Photography Basics: Shutter Speed

Like I mentioned last week, exposure is the foundation of photography; it can be difficult to master, but having a basic understanding of how it works will help you improve your photo game by leaps and bounds. Learning how to operate your camera in manual mode will help you to take advantage of everything it has to offer, but you’re going to have to figure some of that out on your own since every camera is different. It’s unlikely that you’re using the same model that I am, so I probably can’t advise you on the technical aspects of your digital camera.

My camera, a Canon EOS Digital Rebel T3. It’s definitely not the new hotness, but it still gets the job done.

What I can do is show you how controlling the elements that make up exposure will affect your photography. We’re starting with shutter speed.

First, the technical details. The sensor in a digital camera acts a bit like film in an analog camera. It captures the light that comes through your camera’s lens and creates the image that you see. I’m not going to get that technical, so here is a helpful article if you want to know exactly how a sensor works. The shutter is like a little curtain inside your camera that opens and closes to expose the sensor to light. Your shutter speed determines how long the curtain stays open. It’s usually measured in fractions of a second.

Shutter speed is circled; it’s currently 1/200 of a second.

All three elements of exposure have two features. Shutter speed determines how long your sensor is exposed to light, which will make your photo brighter or darker depending on your surroundings. The longer the shutter is open (i.e., the slower your shutter speed), the brighter your picture will be. It also determines how motion is captured in an image. For example, a high shutter speed will freeze birds in flight while a low shutter speed can give an artistic blur to flowing water.

When I’m getting ready to set my shutter speed, the first thing I try to consider is whether something is moving in my shot and how I want to capture that motion. My next concern is the amount of light that is available to me.

If nothing is moving, I use shutter speed and ISO to control the amount of light in the image, and aperture to determine what parts of the picture will be in focus. We’ll discuss using aperture this way in more detail next week, so for now let’s concentrate on motion. You’re going to want to practice this ahead of time if you have any big shoots planned. Don’t expect perfection on your first try; it can be a fiddly process to get everything just right.

To freeze motion, you want a high shutter speed. This means that your aperture will need to be a lower f-stop than you might normally use, and your ISO might need to be higher as well. The three elements play off of each other at all times; how you adjust one will affect the other two. There is some math behind this, but I’m saving that for the end of our exposure series; I think it will be easier to explain and understand once we’ve gone over all three elements in detail. For now, here’s a practice scenario for you.

(Note: This is just the way I do things. I’m a kinetic learner–I can read or hear about something until the cows come home, but the lesson isn’t going to stick until I actually start trying to do it. I end up experimenting a lot.)

Let’s say I want to take photos of bees. I don’t, really, I’m terrified of bees, but they’re easy to find and they make a pretty good example for this subject. What I would do is set up my camera with my shutter speed fairly high, then use my aperture to focus on a flower, and take a test shot. It’s usually pretty bright outside when bees are around so I can keep my ISO at its lowest setting, which is 100. If my test shot is too bright, I’ll raise my shutter speed even higher and take another test shot. I’ll continue this until I’m satisfied. Then I’ll try to compose an interesting shot with flowers and bees. If necessary, I’ll make other adjustments and shoot again until I get what I want. Like I said, it’s a fiddly process and I’m still learning.

I was trying my hardest to get a shot of the bee in the air to illustrate this point even better, but it just wasn’t happening that day.

You can probably get away without using a tripod in this situation because your shutter speed is high and camera shake won’t be as big of a deal. It’s when you get into low shutter speeds, let’s say slower than about 1/60 of a second, that you will probably want to use a tripod to get the best possible shot.

Now let’s look at low shutter speeds. Although you’re usually shooting in fractions of a second, a slow shutter speed can be full seconds depending on what you want to capture. Some cameras even have what’s called B or bulb mode, which keeps the shutter open for as long as you hold the button down. When your shutter speed is low, your sensor is exposed to light for a longer period of time. This means your aperture needs to be a higher f-stop and your ISO might need to be higher as well. It can be hard to get a long exposure shot on a sunny day without overexposure; for best results, try shooting on overcast days or even at night when you want to use a low shutter speed. Here’s something fun to try at night.

Set up near a fairly busy road. Obviously you don’t want to be so close that cars will hit you. A rooftop or an overpass that has a sidewalk will be ideal. You want a low shutter speed, start out around 2 or 3 seconds. Use your aperture to focus on any stationary things or objects of interest in the area. Your ISO should be low, around 100, because this is all about the light and you want it to be as free from noise as possible. Wait until a car is coming by, then take the photo. Pretty cool, right?

The white lines to the left are the headlights of a passing car. This would have been a lot more impressive if there had been more traffic.

You’ll definitely need a tripod for this sort of shooting. A shutter remote helps as well because then you don’t even have to touch the camera and risk shaking it. You can get some interesting effects if you set a low shutter speed and move the camera deliberately, though, so feel free to play around and see what happens.

A deliberate camera shake can add some interesting effects to a long exposure shot.

There is some math involved in the relationship between your shutter speed and the amount of light that reaches your sensor, but I decided to keep things simple since this is supposed to be a basics post. I wanted to cover this somewhat briefly, and I think this is probably enough for one day, don’t you? Leave a comment here or on Facebook if you’d like me to break the numbers down for you, and I’ll be happy to explain! Next Friday we’re talking about aperture, one of my favorite elements of exposure. I’m going to do my best to have some fun pictures to share. In the meantime, I hope you’ll like and share this post with your friends! Thanks for reading; see you next week!

Fireworks

Photographing Fireworks

Today’s story is mostly about learning from mistakes and making the best of a less than ideal situation.

A couple of weeks ago, I got the idea that I should go to the Independence Day celebration here in Knoxville. It was going to be at World’s Fair Park, and I just knew I could get some amazing pictures of the fireworks and the Sunsphere, and it was going to be great. Fantastic even; the best Fourth of July ever.

And honestly, it wasn’t bad.

My husband and I got downtown early and found what we thought was going to be a good spot to set up. It looked like rain, so we picked a parking garage where there would be shelter, but we’d have an unimpeded view.

Downtown rooftops and the Sunsphere in Knoxville
Downtown rooftops and the Sunsphere in Knoxville.

We still had hours to go, so we went for a walk and sampled some delicious ice cream from a local dairy.

Brownie fudge ripple from Cruze Farm Dairy.
Brownie fudge ripple from Cruze Farm Dairy.

At dusk, we went back to the car and started setting up the camera. Except for a few short rain showers, things were going pretty well. And then the fireworks show started and things fell apart a little bit. It started raining again–we both got drenched, but the camera stayed dry–and I had completely misunderstood where the fireworks display was going to be. So the test shots I had so carefully composed were completely useless. I had to readjust and just make the most of it.

Which was great for a certain hotel chain, I guess, but not so good for me.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.
Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

I can’t complain too much. It was a learning experience, both for shooting fireworks and shooting at night, and I gained a lot. I just wish it hadn’t been such an obstructed view. Plus the show was really short; we waited for hours, and only got 15 minutes of fireworks in the rain.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

Fourth of July fireworks in downtown Knoxville.

I think my biggest takeaway from this experience was that I should have looked into the location a little better. Obstructed view does not make for good composition. Given the weather, I’m not sure that I could have gotten into some of the really good spots without getting my camera soaked, but I probably could have done better than I did. If I decide to do this again next year, I’ll try to shoot from the Gay Street bridge. I think the sight of fireworks blooming and fading over the river will be amazing.

Advice for shooting fireworks:
Location, location, location
A tripod is a must
I would also highly recommend a shutter remote so you don’t even have to touch the camera and risk shaking it
Set your exposure to manual, and your lens to manual focus
Set a slow shutter speed–I shot most of these at about 1.5-2 seconds
ISO should be 100 to minimize noise
Don’t be afraid to play with your aperture a bit until you get it right
Take some time and enjoy the show; remember to look up from your camera from time to time
Have a plan for afterward; traffic can be a real pain, so rather than fight it you might want to find a local restaurant that’s open and hang out a while

Honestly, I think I could have gotten some great shots if only I’d been in a better spot. Rather than dwell on my mistakes, though, I’m going to celebrate because I got some pretty good pictures in spite of the location. The whole point of all this is to learn and improve, and I feel like I was successful in that area. Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed the photos! Please be sure to share this with your friends, and follow me on Facebook if you want to see more!

Street photography

There’s something really special about street photography. At its essence, it’s honest and very pure to me; a good street photo captures a moment in time that can never be repeated. It’s candid, raw, and often imperfect–just like life itself.

Dog riding in car; Seattle 2011
When I first spotted this dog, he was resting his head on the mirror; he had moved by the time I got my camera up, but I still love the picture.

This is what I mean–it’s not a perfect shot; the dog should have been a little more to the left of the frame, and it’s blurry too. But it’s a slice of everyday life, one of those funny moments that will never come around again. Seconds after I took that picture, they were gone.

Humans of New York is one of my favorite examples of street photography. Their work is more thoughtful and composed than I think is typical of the classification, but it’s just so beautiful. I love the stories they tell. I’m not up for taking lots of pictures of people yet–I am intensely uncomfortable around strangers–so I generally tend to focus on things like architectural details, street art installations, landscaping, and whatever else catches my eye.

autumn leaves
A leaf peeks out of the hood of someone’s coat.

 

Heart in a tree
A heart-shaped hole in a tree. The tree is probably still there, but I might never see it again.

 

Waikiki Rainbow
A beautiful rainbow over a jogging path in the Waikiki area of Honolulu.

 

Pulse chalk art memorial
Chalk art in downtown Knoxville on the anniversary of the Pulse shooting

Tips:
Be aware of local laws regarding photographing people (especially children) and buildings; don’t get yourself in trouble
Don’t sweat it if your photos aren’t perfectly composed when you’re first starting out. Try to get your exposure right and let everything else fall into place.
Plan in advance and try to keep your gear down to the essentials. If you’re walking all day, do you really want to lug your whole kit along with you?
Be aware of your surroundings; bring a friend if you’re uncomfortable going alone.
Have fun and enjoy the sights.

I’m sure I’ll have more street photos for you in the future. In the meantime, please be sure to leave me a comment and share this with your friends. For my readers in the US, have a safe and happy Fourth of July weekend! I’ll see you next week. 🙂

Summer fun, part 2

Last week, I posted about my visit to Rock City and promised to share photos from another location we visited in that area, Ruby Falls. We got a double play pass when we visited Rock City, so Ruby Falls was included in the ticket. Since I already told you all how we ended up in the area in last week’s post, today is just going to be another photo dump. Enjoy!

 

 

Tips:
The double play is a really good idea if you want to see more than one attraction on Lookout Mountain. They have other deals if you want to visit even more locations, like the train, but we were really just interested in Rock City and Ruby Falls. Do a little research before your trip and figure out which is best for you.
Go to Rock City when they open in the morning. Save Ruby Falls for the afternoon; it’s cooler underground, so you’ll be able to avoid the sun during the hottest part of the day.
Don’t bother with a tripod at Ruby Falls. Although it would be nice to have for pictures, you’ll be with a big tour group down inside a cavern; there’s limited space to set it up and someone might trip.
Have fun!

 

As always, if you enjoy what you see here, please be sure to leave me a comment and share this with your friends. You can also like my page on Facebook for more photos and updates. See you next time!

Flowers

Although many of my recent posts have been fairly informative, that’s really not what I set out to do when I created this website. For me, the purpose of this page is to keep track of the progress I make as I’m working to become a better photographer, and share a little of what I learn as I go (and also have it written down somewhere so I can refer back to this if I forget things).

In that spirit, here’s a photodump. Like I said before, flowers are one of my favorite subjects and I spend a lot of time seeking them out. Luckily that isn’t difficult here because both the Knoxville Botanical Garden and the Ijams Nature Center have free admission and loads of flowers to enjoy.

Please enjoy the pictures as they are here. My photos are not stock. I would rather you did not download them or post them to other social media sites without requesting permission (either in a comment below or use the form on my about page) and giving credit to me. Thanks.

yellow hibiscus

A few tips for photographing flowers:

Shoot early in the morning or on overcast days
Try to avoid direct sunlight
Don’t use your camera’s flash
A 50mm 1.8 lens has been my best friend for flower photography
Be mindful of creatures that like to live in and around flowers
Watch out for bees, especially if you’re allergic

Thanks for looking, everyone! I hope you enjoyed the pictures. Please come back next time for more! And, as always, if you liked what you saw, please give this a like and share my page with your friends.