Hi. In this edition of the series we are going to chat about shutter speed in low light situations. In the last installation of the series, we discussed shutter speed in well lit situations, and shooting in shutter priority mode. As important as I feel like it is to learn what your camera(s) will do in all of the different settings, we are going to be approaching this segment mostly in full “manual” mode. Please don’t be intimidated. “M” is the most liberating setting that your camera affords you. Embrace it.
This might not be the right place to say this, but lower light makes for much more interesting photos. When we have long shadows, and directional (other than directly over head) light sources, is when we should be shooting. Some people use the term “golden hour” to describe the hour after sunrise, and hour before sunset. I tend to endorse that term. Images shot during those windows tend to be golden.
Let’s do a brief overview of shooting in manual, but focusing on shutter speed effects. As you most likely recall, the main decision that we need to make when we are choosing a shutter speed, is– “do we want to freeze time, or do we want to show motion?” And actually, as Zach aptly pointed out in the comments of the previous shutter speed post, the question might also be– “do we want to avoid camera shake/unwanted motion blur?”
Ok, switch your camera to “M.” Now we are going to have to set the aperture (f-stop) and the shutter speed. After a little practice, shooting in manual will become second nature. But while we are becoming acclimatized, lets refer to the bucket metaphor as often as we need to. If we are trying to freeze time in low light, we are probably going to want to open up the aperture as wide as our lens goes (and possibly bump up the ISO to compensate for smaller maximum apertures). If we are going for some motion blur, then we can start at a neutral f-stop like f/4, or even f/8. After we take a couple of test shots at our desired shutter speed (based on how low the lighting is), we can adjust the aperture up or down. For long shutter shots, we are probably safe dialing down the aperture as much as we want, as long as we can do a 30 second (or better) shutter speed.
For viewing pleasure, my homey Sam Adams (direct relation to the founding father/brewmaster) was kind enough to make a video of me awkwardly demonstrating how to achieve a few shutter speed oriented effects in low light. As a side note, I have often called on Sam to model product that I’m shooting for editorial stuff. In fact, that is Sam longboarding in the photo at the top of this post. Sorry ladies, he is taken. Please feel free to laugh at how poorly I articulate thoughts on camera (and in real life?). Also, please forgive all of the “uh”s and “um”s. Did I mention that I talk a lot? Anyway this is the first ever Shot by Jake video tutorial. Thanks again to Sam for shooting and cutting this. He did a great job, especially given the fact that we just threw this together in one long take.
Some quick terminology for the tutorial– “prime lens”= a lens that has a fixed focal length (the opposite of a “zoom lens”).
Homework: Shoot something in low light, using shutter speed to show motion.
Extra credit: Shoot a long shutter-speed image at night (of something stationary or moving).