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.