Photographic Tips

Slow Shutter Speed

Understanding Shutter Speed

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Shutter Speed is one of the three pillars of photography, the other two being Aperture and ISO. Shutter speed is responsible for two particular things: changing the brightness of your photo, and creating dramatic effects by either freezing action or blurring motion. In this chapter of Photography Basics, we will explain everything you need to know about shutter speed, in very simple language.

Example of Motion Blur
My shutter speed in this image: 1/30th second.

1) What is a Camera Shutter?

Shutter speed exists because of something known as your camera shutter — which, simply put, is a curtain in front of the camera sensor that stays closed until the camera fires. When the camera fires, the shutter opens and fully exposes the camera sensor to the light that has passed through your lens. After the sensor is done collecting the light, the shutter closes immediately, stopping the light from hitting the sensor. The button that fires the camera is also called “shutter” or “shutter button,” because it triggers the shutter to open and close.

2) What is Shutter Speed?

Shutter speed is the length of time your camera shutter is open, exposing light onto the camera sensor. Essentially, it’s how long your camera spends taking a photo. When you use a long shutter speed, you end up exposing your sensor for a significant period of time, which has a couple important effects on your photo.

The first big effect of shutter speed is motion blur. If your shutter speed is long, moving subjects in your photo will appear blurred along the direction of motion. This effect is used quite often in advertisements of cars and motorbikes, where a sense of speed and motion is communicated to the viewer by intentionally blurring the moving wheels.

An example of motion blur
Motion blur.

Slow shutter speeds are also used to photograph the Milky Way or other objects at night, or in dim environments with a tripod. Landscape photographers may intentionally use long shutter speeds to create a sense of motion on rivers and waterfalls, while keeping everything else completely sharp.

Waterfall - 5 Second Exposure (Shutter Speed)
Shutter speed: 5 seconds (a long shutter speed).

On the other hand, shutter speed can also be used to do just the opposite — freeze motion. If you use an especially fast shutter speed, you can eliminate motion even from fast-moving objects, like birds in flight, or cars driving past. If you use a fast shutter speed while taking pictures of a water, each droplet will hang in the air completely sharp, which might not even be visible to our own eyes.

Dolphin - 1/1600 Shutter Speed
Shutter speed: 1/1600th second (a fast shutter speed)

All of the above is achieved by simply controlling the shutter speed. In summary, quick shutter speeds freeze action, while long shutter speeds create an effect of motion when you photograph moving objects.

3) How Shutter Speed is Measured

Shutter speeds are typically measured in fractions of a second, when they are under a second. For example 1/4 means a quarter of a second, while 1/250 means one two-hundred-and-fiftieth of a second (or four milliseconds).

Most modern DSLRs and mirrorless cameras can handle shutter speeds of up to 1/4000th of a second, while some can handle much quicker speeds of 1/8000th of a second and faster. On the other hand, the longest available shutter speed on most DSLRs or mirrorless cameras is typically 30 seconds. You can use a longer shutter speed by using external remote triggers, if necessary.

4) Shutter Speed and Exposure

The other important effect of shutter speed is on exposure, which relates to the brightness of an image. If you use a long shutter speed, your camera sensor gathers a lot of light, and the resulting photo will be quite bright. By using a quick shutter speed, your camera sensor is only exposed to a small fraction of light, resulting in a darker photo.


However, shutter speed is not the only variable which affects the brightness of an image. There are also Aperture and ISO, along with the actual brightness of the scene in front of you. So, you have some flexibility when you’re deciding on a shutter speed, but you need to pick your other settings carefully.

Shutter speed can be a vital tool to capture a photo of the proper brightness. On a sunny day, you may need to use a fast shutter speed so that your photo isn’t overexposed. Or, if it is dark out, a long shutter speed may be necessary to avoid a photo that is too dark (which, in turn, could require a tripod, due to motion blur from handholding the camera). For many people, this is the main reason to adjust shutter speed: to make sure your photos are the proper brightness. Still, motion blur concerns are also very important, and should not be overlooked.

4) Fast, Slow and Long Shutter Speeds

A fast shutter speed is typically whatever it takes to freeze action. If you are photographing birds, that may be 1/1000th second or faster. However, for general photography of slower-moving subjects, you might be able to take pictures at 1/200th second, 1/100th second, or even longer without introducing motion blur.

Caspian Tern - 1/2000th of a second
Shutter speed: 1/2000 second (quite fast)

Long shutter speeds are typically above 1 second — at which point, you will need to use a tripod to get sharp images. You would use long shutter speeds for certain types of low-light/night photography, or to capture movement intentionally. If anything in your scene is moving when you use long shutter speeds, it will appear very blurry.

In between, shutter speeds from 1/100th second to 1 second are still considered relatively slow. You may not be able to handle them without introducing camera shake from your hands, especially close to the one-second mark. Also, this strongly depends upon your lens. Some lenses, such as the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8, have specific image stabilization (also known as “vibration reduction”) technologies within the lens that can help photographers take pictures at very slow shutter speeds when hand-holding cameras, without introducing camera shake. Other lenses do not have vibration reduction, which means you need to use the reciprocal rule instead to determine how long your shutter speed should be without introducing blur from camera shake. It is also important that you know how to hold a camera.

5) How to Set Shutter Speed

Most cameras handle shutter speeds automatically by default. When the camera is set to “Auto” mode, the shutter speed is selected by the camera without your input (and so are aperture and ISO). However, you can still set shutter speed manually if necessary:

  1. By setting the camera to “Shutter Priority” mode, you choose the shutter speed, and the camera automatically selects the aperture.
  2. By setting the camera to “Manual” mode, you choose both shutter speed and aperture manually.

Within both of these modes, you can choose to set ISO manually or automatically.

In most cases, we recommend letting the camera select the correct shutter speed for you. Still, watch to be certain that you aren’t introducing too much motion blur in a photo (or freezing motion that you want to be blurred). I cover more of this in an article on camera modes, but I tend to shoot in “Aperture Priority” mode 95% of the time, letting the camera calculate the shutter speed automatically.

6) How to Find Shutter Speed

Do you know how to find what your camera shutter speed is set to? It is typically very easy to find the shutter speed. On cameras that have a top panel, the shutter speed is typically located on the top left corner, as circled:

Nikon D90 Top Panel - Shutter Speed

If your camera does not have a top LCD, like some entry-level DSLRs, you can look through the viewfinder, where you will see the shutter speed on the bottom-left side. And if your camera has neither a top LCD nor a viewfinder, like many mirrorless cameras, you can see your shutter speed simply by looking on the back screen.

On most cameras, shutter speed will not show up directly as a fraction of a second — it will typically be a regular number. When the shutter speed is longer than or equal to one second, you will see something like 1” or 5” (with the quotation sign to indicate a full second).

If you still cannot find the shutter speed, set your camera to “Aperture Priority” mode, and make sure that you have turned “AUTO ISO” off. Then, start pointing around your camera from dark to bright areas. The number that changes will be your shutter speed.

If you have enjoyed this article, please check out our in-depth Level 1 Photography Basics Course, where we explore all the basics of photography in much more detail. It is an intensive, 5+ hour course with enough material to not only get you started today, but also to serve as a reference material in the future.

                                                                                      Low Angle Photography   

7 Tips For Great Low Angle Shots

 A Post By: Peter West Carey

Low angle shots give us a different view on the world. Most of our lives are spent well above ground level and by the time we are teenagers we rarely spend much time down low any more. Yet there is a whole world down there!! Plus the forced perspective brings a boring, everyday scene into new light when done right. So what are some tips on taking great low angle shots?

(NOTE: While low angle photography can technically include shots simply looking up at tall items, I am intent on highlighting the reverse, dropping your camera down low to force perspective.)
Ignore Your Viewfinder

The first step in low angle is accepting you will not be able to look through your viewfinder most of the time.                A lot of shots require the camera in such an angle that only the smallest of frogs could take a peek.                               If your camera has a flipout view screen, you will be thanking your lucky stars. If not, get used to having to go by sense of feel on this one.

Learn Your Angle

Low angle shots work best with a wider lens. Something in the 10-22mm range for 1.6 crop factor cameras works quite well. Fisheye lenses can also be handy. This is not to say a zoom doesn’t do the job if you can lay on your belly and frame things. It is just much harder to crop the image right in the filed of view that it will be with a wider zoom. Although three is no reason you can’t have it both ways and opt for something like a 18-200mm zoom which will allow for a lot of room to play.

Understand Aperture and Depth Of Field

A low angle shot is going to have objects near and far. That is part of its appeal, being able to show the perspective by including foreground objects. This means you will need to understand your camera and lens combination’s sweet spot for aperture. Cranking the f-stop up as high as it will go does not insure perfect depth of of field front to back. Each lens has positive and negative aspects this approach and it is best to learn where your lens performs best, then use that setting (via a Aperture Priority mode). Even better, some cameras have a Depth Of Field mode, which will do its darndest to hold as much of the image in focus as it can, by correlating both aperture and focus points.

Keep It All Level

When you bring the camera close to the ground or other low object, take an extra second to insure your camera is level. This will save time in front of the computer realigning everything. It may not seem like a big deal at the time, but if you want to use this technique again and again, it’s best to learn leveling early. It can be a huge time saver in the long run.
The good news is, if you can’t get it perfect, there always is the computer to make it nice and level. I simply prefer to get it right in the camera the first time around, even if it means a lot of trial and error to learn.

Preventing Blown Out Skies

It may be a sunny day and all your shots are coming out well. A nice balance of light and the exposure seems to be spot on…until you go for a low shot. The foreground is dark and the sky is not that well defined. What’s happening?
If your low angle shot is including a lot of sky, and it is a bright day, you will need to compensate or, possibly, accept the limits of the scene in front of you. Shooting up and near the sun will make your camera squint with all its might, just like you would if you were laying on the ground looking partially into the sun. To compensate, take a pick between the dark and the light and go for it. If you want a lot of sky or cloud to be defined, underexpose. If the foreground is too precious to you to let go, overexpose and accept that the sky will be blown out. But at least you can capture the aspect that is most important to you.

Positioning Objects In The Frame

Imagine the scene from down low before taking the shot. Just like eye level photographs, frame the scene to include something of interest. Maybe it’s just a rock, or an apple or anything. This is a chance to make the mundane appear huge by perspective. Because of the angle, nearby objects will be exaggerated in their size. Play around with it.

Shoot, Review, Repeat

This is where digital is a boon to the photographer. While I’m not a fan of reviewing every shot on a camera’s view screen, learning from your mistakes has never been easier than with the digital revolution. Use it! Take a shot and see what can be changed, either with exposure or composition, and try, try again until the shot you want is captured.
Just don’t forget to delete the dozens of attempts that failed before you get home to download.

Low angle photography can be a fun way to spice things up in your picture taking world. Don’t be afraid to experiment and see the world from another point of view!

Water Splatter                                                                                                                                           shot of water droplet splash

Splash photography can yield some of the most stunning stop-motion images. This photography technique involves great timing—and sometimes a bit of luck—to achieve, but it is well worth the effort as it helps you practice and improve your photography skills while allowing you to have a lot of fun in the process.

Photographing water spalshes is actually not as difficult as many would think. With the right equipment and some practice, you can easily take perfect water splash photos that you can be very proud of.

Essential Gear for Photographing Water Splashes:

  • High-Quality Camera
  • Macro Lens
  • Camera Timer or Remote Shutter
  • Light Source
  • Plain Backdrop or Surface
  • Camera Tripod
  • Liquid, Container, and Any Object
  • Paper Towels

Photographing water in movement requires a significant amount of patience and a few important things—some you might even find in your very own home—to help you nail that perfectly-timed, split-second shot.

High-Quality Camera

Water splash photography obviously needs a camera that can be configured to shoot in milliseconds. Lower quality cameras like smartphones and most compact digital cameras will, at best, will give you shots of water in movement but the overall image would usually be blurry. What you’ll need is a high-quality camera, like DSLR's and mirrorless cameras, that at least allow you to adjust and speed up the shutter speed to be able to really freeze the moment.

Macro Lens

Any profesional camera lenswill do, but if you really want to produce the best results, it would be a good idea to use a true macro lens. Aside from allowing you to shoot from a shorter working distance, it delivers those sharp close-up shots of water droplets that look picture-perfect or even computer-generated.

Camera Timer or Remote Shutter

In addition to using faster shutter speeds, you can achieve sharper images by delaying the shutter—automatically after a few seconds with a built-in camera timer or manually with a remote shutter—to minimize internal vibrations.

Light Source

Just like every other photography style, water splash photography requires ample lighting that will properly expose the water. More often than not, you’ll need at least one light source that you can manipulate, such as an external flash, softbox, or another continuous light source. You may even want to include a reflector or a second light source, which you can strategically place on the other side of your first light source, to create a softer, more natural light that adds depth and dimension to the subject.

Plain Backdrop or Surface

You’ll also need a plain-coloured backdrop or surface to ensure that your viewers will focus more on the splash or the individual droplets. A dark background is usually preferred so that the water can truly stand out, especially when shooting with additional light sources.

Camera Tripod

Aside from a shutter release, you’ll definitely need a tripod so you won’t have to hold your camera. After all, you’ll already be using both hands for the shutter and whatever it is you will be dropping into the water to create the splash.

Liquid, Container, and Any Object

Don’t forget the most important elements in your shot! For controlled settings, you’ll need your preferred container (glass or bowl), choice of liquid (water and/or colored liquids), and an item that you will drop into the liquid (any object or more water) to create the drip or splash.

On the other hand, you won’t need much when shooting in a more natural setting, especially if there’s already an existing outdoor water source. You’ll just need an object that is big or small enough to create your desired splash effect when thrown into the water.

Paper Towels

This is perhaps the most overlooked (yet very important) item that you will need when doing splash photography. There will be spills, and you might even get a bit wet, so you’ll definitely need a few absorbent paper towels to clean the mess around the area, and to wipe off your glass or bowl container for much cleaner shots—visually and literally.

Splash of red liquid in glass

Tips for Capturing Creative Photos of Water Splashes and Drops:

  1. Set up the shot
  2. Use appropriate gear settings
  3. Experiment with light
  4. Utilize the camera’s high speed flash sync
  5. Eliminate background clutter
  6. Consider your composition
  7. Use autofocus
  8. Keep your shots steady
  9. Take multiple photos with burst mode
  10. Touch up your images

Set up the shot

When shooting water splashes, you can either find a naturally occurring scene or you can create the scene yourself to allow for greater creative control. If you decide to create your own, make sure to have the necessary materials. You can use anything, from a simple glass or bowl that will serve as the container, and any kind of liquid that you want to take a photo of. You will also need supplementary photography equipment such as external flashes (or soft boxes) and colored gels to customize your lighting and image output.

Or, you can shoot in a more natural setting, which is a bit more challenging as you’ll need to adjust to the environment. However, it can also be more enjoyable and spontaneous compared to a controlled setting. You’ll only have to arm yourself with your gear, observe the environment and plan your desired shot, frame the subject or scene, and be ready to snap the photo at the exact, perfect moment.

Use appropriate gear settings

Fortunately, this type of photography doesn’t necessarily require photographers to use full manual camera settings. You can go on Shutter Priority Mode and select your desired shutter speed, and the camera will select the most suitable aperture for your shot. You can also adjust your ISO to indirectly influence the aperture, if needed.

A shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second or faster will effectively freeze a tiny water droplet in the air, but a slightly slower shutter speed of 1/250 usually works great for bigger water splashes.

However, you might want to try using Manual Mode, especially if you plan to use a controllable light source. In this case, you can match a fast shutter speed with an aperture between f/4 to f/8, which is just wide enough to sharpen your focus on a tiny droplet and smoothen out the surrounding rippling surface. Smaller apertures like f/14 are perfect for bigger splashes, as it will keep a larger area in sharp focus. Then, use the ISO that will support your shutter and aperture settings.

Experiment with light

Whether you’re shooting in a natural or controlled environment, it’s important to consider the lighting conditions. Natural, continuous light is enough to bring out interesting water reflections needed for capturing realistic water splash shots, such as in a swimming pool or of a garden sprinkler.

Directed light using external flashes (perhaps with color gels) is also good for creating different reactions between water and light. Aside from providing an outline for the water splashes and drops that will separate them from the background (when flash is facing the water from the side), a single light source directed at your backdrop can create a dramatic backlight for transparent liquids. These effects work best when shooting in a dark room where your flash is the only light source.

As previously mentioned, you can place a reflector or add another flash to have one more light coming from the other side of the water (facing the first flash) and achieve a more three-dimensional effect.

Utilize the camera’s high speed flash sync

Taking photos of water splashes and drops is a good opportunity to practice with an external flash. When trying to freeze a moment with a synced flash and a shutter speed faster than around 1/200 (in most cameras), you’re likely to end up with a photo that’s partly dark due to the camera’s slow native flash sync speed. What happens is that the shutter has already started to close by the time the flash fires, causing the curtain to block the sensor.

A quick and easy solution to this problem is to use your camera’s high speed flash syncronize (or Auto FP for Nikon). This will make the flash fire multiple, quick bursts of light, almost like a continuous light, which increases the duration of your flash and ensures that the entire frame is covered. This should allow the use of much faster shutter speeds to completely freeze the water in motion—and a matching wider aperture to produce a more dramatic droplet shot with a smaller depth of field. Just remember to position your flash closer to the subject if you want to produce stronger lighting during high speed flash sync.

Eliminate background clutter

Whatever setting you’re shooting in, it helps to have a plain and uncluttered background for your water splash photos. Keeping the background simple will keep your viewers from being distracted by background elements. Now’s the time to use those plain-colored walls, cloths, papers, or whatever else is available to keep your background as simple as possible and maintain the focus on the water.

Strawberry splashes on milk

Consider your composition

Composing a shot that aims to focus on a water splash or drop shouldn’t be too difficult considering the limited number of elements or subjects involved. You’ll probably decide to place the splash point right in the middle of the frame or somewhere slightly off-center to increase the impact of your photo.

However, one thing you should consider is how much of the outward rippling or the upward splash you wish to include in the frame. It’s also best to aim the camera slightly from above when you want to capture the surface of the water, or about the same level as the glass when you want to showcase more of the splash (and keep your camera from getting wet).

Use auto-focus

Another way to “cheat” your way to achieving a perfect splash photo is to use your camera and lens’s autofocus capabilities. Lock your focus on the surface of the water or container so you can just worry about the timing of your shot. To be sure, you can zoom in and check if your focus is accurate even up close. If it isn’t, feel free to go manual and make a few quick and tiny tweaks with the focus ring to correct your focus.

Keep your shots steady

Built-in timers are commonly used to eliminate the chance of camera shake when the shutter is pressed. Anywhere between 5 to 10 seconds will give you just enough time to cause motion in the water and capture it. The only downside is that it may be hard to time it for your shot. You might find it easier to use a remote shutter release that will give you the freedom to choose the exact moment when you want to take the photo without causing any internal camera shake.

Just timing the shot, of course, is not always enough to achieve crystal clear and crisp photos. It also helps to keep your camera stable with a tripod so you don’t have to go handheld and be the cause for more camera shake.

Take multiple photos with Burst Mode

Timing is key in splash photography, and it will most likely take too much trial-and-error before you capture that perfect photo. Selecting your camera’s bulb or burst photo mode can help you catch that moment as it triggers the shutter to shoot multiple frames, sometimes for as long as your finger presses the button and the memory card or battery maxes out. Depending on your camera, you can get as much as 16 frames per second or more, so you’re more likely end up with a couple of winning shots without stressing out about the timing.

Touch up your images

Using an editing software like Photoshop can definitely take your splash photos to the next level. With simple exposure and contrast tweaks, you can enhance the highlights and lowlights of your water splash. You can also use the software to remove reflections or even add/remove water droplets according to your liking. If you’re quite certain that you will be post-processing your photos later on, consider shooting in digital RAW format than in compressed JPEG.

Another reason to use editing software is for you to be able to easily create amazing splash photos like Gavin Hoey’s photo in this AdoramaTV episode:

Woman splashing sea water with hair

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