Thursday, January 24, 2013

Slow Down Your Shutter Speed

Often modern day photographers obsess over fast aperture lenses, going for crazy F1.4, F1.2, or even the F0.95 lenses, for the sake of accomplishing as shallow depth of field as possible, or in the aid of shooting with available light only. I too, admit to the allure of having bright lenses, and have been crazy about the Sony prime lenses that I have, the 35mm F1.8 and 50mm F1.8. However, using the widest aperture is not the solution to all photography problems. I have always preferred to shoot almost wide open for every shot, for simplicity sake, but there are exceptions where aperture is not the main priority in bringing out the best in an image. 

All images were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5 and Zuiko Digital 50mm F2 macro lens.

ISO100, F/4, 1/5sec


Take the above image for an example. When I came across this man doing his metal cutting stunt, I immediately framed him in my viewfinder and made the shutter click happen. You know, quick reaction just in case the shot is just there for that quick moment. When I reviewed the image on the camera LCD Screen (yes I chimp, so what? I believe it is IMPORTANT to chimp, and chimp necessarily) I found that the image looked too ordinary and lacked something interesting. Then I looked at the man again and he was not going anywhere, as he whipped out another metal strip to be cut. Then I suddenly remembered my rare occasions of shooting fireworks: if I used fast shutter speed, I would freeze the bursts but, if I slow down the shutter speed, I can capture the trail of the fireworks. Similarly can be applied in this scene, hence instead of shooting wide open aperture and higher ISO setting (initially this setting was to freeze motion), I narrowed down the aperture to F4 and toned down the ISO to the minimum 100. Yes shutter speed was slow at 1/5th second, which was adequate to induce the motion trail of the sparks, but I also worried about the man being blurred due to hand-shake or his own movement. Thankfully, the Olympus E-5 has amazing Image Stabilization that mitigated the blur (I was using a 100mm focal length equivalent lens, at 1/5 sec shutter speed), and the man was still as a wood. 

The following image was the original image I shot which lacked "something".

ISO800, F/2, 1/250sec

I guess I am writing this as a reminder to myself as well, because shutter speed is one of the very basics of photography, and knowing how to fully control and utilize its advantage would surely added much flexibility on what I can do and accomplish with my photography work. Most of the time all I cared was how much shutter speed was sufficient to freeze motion, but motion is an important component in photographs as well. Who says photographs have to be still? Photographs can be dynamic, and if you intend to show motion, you can. There is a lot we can play around, even with just a push of a button and a twist of a dial. 

I love cats

Using slow shutter speed takes a lot of discipline to master. How are you going to set the corresponding aperture and ISO settings? Surely the basic understanding of photography exposure must not be skipped here, and if you have not done so, it is crucial to do your own homework. At such slow shutter speed, your hand-holding technique of the camera must be steady enough to avoid inducing blur from your own hand-shaking. Of course it is not going to be easy but practice, and plenty and plenty of practice will get you there. 

So there you go, an important technique that can improve photography without having the need to buy a better equipment !! If you have some tips to share on slow shutter speed, please do so, I would love to hear from you. 

24 comments:

  1. Hello Robin,

    very interesting entry as usual :)
    What are your experiences with aperture and ISO using slow shutter?? Since i have now received a Zuiko 50mm f2,8( yay :) ), i mostly stay at 2,8 and my ISO is normally at 200, though for slow shutter, you need to go up with aperture to lets say 4-5,6 (since it is snowing here, you need to geht even higher, due to the bright white everywhere).

    If i ever manage to get to KL, i will contact you for a shutter therapy session ;)

    Greetings from a -6°C Bavaria
    Stefan

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    1. Hello Stefan,
      You will have to adjust the aperture and ISO based on the lighting condition, which varies from shot to shot. As long as your subject is properly exposed it is fine. Using both shutter priority and aperture priority helps, for you do not have to decide everything.
      I did share the EXIF data of the above shots, and the differences can be seen.
      Yes, if you do come to KL please let me know !

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  2. Very nice Robin and a big difference between your results at 1/5th and 1/25oth. Basically the same strategy that landscaper photogs use for waterfalls. Due to my lack of experience I doubt I would have thought about getting that second (and better IMO) shot. But if I had thought of it, because I almost always use auto ISO with 1/3 stops activated, I would merely have moved the command dial to Shutter priority and set the shutter to 1/5th. The camera would then set the aperature and ISO. I would have gotten the same result of course (ie. F4 and ISO 100).

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    1. Hello Peter,
      Using Shutter Priority surely will produce the same results, and it does not matter what settings we used, as long as we get the results that we intended !! Shutter Priority would have been easier, but you know, my E-5 has this weird problem, it lacks the mode dial to change from A to S quickly. I needed to press a button and another dial to get to shutter priority. So the I have my own reasons to use my own settings !!

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  3. Thanks for the reply, Robin. I do want to be sure you didn't think I was being critical of your set up or camera handling skills *grin*. I guess I just like to beat the AutoISO drum. I'm a big fan of it (OT: and am cursing my new NEX6 for not having it available in the M mode like the EM5 does). Peter

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  4. Ah, reminds me of old time. My father used to say: "use your coconut!". Look at the scene, think of what made it attract your attention, and then use your coconut so as to think how you can improve it. This is an excellent example of -successfully!- improving things by using the coconut :-)

    Thanks for sharing this, Robin. Interesting and good example, and, as always, excellent shot.

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    1. Thanks Andre !! Though from now onwards I might not look at coconuts the same way !

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  5. Nice shot Robin and you raised a good point. Reading through some photography forums and following discussions about 4/3s vs other systems, talking about depth of field and hi ISO, I was sometimes feeling that I, shooting with an Olympus don't have a voice there. But I do, and some limitations that my E-30 may have, make me think about the shots i take. they boost my creativity, and use the camera to its full extent, instead of just increasing ISO. And frankly, when I shoot with Zuiko 50mm at f2 or the Sigma 30mm at f1.4 i don't feel that the depth of field on my photographs needs to be shallower. Lastly, I'm pretty much addicted to your blog, keep posting!

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    1. Hey mateyek,
      agreed, with the Olympus 50mm F2 and the sigma 30mm F1.4, they create good enough shallow depth of field, I don't need anything shallower either.

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  6. nice entry robin, it's all about experience, without experience you might not get the first picture, this entire blog have shown your journey and experience to all reader, it is important not to just have the camera sitting in the dry cabinet, go out and shoot...thanks for all the experience that you have shared.

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    1. Hey amiruddin,
      Thanks !! Yes, we should go out and shoot more !

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  7. Good morning, Robin.
    I love the first shot. It's much much better than what I have taken last Oct'12 at my brother-in-law workshop in Sarikei. The sparks are smooth and dramatic. Actually I also like to do slow shutter as I love panning and the motion of activities.
    Great entries and awesome images.
    On my Priest Ordination Event at St John Cathedral which I attended yesterday, I just need to utilize of what I have(50mm f/1.8G, 17-50mm f/2.8 VC and 18-200mm non-OS) as I am only a supporter to our Brother Gregory Chan. I was sitting quite far from the altar as the front pews were occupied by their family member of the Deacons to be ordained and I struggling to get a 'good' shot. Now I realise I need a good indoor lens like 70-200 f/2.8. That will definately burn my pocket and make my wife's face turn color.
    Being obedient is good but sometime we have to bend those 'word' to get our desired shot. By the way, I thanks the St John Cathedral Hospitality Ministry for allowing me to capture some 'decent' images from my pew.
    Personal note: I am going to Batu Cave this coming Sunday(Thaipusam Day) and I believe Yeow and his gengs will be there also.
    May you have a great Friday.
    John Ragai

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    1. Hello John,
      I will be going to Thaipusam shooting at Batu Caves too but I am joining different group of people. It would be very chaotic and messy, so I am not sure what to expect.
      Glad that you have shot the priest ordination. Shooting inside a church is usually challenging, due to low light conditions. Perhaps using the 50mm F1.8 would help? I know its not close enough, but if you can get permission to move closer it would be easier than using other lenses.

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  8. Very nice robin..i remember when first time i bought my gear..i want to take a pic night b4 hari raya..i need a trail from d kids who played with bunga api..on that time i dunno how to set d gear..luckily my youngest brother give me a tips "use shutter priority..slow d shutter speed"..then i change d setting to 's' n do some xperiment with him..YES!! i can get d trail..then i try do some xperiment again..DRAW WITH D LIGHT..ill try to write some words with my tiny led in d air n its AWESOME..after that i know how important with this shutter speed setting..u can get something different result from ussual pic that u take..
    *hadi nik*

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    1. Hey Hadi,
      Yes, using shutter priority will surely help to get better shots in some situations !!

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    2. Thnx robin..really like ur story comment..for now i always use 'm' mode..donno why..maybe its easy for me to manipulate d gear..today i get a call frm my old friend..he want me to join him to do a street photo during thaipusam at bt caves..for sure on that day i will get a tight schedule..after a photo session i need to rush myself to hear ur speech on tt session..need some tips on street photo frm u..see u on that day..
      *hadi nik*

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    3. Thnx robin..really like ur story comment..for now i always use 'm' mode..donno why..maybe its easy for me to manipulate d gear..today i get a call frm my old friend..he want me to join him to do a street photo during thaipusam at bt caves..for sure on that day i will get a tight schedule..after a photo session i need to rush myself to hear ur speech on tt session..need some tips on street photo frm u..see u on that day..
      *hadi nik*

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    4. Looking forward to seeing you that day !

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  9. Thanks Robin, excellent info.

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  10. very interesting information ... i like it ..

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  11. great articel,,, nice blog ... thank you ,...

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