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Photography 101: Shutter Speed and Blur
One of the most rewarding aspects of taking photographs happens when you go from merely shooting random snapshots to controlling their directive. Obviously anyone can resume fully automated shooting at any time, but why not learn how to manually create the exact shots that you’d like? By learning about variable exposure settings like ISO, aperture and shutter speed, you too can go from being a point-and-shoot photographer to one who knows exactly how to create perfect shots on your own.
Understanding how changes in shutter speed determine correct exposure is useful under all sorts of lighting situations, especially those moments when you need to shoot in low-light conditions but cannot use a flash. But knowing how changes in shutter speed will affect your image is also extremely useful when deciding whether the movement you’re recording will be “frozen” or blurry.
Everyone has seen images where photographers have cleverly stopped the action of a speeding car or others where moving subjects are literally seen in motion with the background. Among the most popular shots on Flickr when the site first got its start in 2004 was an image of a spinning child. Though the child was clearly visible and in focus, the background was an exceptional array of blurred green grasses and yellow sunlight that resulted in a stunningly memorable image. You can achieve the same results when you learn how to effectively change your camera’s shutter speed.
Shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds. (You can manually hold the shutter open for more than one second for extremely long exposures — sometimes called BULB exposures — but it’s typically a rarely used camera feature that should be utilized along with noise reduction software features for the best results.) The amount of time the camera’s shutter is open, such as 1/1000th of a second, marks the window when the light passes through to the image sensor creating the image). Changes in shutter speed, especially when the shutter is open for longer periods, can greatly affect the focus of your images, so it’s important to have a tripod or monopod handy when experimenting with motion blur. Image stabilization, now a standard feature on most lenses, may help steady your camera while the shutter is open but it isn’t steady enough for taking images with a slow shutter speed below 1/100.
A basic guideline is that a shutter speed of 1/125 or higher can begin to freeze action. If you shoot any moving subject at a slower speed, it will start to blur. The slower the shutter speed, the greater the blur, until a moving subject eventually isn’t seen at all because it’s moving too quickly to be captured on the digital sensor. When deciding which shutter speed to use, first ask yourself how you’d like to represent the moving images in your shot. A shutter speed of 1/100 is excellent for everyday shooting: it’s fast enough to capture daily human movement, but not fast enough for shooting anything on wheels, children running, sporting events, etc. Here’s a very general guide:
To Freeze the Action of a Moving Vehicle: 1/500 second – 1/4000 second
To Blur the Movement of a Running Child or Pet: 1/30 second – 1/250 second (you have to steadily follow the movement with the camera while shooting; usually it’s a good idea to set the camera to “continuous” shooting when trying to increase your chances at a good image capture.)
To Blur the Movement of a Flowing River or Water Fountain: 1/15 second and slower (but with a tripod or monopod).
To familiarize yourself with changes in shutter speed, set your camera to “Shutter Priority” on the mode dial so the camera will continue to adjust the aperture and ISO settings automatically. Next, head out to a location where you can easily shoot subjects moving at different rates of speed, like a sporting event or a busy corner. Select your scene.
Shoot a variety of shots from the same perspective but with different shutter speed settings. For example, first try the fastest shutter your camera will allow; this should freeze any movement in the frame. Next, set the shutter at 1/8th of one second; this should create some blur in subjects in the frame who are moving, while stationary subjects remain in focus. (If everything is out of focus then you physically shifted the camera; try again.) Try shooting the same photo at a full one second — anything that was moving even slightly will be blurred. Finally, try shooting the same photo at the 1/8th of a second again, but this time smoothly move the camera to follow the action. Which photo do you think best captured or communicated what you wanted to say?
It’s easy to experiment like this whenever you want to take specific images but aren’t exactly sure how they will turn out. Perhaps the greatest thing about using digital equipment is that you can learn about your camera in real time. Before long, the right combination of turned dials, set menus and pressed buttons will translate into your signature photo style.
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Digital cameras offer wonderful versatility, especially when you understand how to produce the images you want manually. Even beginners can master their DSLRs easily — first by reading their manual and quick-start guides — and then by comparison shooting, otherwise known as bracketing exposures.
There are many subtle differences between shooting manually versus the point-and-shoot swiftness of utilizing fully automated settings. Most higher-end DSLRs now come equipped with so many options that users, especially first-time photographers, may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices. Without taking the time to learn the variations in exposure, shutter speed, and aperture, however, you’ll never fully understand how to produce the exact images that you’re after.
The differences between shooting in fully automatic modes (where the camera controls everything based on current conditions) or in the more creative manual modes (where either shutter speed or aperture take priority) can be vast. (Photographers can also manually focus their lenses with a quick switch of auto to manual focus on the lens itself, though few do.) You can also manually control the ISO or film speed setting to make your camera more or less sensitive to light, which is especially handy for shooting at night without a flash.
When you first start shooting, set everything to automatic. Let the camera govern exactly how to maximize your shots as you familiarize yourself with shooting. Get accustomed to using the various automatic modes, such as:
Program AE – This fully automatic setting is useful for shooting in any situation. The camera automatically adjusts to changes in light in order to maximize the shot. Program AE is a great default setting if you’re in a situation where you absolutely have to get a great shot but don’t have the time or ability to discern how to best achieve results;
P/Portrait – Automatically adjusts for skin tones, typically prioritizes shutter speed over aperture to increase depth of field, and usually uses a lower ISO setting such as 100 or 200;
L/Landscape – Automatically adjusts to shoot well in full sun (changing the camera’s ISO setting) and typically prioritizes aperture over shutter speed;
C/Close-Up – Automatically anticipates focus of close-up shots of flowers, insects and more and sets the ISO at 100 or 200. Still, very little visual differences can be seen at this setting without a macro lens;
S/Sports – This setting is meant for capturing fast-moving subjects when you want to free the action with an ISO of 400 or more. In some DSLRs, continuous focusing is achievable with this setting;
N/Night Portrait – This setting is used to shoot images of people in low-light settings, such as at night, dusk or dawn. The flash illuminates the subject at a slower sync speed to capture a more natural exposure. Tell your subjects to remain still for a moment, even after the flash fires;
Flash Off – This setting is useful to help achieve what film photographers used to call “pushing” film speed. In other words, you can manually disable the flash (often the setting with the little arrow and slash) and make the camera more sensitive to light by changing the film speed from an average of 400 to 1600 or more.
Once you’ve tried the automatic settings, use them in different situations. Try freezing the action at a sporting event or blurring the background of a portrait. Before long you’ll have favorite auto settings that you can use comfortably knowing each time that you can easily anticipate excellent results.
Next, review the section of the mode dial that is typically referred to as the “Creative Settings” section. These settings enable you to either prioritize aperture (settings marked by F-stop numbers – the lower the number the greater amount of light enters the lens) or shutter speed (the speed in which the shutter opens and closes to let in light to “expose” the image).
AV/Aperture Priority – In this creative manual mode, you set the desired aperture value by F-stop (usually ranging from F-5.0, F-5.6, F-6.3, F-7.1, F-8.0, F-9.0, F-10, F-11, F-13, more). As was previously mentioned, the larger and brighter the aperture number, the lower its value. This is a great mode for capturing stunning portraits. To increase the background blur (and to help focus a viewer’s attention on the subject) choose a larger aperture setting for a narrower depth of field.
TV/Shutter Priority – In this creative manual mode, you set the shutter speed, which can either freeze or blur motion. A fast shutter speed (any value of more than 125) can freeze action while a slower shutter speed below 125 blurs action. A slower shutter speed also makes the camera more sensitive to light, but the camera automatically adjusts aperture in the TV/Shutter Priority mode.
M/Manual Exposure – In this creative mode, you set both the shutter speed and the aperture value. To then determine how to effectively expose your image, refer to the exposure settings in your viewfinder or on your LCD screen.
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- The Canon EOS-50D 15.1 MP Camera Body has a high-sensitivity, single-plate CMOS sensor with improved noise reduction
- Image Sensor Size: 22.3mm x 14.9mm
- Aspect Ratio: 3:2 (Horizontal:Vertical)
- Color Filter System: RGB Primary Color Filters
- 14-bit Conversion
- The EOS 50D Digital Camera Body features a next generation DIGIC 4 Image Processor
- Recording Format: Design Rule for Camera File System 2.0
- Image Type: JPEG, RAW (14-bit, Canon original), sRAW, and RAW+JPEG
- The Canon EOS-50D Digital SLR Body has a continuous shooting speed of 6.3 fps (High Speed)
- Maximum Burst: JPEG (Large/Fine): Approx. 60 (CF)/Approx. 90 (UDMA CF)
- RAW: Approx. 16
- RAW+JPEG: Approx. 11 (Large/Fine)
- Picture Style: Standard, Portrait, Landscape, Neutral, Faithful, Monochrome, and User Def. 1-3
- Image Processing Type: Auto, Daylight, Shade, Cloudy, Tungsten Light, White Fluorescent Light, Flash, Custom, and Color Temperature Setting
- 3.0-inch Clear View LCD with Multiple Coatings, 920,000 Pixels, and 160-degree Viewing Angle
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- The Canon Powershot G10 14.7 MP Camera Body has a high-sensitivity CCD sensor with 28-140mm wide zoom and increased screen resolution.
- Image Sensor: 1/1.7", Type CCD with 14.7 million effective pixels.
- Max Image Size: 4416x 3312 pixels
- Max Movie Size: 640 x 480 @ 30fps
- File Formats: JPEG (Exif v2.2), RAW, AVI (Motion JPEG + WAVE)
- Lens: 28-140mm (35mm equiv), 5x optical zoom, F2.8-4.5, with Lens Shift Image Stabilization
- ISO Sensitivity: Auto, High Auto, 80, 100, 200, 400, 800 and 1600
- Exposure Compensation: +/- 2EV in 1/3 stop increments
- Shutter Speed: 15-1/4000 sec
- Modes: 9 Camera Modes with 12 Scene Modes and 7 White Balance Modes
- LCD Screen: 3.0" TFT, 461,000 pixels, 100% coverage (adjustable)
- Camera Effective Pixels: 10.1 Megapixels
- Optical Image Stabilizer: MEGA O.I.S.: (Mode 1 / Mode 2 / Mode 3)
- Leica D Vario Lens: Yes (DMC-L1, DMC-L10)
- CCD (Image Sensor): Live Mos Sensor, 11.8 Total Mega pixels, Aspect ratio 4:3 (Horizontal : Vertical), Primary Color Filter, Supersonic Wave Filter
- Image Sensor Size: 17.3 x 13mm
- Extra Optical Zoom: Max. 1.8x (Not effective with full pixel recording. Magnification ratio depends on the recording pixels)
- Digital Zoom 1: 2x / 4x (live view only)
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