Beginner Cat Photo Skills

Understanding Shutter Speed in Cat Photography

Shutter speed is an important aspect of photography that can make a big difference to your cat photo. This super quick read and video give you an understanding about what shutter speed is and how your DSLR shutter works to give you great cat photos. Shutter speed is part of the important Exposure Triangle with Aperture and ISO.

What Does Shutter Speed Do?

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

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. My mini video shows you what happens to your shutter and the settings to 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
If you can’t see the video click to go to Vimeo.

What Happens When Your Shutter Speed is Wrong?

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

Now, as I gain more experience I do a lot better and even win prizes! If I can do this, so can you. We do not need to be perfect, just more in control. You learn that small adjustments to your shutter speed, balanced with your ISO make a difference. Let me emonstrate for you with two examples. One failure and one successful photo.

Shutter speed fail

To set the scene. 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 (you know how I always say practice, practice and more practice!)

My first attempts included this photo. Nothing is in focus, everyone is moving so fast – what a disaster! Silver (the pale tabby) 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!

Two cats running on grass

Shutter Speed Success

Toulouse in a dramatic solo roll. You might be able to see the blur of the butterfly toy close 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 start 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.

Tabby Cat playing on grass with a butterfly toy

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 wanted to focus on understanding shutter speed at its most basic level for this post.

Photography Definitions

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10 thoughts on “Understanding Shutter Speed in Cat Photography”

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

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

  4. 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!

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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!

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


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