Using Shutter Speed Creatively in Your Photography

Seemingly-small changes in shutter speed can have a big impact upon your results. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

Seemingly-small changes in shutter speed can have a big impact upon your results. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

I was out shooting recently when an old tire, some sand and a bit of water got me thinking about how critical shutter speed can be to all that we do as photographers.

It was just at daybreak along the shoreline of Lake Pontchartrain when  I came upon an old tractor tire mostly buried in the white sand of a little beach. There was a stiff easterly wind blowing in and a lot of foamy wave action, washing back and forth over the tire. I immediately thought it might be something to work with and set up my tripod and camera. I ‘guessed’ a ½ second exposure to start, and got this image:

A one-half second exposure, the first and longest in the bracket. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

A one-half second exposure, the first and longest in the bracket. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

This wasn’t really what I wanted at all, was it? The slowness of the shutter was allowing the wave action to come and go, obliterating the magic in the foam along the way. I knew I needed a faster shutter to capture this, so I went to a 1/3 second shutter. Here’s what that looked like:

The 1/3 second version. Better, but I still wanted a bit more foam. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

The 1/3 second version. Better, but I still wanted a bit more foam. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

Amazing, isn’t it? Such a seemingly small change can make a huge difference. Still searching for the best result, I then went all the way up the the ‘blazingly-fast’ shutter speed of 1/4 second:

Finally, the 1/4 second exposure. This was what I wanted. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

Finally, the 1/4 second exposure. This was what I wanted. (Copyright 2012 / Andrew Boyd)

Finally, this was what I was experiencing, staring down at this scene, the magic and mystery of mvoing water. Here was the proper shutter speed for this moment in time.

But think about it: the ¼ second exposure is actually twice as fast  as the ½ second expsure, isn’t it? The 1/3 second shot falls in between the other two. So it’s not surprising that the result would be dramatically different.

Once I had settled on the ¼ second exposure, I made a lot of images, trying to time the wave and foam action to produce the best result. But is was only through experimentation, and paying close attention to that all-important shutter speed, that I worked this out.

Hi, I’m Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. The Discerning Photographer, and I hope this post has been interesting and informative. Please leave me a comment about it, let me know what you’d like to see more of on the site! You can also sign up for email delivery of all future articles or my RSS feed. Or subscribe to our Facebook page or our Twitter feed. Thanks!–DiscerningPhotog

Posted in: How To

About the Author:

Photographer, videographer and photo editor. Host and creator of The Discerning Photographer web site. Currently a Canon shooter.

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