WATCH YOUR SPEED
Ultimate guide to picking the perfect shutter speed for every occasion
Are you paying enough attention to your camera’s shutter speed? Or do you just check it’s fast enough to avoid the risk of camera shake, and then ignore it? That’s the wrong attitude!
Photographers work very hard to get their subjects perfectly sharp, and to create just the right degree of background blur in their images, but it’s a mistake to imagine that focusing and lens aperture are the only controls that count. In fact the shutter speed plays an equally important part in controlling sharpness. The lens aperture can control the sharpness with depth, but the shutter speed does the same thing with an entirely different dimension – time.
If you’re photographing an object that’s still, the shutter speed may not be a factor, but most everyday subjects show some kind of movement, and this is where the shutter speed becomes important.
Freeze or blur?
For action or sports photography, you might want to freeze your subject to eliminate any movement. When you’re working out what shutter speed you need, many factors come into play, such as the speed your subject is travelling at, its distance and the angle you’re shooting from.
For some subjects, such as a speeding race car, there may not be a shutter speed high enough. That’s why action photographers ‘pan’ with the subject to keep it centred in the frame (see page 10 for more on this). It’s the subject’s speed across the frame that causes the blur, not its speed in real life, and following your subject in the viewfinder is the secret to pin-sharp shots.
When you take a panning shot, it’s the background that comes out blurred, and this is just one example of a situation where you can use relative movement for powerful creative effects.
Waterfalls and seascapes are other classic examples. A slow shutter speed is used so that the water turns into a milky blur – but the rocks and cliffs don’t move during the exposure, so they stay completely sharp. You can use the same techniques to blur pedestrians in travel shots.
Don’t just treat the shutter speed as a routine adjustment to prevent camera shake – it’s an important creative tool in its own right.
The need for speed! An understanding of shutter speed and movement will help you stop your subjects sharply in their tracks