Nature Photography, LLC
What a Compliment!
Let’s say that you really, really like a particular photograph. For some reason, it just speaks to you in a way that others don’t. You could buy a copy of the image and hang it on your wall -- always a good option. This allows you to see and enjoy it everyday, plus it supports the photographer who made the image. But what if that just isn’t enough? What if it is THE photograph that really captures the essence of something you’ve been looking for? Then, perhaps, a form of appreciation that is a bit more permanent might be what you are looking for. Something like a tattoo. This is precisely what Amanda Abbott had done when she came across our image “Casual Approach – Lioness.” Ms. Abbott honored us immensely when she chose to have our image permanently inked in a prominent position on her right arm. What a way to share your love of our work! Thank you for sharing this with us, Ms. Abbott. We love it!
Shutter Speed Basics
We have all seen those amazing photographs of the football receivers frozen in mid-leap, high in the air, one arm outstretched to grab the slightly-off-target throw. We have also seen the beautiful images of waterfalls pouring down a rock face in a lovely cascade, the motion of the water caught in a still frame. When we try to capture those same images using our cameras’ automatic settings, our results are often less than satisfactory. How do we fix this? Be brave – take your camera off of automatic, and learn how to use shutter speed to create the images you want.
“Shutter speed” is the term used to describe how long the film or digital sensor is exposed to light. There is a diaphragm, or shutter, inside the camera that opens when you depress the “take this picture” button (called the shutter release button), stays open the designated amount of time, then closes again to stop the influx of light onto the film or sensor. Normally this all happens very quickly, literally within a fraction of a second. That is why shutter speeds are often fractions: 1/60 means that the diaphragm is open for one 60th of a second. A shutter speed of 1 means that the diaphragm is open for a full second, etc. The smaller the number, then, the faster the shutter opens and closes, resulting in a shorter time frame for light to hit the sensor or film.
Why on earth does this matter, you ask? It is this variance that allows you to freeze – or capture the sense of – motion. To get a crisp, sharp image of that football receiver mid-leap, you need to use a very short shutter speed, perhaps as low as 1/3200. (Using a flash can allow for much higher shutter speeds, but that is outside the purview of this article.) At the other end of the spectrum, to capture the sense of motion in that waterfall, you may need a shutter speed of several seconds (and a tripod).
Other factors besides freezing / capturing motion also come into play when deciding upon shutter speeds, most notably how brightly illuminated the subject is. The brighter the subject, the lower the shutter speed can be, because it does not take as much time for the appropriate amount of light to hit the sensor. Think of it as pouring water into a bucket. If you are using a ¼” hose, it will take longer to fill the bucket than if you are using a 3” hose. Dim light (the ¼” hose) will take longer to get the necessary amount of light onto the sensor, while very bright light (the 3” hose), does not take as long. This means that the shutter speeds necessary to freeze the football player in mid-leap may vary from 1/500 in a stadium at night to 1/3200 in bright daylight. Similarly, the waterfall may require a shutter speed of 1/30 in bright daylight to 3 seconds in tree-cover. Night photography can range from 3 seconds to several hours for star trails. One of our featured images this month, “Blue Dusk – Acacias,” had an exposure of about 20 seconds. It was dark enough that my eyes could not pick out the trees, but by allowing the shutter to remain open for an extended amount of time, my camera was able to gather enough light to create a beautiful image.
One note regarding slow shutter speeds: it is generally agreed that we shaky humans can only hand-hold a camera down to 1/60 second and still get a sharp image. If you want to use a slower shutter speed than 1/60, use a tripod. Or brace your camera on a bean bag. Or put it down entirely and use the self-timer. There are many options, but the basic idea is to get your camera out of your hands and onto something much more stable. (And resting it on your buddy’s shoulder is not more stable.)
As you begin to play with shutter speed, take an initial photograph on the automatic setting and pay attention to the shutter speed setting the camera chooses. (It will be the one given as a fraction, not the decimal. We’ll deal with the decimal next month.) Most cameras these days have an option that lets you choose the shutter speed while the camera chooses the appropriate aperture to give a proper exposure. Usually called shutter-priority mode, this is a great place to start, because it allows you to manipulate only this one factor and see how it affects your photographs. As you then manipulate the shutter speed settings, as long as your camera does not say HIGH or LOW where that decimal usually is, you should be able to get a properly exposed image -- which removes your subject’s brightness from the equation, making it even easier to understand shutter speed.
Your particular camera may not have the range of shutter speeds mentioned here, and that’s okay. You will still have enough of a range to give you significantly different images of the same subject, with various gradations in-between. So find that shutter-priority mode and a moving target, and go play. Find out what your camera can do, and more importantly, how to bring the images you want to life.
Get 10% off of unframed, 8x12 prints of “Casual Approach -- Lioness” (of course!) and / or “Blue Dusk -- Acacias” when you order from our specials page. As with all of our unframed prints, these prints are eligible for our No Hassle Returns.
Spring is coming! March 20th marks the Vernal Equinox, or the first day of spring. Unless, of course, you are in the Southern Hemisphere, in which case March 20th is the Autumnal Equinox, or the first day of autumn. Here are a few other odd-ball facts about the equinoxes.
· Even though we think of the equinox as the 24-hour period when day and night are equal, that day actually comes several days closer to the winter side of each equinox. Why? The equinox is marked by the day when the center of the sun’s disk is above the horizon for the same amount of time as it is below the horizon. But because we count the first visible top edge of the sun’s disk as “sunrise” and the last visible bottom edge of its disk as “sunset,” the actual length of “day” is longer than “night” by a few minutes on the equinox.
· The earth’s atmosphere makes a difference, too. Our atmosphere bends light, resulting not only in very cool phenomena such as phantom ships and mirages (see our August, 2010, newsletter), but also in the appearance of the sun being higher in the sky than it really is at sunrise. Thus, the sun appears to be above the horizon, when it isn’t actually there yet.
· The equinoxes are the only times that the sun rises due east and sets due west.
· Both the north and south poles will see the sun barely skim over the horizon on March 20th. This begins the period of six months of light at the north pole and six months of darkness at the south pole.
· Ever wondered how the date for Easter is determined each year? It is always on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the (Northern Hemisphere’s) vernal equinox.
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