Photographic Innoventions: Shutter Speeds and You

Shutter speed is the time for which the shutter is held open during the taking of a photograph to allow light to reach the image sensor in a digital camera. A fast shutter speed will freeze the subject but needs plenty of light. A slower shutter speed needs less light and a more stationary subject or will cause image blur. However, you can use this to your advantage, as this article will show you.

Expedition Everest explorers emerging from the mountain. © Scott Thomas Photography 2007
Nikon D70/18-200VR, 1/800s, f/7.1, 400 ISO, -0.3 EC, 135mm Focal Length

In the mid-afternoon Florida sun, it is easy for our cameras to select fast shutter speeds. From the observation area of Animal Kingdom’s Expedition Everest ride, I wanted to freeze the ride vehicle and guests as it came out of the mountain by using a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second. By doing this, you can see their expressions and body language as they see the plunge before them. One guest in the lead car is even video taping! To capture fast action, the faster the shutter speed the better to make the images sharp and clear.

The Beatniks entertaining guests in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. © Scott Thomas Photography 2007
Nikon Coolpix 995, 1/30s, f/7.5, 200 ISO

When I came upon The Beatniks as I walked towards Dinoland in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, I saw an opportunity to show not only their colorful costumes but their energy by using a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second. Photographs record still images, however, with the creative use of slower shutter speeds, a photograph can convey movement. The trick is not getting so much movement the subject is unrecognizable. The other trick is being able to keep your camera still while making the photo. I talked about how using stablizing lens technology can help in a previous entry. You can practice at home and test how slow a shutter speed you can use and still get acceptably sharp images. To get really long exposures slower than 1/15 of a second, you will need to either anchor yourself against something like a wall or pole, use a tripod or place your camera on a flat surface. At Walt Disney World, I’ve found the tops of garbage cans to be particularly useful.

Quick Tip: To take control of your shutter speed, set your camera to Shutter Priority Mode. In this way, you set the shutter speed and the camera calculates the aperture or f/stop for you. Be careful the aperture will give you the results you are looking for.

Scott's "Photographic Innoventions" blog focuses on intermediate to advanced photography concepts and techniques relevant for Point and Shoot and Digital SLR cameras.

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