Review: Understanding Shutter Speed


“Photography has to be enjoyed by looking at pictures”, my arts teacher used to say, back when I still listened to teachers. I agree with the man, but I’m also a geek, and I love understanding things. I’m the kind of guy who enjoys knowing why the engine makes more noise and the car goes faster when I press the fast pedal on a car. I like to understand how a satellite works, and why it can make movies appear on my TV. And I love to understand how a photograph works.

There’s been a lot of books written about photography throughout the years (I had a stab at it myself…), but to be perfectly honest with you, a lot of them are complete and utter rubbish.  

If you’re a regular reader of Photocritic, you’ll have noticed that I don’t do a lot of book reviews; and there’s an excellent reason for that: I rarely come across books that I truly enjoy, and I’ve got better things to do with my time than to slag off the bad ones. Peterson’s Understanding Shutter Speed isn’t one of these books – If you’re still struggling to figure out how this whole shutter speed thing works, and to see some rather splendid examples of what happens when you use different shutter speeds for different jobs, you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy of this book.


Peterson skips the basics and the theory behind exposure – for which I’ll be forever grateful, because frankly, it’s not that exciting. Instead, the whole book is filled with a vast number of breathtakingly gorgeous photographs (about 160 pages worth, which means around 150 photographs or so, I think), and a fair chunk of text.

What’s unique about this book, though, is that the text largely shies away from the theory, and instead takes you along on a journey, explaining the what, why, and how in a language that anyone can understand easily.

Throughout the book, you’ll get examples and suggestions about how you can use fast and slow shutter speeds to freeze action, imply motion, and capture photographs at night. It talks about panning, speed, and comes with some fanciful ideas about how you can capture great photos by fixing your camera to a moving object (a broom or a shopping trolly are but two examples of getting funky photos).

The best way to use the book is probably to leaf through it, find a photograph you like (and you’re bound to find many), and then read the description to learn how it’s done.

Peterson is an author who reminds us all that photography isn’t – and shouldn’t be – rocket science. A little bit of knowledge goes a long way to understanding how it all fits together – and, as stated already, this book is a great first couple of steps on the road to full-on creativity.

Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Shutter Speed is available from Amazon (USA / UK). Also check out Bryan’s website, if you want go get a flavour for the type of photos you can expect in this book.

The photos used in this article are © Bryan Peterson.

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