Six Creative Ways to Use Shutter Speed

February 07, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

Six Creative Ways to Use Shutter Speed

Freezing the Moment

We all know about capturing a frozen moment in time, particularly as it applies to sports photographs. These are intriguing opportunities to most people and are compelling because we can’t freeze the moment in our eyes. We see a moving, continuous rendition of the events happening in front of us. You have seen “slo-mo” shots of the winning goal; the frozen moment image is that equivalent. These images take a bit of practice to get right. Lets assume for a moment, you are photographing a soccer match. It is great to get action shots, but you will want to get any shots of the teams scoring goals. You will then need to have the correct lens. In sports photography it will be a pretty long zoom or telephoto lens.. Most sports photographers will use 400mm and longer. You will also need to keep your camera steady. A tripod in these cases is somewhat impractical as you need to be able to move the camera quickly and easily to follow the game. A monopod is normally what works best. To achieve your goal set your aperture to an aperture setting of f/2.8 or f/4.5. This will allow for a quicker shutter time, which will in turn freeze the action. If you are shooting a sporting event in the sunlight, you may need to have your shutter time set to 1/1500 or faster. If this is still not freezing the action, make the shutter time even quicker. Try and anticipate the action and release the shutter at the moment you think it will happen. Be aware that your focus will need to be spot on. With a wide aperture, you run the risk of misfocusing and missing a shot.

That Decisive Moment

“The Decisive Moment“ is a phrase coined by Henri Cartier-Bresson. He was well known as a street and people photographer, and he believed that you need to choose the precise moment when something happens to hit the shutter release. As you can imagine, this is not easy. Sometimes this might mean you need quick reflexes. You need to think of a scene you would like to capture, visualize it. You may want to capture the comings and goings at a coffee shop in your city. You may want to have someone with a red coat sitting outside, sipping coffee. You should then set up and frame your shot, then sit there until the scene unfolds. Someone with a yellow jacket may sit down, which might work too. So be flexible, but be patient, sooner or later the shot will unfold.

Abstract and Creative Blur

Shutter time is a bit like time travel. You can capture an infinitesimally small slice of a moment, and in other cases you can capture seconds, or even minutes. When the shutter is open, light is coming through your lens and falling onto the cameras sensor. If you allow this to happen for a long enough time, some part of your image will blur. Sometimes blur in an image is unwanted. This happens when your shutter time is too long, your camera moves unintentionally, and the image is ruined. Set your aperture to f/5.6 or higher (smaller opening). Attempt this in low light conditions, just before and just after sunset. Set your shutter time to 1/10th of a second or longer. Release the shutter and move the camera quickly from left to right. You can rotate the camera, move it up and down, or even just shake it in your hand while the shutter is open. In this technique, you will be moving the camera and the scene could have moving elements in it too (i.e. a car or a bus could be driving past, or people could be walking in the scene). The results will be random and unusual, but with practice, you can create some pretty compelling abstract images.

Low Light Exposures

In low light exposures the scene must be in focus and only one part in the scene moving. This is particularly interesting at night when you get light trails from a vehicle driving through your scene. You can do this in the early evening or evening if it has become dark. These images are compelling because the light trails from the vehicle seem to hang magically in the air while the vehicle itself is invisible. Set your camera up on your tripod. Select an aperture setting of f/8 to f/11. Set your shutter time to expose correctly for the scene. Depending on the light your shutter time could be anywhere from 1/10th of a second to three or four seconds. As it gets darker, your shutter time will need to increase. Set yourself up in a position where something will be moving – cars, boats or even people can work well for this. Take a few shots to see how it is all working and make any adjustments. The important technique here is timing. If you want to get a shot with the car lights streaming through your shot, time it so that you release the shutter as the car is in the best place in your scene, similar to the decisive moment.

Long Exposures

Photography is all about longer shutter times. In some cases, they may be 20-30 seconds long, but for some really interesting images, you will want keep the shutter open for 15-20 minutes. Long exposures require the use of a 10 stop Neutral Density filter.. This filter will block out the light sufficiently to allow you to open your shutter for long periods of time. The results can be amazing. You can use the ND filter in the day to make your shutter time longer. “Why would I want to do that?”, you might ask. You might have a scene with a windmill in it and you want to blur the movement of the windmill as it rotates. You might also want to create a seascape scene where the waves look silky and smooth. In these cases, an ND filter will be very useful. Set up your camera on a tripod. Set your aperture to anywhere between f/11 and f/16. In these images, you will want to have an exposure time of 15-30 seconds and longer. You will need a cable release to go beyond 30 seconds on your exposure. You want a lot of movement in the scene, whether it is light trails or clouds moving across the sky. The longer you have the shutter open, the more surreal the image will become.

Panning can produce amazing results, but it’s not easy. Panning is when you focus on a subject that is moving, and you move your camera in a horizontal plane with them. During that movement, you will release the shutter. Your exposure time will depend on the subject and the light, but in this technique you don’t want to freeze the action, you want to suggest movement. A longer shutter time is preferable, so you may be shooting at 1/30th or slower. To pan effectively, you will need to practice a few shots, here are some pointers. Firstly, stand with a wider stance than normal. When you pan with your subject, move your body from the hips up. Timing is key, release the shutter when you think the subject is in a good position in the frame. Follow through, don’t stop the movement when you release the shutter, keep moving with your subject (and at the same speed as the subject) until the shutter closes (think golf swing).

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