Hands off the auto-mode, getting familiar with shutter speed
Shutter speed is possible the most intuitive of the three pillars of photography, with aperture and ISO being the other two slightly more complicated aspects. You want to freeze the action, so you crank up the shutter speed. I mean really, how hard can it be?
Well, it doesn't have to be harder than that. If all you are looking for is freezing the moment solid, you will be set by adjusting your camera to between 1/500 and 1/2000 s depending on how fast the action is you're capturing.
Besides photographing fast paced subjects (be it flying birds, sports, etc.), I have now worked my way through enough blurry kids and animals photography shots to learn (the hard way, is there any other way?) that what may not seem like an action shot can quickly turn in to one. When photographing seemingly 'still' kids and animals I try to remember to dial in a minimum of 1/250 s shutter speed as they both just seem to have a knack for moving unpredictably.
With the 'easy part' out of the way, what else can I use the shutter speed setting for?
One of the Winter Olympic activities I hope to catch next year here in Vancouver is biathlon, you know the one with the ultimate combination of cross country skiing and target shooting. I have never really understood how they resist the temptation of ambushing the competition with a well-placed pellet in the buttocks. But my wondering asides, it is truly a sport that masters 'anti-quivering' having to target shoot with shaking hands and body.
Photographers should admire those skills, but instead of spending years of training to hold the camera still we rely on an old rule of thumb that states your shutter speed at minimum should be the reciprocal value of the focal length. Meaning if you shoot @ focal length 50mm you should minimally set your shutter speed to 1/50 s.
With today's technological DSLR advancements the rule is starting to become a bit antiquated for two reasons. One, many camera and lens manufacturers incorporate a mechanical anti-shake mechanism (moving either the sensor or lens elements) allowing for much lower shutter speeds. Secondly, and slightly countering the first effect is the fact that most DSLRs sold today have a 1.5 or 1.6 focal length multiplication factor, effectively turning your 50mm lens into a 75/80mm and your 300mm telephoto into a whopping 450/480mm lens. So going by the rule of thumb, your minimum shutter speed mounting a 300mm lens should really be around 1/500 s and not just 1/300 s.
Use shutter speed to show motion? Hmm! this sounds kinda counterintuitive.
Here is Rafael Nadal kindly demonstrating his backhand at US Open captured @ 1/1600 s just slow enough to show some motion blur in the swing and ball.
An another from Havana captured @ 1/20 s creating a lot of motion blur while leaving the subject in focus.
Counterintuitive or not, using a lower shutter speed than normally 'recommended' is a great way to get creative. With some practice, a steady hand and possibly a mono pod or panning tripod you can get some really cool results.
Shots are taken over the span of two and a half years working my way through two cameras, the Canon 30D and Nikon D300. Coupled with the Canon was the Canon 17-40mm f4 L (taxi shot). The D300 was used at US Open in 2008 with the Nikkor 105mm f2.8 VR Micro lens to grab the tennis shots. Boy! I really miss the 100-400mm L lens (read my review). I am crossing fingers and toes that Nikon finally will put out a matching lens here in 2009.
- 85mm f1.4
- San Francisco
- shutter speed