. Thanks for joining Angel Brian’s Thankful Thursday Blog Hop!

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  5. You explain it so well, although that doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll ever be able to do it.

    Reply
  6. Marjorie, you always share such great tips and easy lessons for both budding shutterbugs, and nice refreshers even for pros! Shutter speed always took me a while to get, and now, I’ve come over to the easy side of iPhone photography! (Which I swore I never would, but retiring helped push me that way). Again, always great camera info! Pinning to share!

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  7. Thanks Marjorie! This was helpful. I tried continuous (burst) photographing my dog months ago and each frame was simple a giant blur! I guess I need to work on the shutter settings. I love this photo of Toulouse.

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  8. Now I know why some of my pics are not clear, thanks for the lesson and of course fantastic photos

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  9. Setting the correct shutter speed for a shot is always a struggle for me. This is very helpful and informative. I’ll put these tips to use as I practice on Henry. Thanks!

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  10. I can’t get a decent action shot, even after reading your other advice (like using sport mode). I think it’s because we get so little natural light in here. I’ll keep playing around, but it gets frustrating!

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  11. I can’t adjust the shutter speeds on my iPhone…but when I compare the pics made with my P & S canon, the iPhone’s pics are much sharper, most of the time. My Canon is from 2008, my phone from 2021. Maybe I need to beg a new camera be gifted to me for the holidays, LOL!!

    Thanks for the great and helpful info!

    Reply
  12. Fantastic photos, and great information! Lol, unless they’re asleep, our cats move so fast I’m lucky to get picture that’s not a total blur!

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  13. That was super helpful, Marjorie! You really explained shutter speed well, and your amazing photos helped drive the lessons home. 🙂

    Reply

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