What is so awesome about shutter speed? part 2

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).

View all parts of this series here.

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  1. This was good. Shutter speed is harder for me to grasp and get good shots with. I will work on it. I didn’t really do well with the last homework so I didn’t send any photos.

  2. Well done, Jake and Sam. (Is he really directly related to THE Sam Adams? Amazing.)

    I didn’t find your dialog awkward, and the “uhs” and “ums” make for a relatable, conversational presentation.

    I vote for more photography tutorials, please. (Hopefully the polls aren’t closed?)

  3. Jake! Thanks so much for doing a video. All of your posts in this series have been SOOOOOO helpful, you have no idea. It was good to see you explain it, more videos! Thanks Sam! Keep them coming.

  4. @rebecca: Awesome question. “AI Servo” should basically be used any time that you know the distance between you and your subject will be changing while you are shooting. “One Shot” is for stationary subjects. “AI Focus” is supposed to be able to tell whether the subject is stationary or moving and automatically selects One Shot or Servo for you. In my personal experience, I have found “AI Focus” to be more frustrating than helpful. Maybe I’ll do a separate post about this, or work it into the post about composition.

  5. I found your tutorials through Reagan’s blog (found her blog while searching how many girls out there were named Piper…alas we are having twin boys so I will never get my little Pip) and am so glad I did. These are such great tutorials. Although I’m just finding them I am going to work on the assignments and reread the posts. I know I have a few questions but want to reread posts to make sure I didn’t miss the answer somewhere. So this is a realllly long comment to say thank you for taking the time to put these together…they rock.

  6. Jake, I really appreciate the video. It made so much more sense to be able to watch the photo session, as opposed to just reading it. I am still primarily shooting in P mode and need to work at becoming more familiar and comfortable with shutter speed and aperture. This was certainly helpful. I would love to see something on manipulating depth of field for portraits and maybe even one on just ISO. I’m constantly cranking my ISO as high as it will go (1600) for indoor shots and I’m probably sacrificing some quality because of it. Should I be using my flash instead? I just find flash gives a slightly unnatural quality to my pictures (ex. turning my sons light blond hair strawberry-ish) and try to use natural light whenever possible.

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