Tuesday, September 20, 2011

photography basics: shutter speed

Back in high school I took a photography class and I LOVED it.  I took every single semester I could.  I took AP photography.  I wasn't fabulous, but I was learning at a good speed, and I really enjoyed photography.

Then I graduated and no longer had what I needed accessible to me (I was using an old-school D.I. antique camera and black and white film which I developed myself.  I also developed the pictures myself in the darkroom at school.).  I still snapped pictures every now and then, but it go frustrating because I had so little control during processing.  I finally gave up.

The digital photography came out and I got excited.  But all I got the guts to buy was a point-and-shoot camera....the cheapest I could find.  I often found myself frustrated because I couldn't control any of the settings, not to mention the slow shutter speed drove me nuts.  I always seemed to be just after the moment I was shooting!  Again, I gave up.

Fast forward to my getting sick.  I finally realized that I needed to do a few things I enjoyed just to keep myself sane and healthy.  When we got our tax return this year, I ran out to Costco and bought myself a DSLR camera on sale.  Finally a good camera with all the settings.  Back in business!

The only problem was, that I was rusty.  And I hadn't learned about things like ISO, white balance, etc. from my black-and-white-film photography classes.  I googled and read blogs and figured quite a bit out on my own.  I talked to my dad a lot (he's a great photographer).  I finally took the plunge and took a lesson from a camera shop.  Suddenly, I understood more and enjoyed taking pictures and experimenting more and more.  I started to improve a little.  But I felt like I lacked the knowledge, feedback, and motivation I needed to improve more.

Then I got a continuing education pamphlet in the mail from a local college and noticed they offered photography classes.  I knew I needed to jump in.  I knew it would get me in the "artsy-fartsy" frame of mind again, have deadlines to learning things, interaction and feedback from peers and a teacher, and further instruction on using a DSLR camera.  I vacillated which class to do - beginning or intermediate - but finally decided on beginning because I figured that I could always learn something and even if I sat through most of the class bored, it would hopefully wake my brain up to art again.  Added bonus:  my mom jumped in to take the class too.

My first class was last week.  It was mostly like photography kindergarten, but I did learn a couple things.  I learned that I can use a manual focus on my camera.  I didn't know that, and I was delighted to find out about it.  I learned about sensors in my camera and the different automatic sensors in my camera.  All in all, a little boring, but still a lot of fun.

Most of the class was about shutter speed.  I thought I'd share a little bit since there might be someone out there reading this blog that may benefit from me sharing. 

The shutter of the camera is a little curtain that moves to let light in every time you snap a picture.  The speed at which the shutter opens and closes affects how much light comes into a picture, and also how clear the picture is.  The faster the shutter speed, the less light is let in, and also the sharper the picture is (generally speaking).  Pictures with a fast shutter speed set to freeze a fast moment is called "stop-action".  The setting generally ranges from 1/100-1/8000 (that measurement being fractions of a second.) Sports, kids, moving objects that you want to freeze a clear picture of are taken at stop-action speed.  Pictures like this:

I know this picture breaks the "rule of thirds", but I laughed out loud when I saw it, so I decided I preferred it to my alternative anyway.  Rules of art are more like guidelines anyway, right?

The next thing a shutter speed can be used for is to "show-action", such as water running on a mountainside....like this:
My least favorite of the shots I had to turn in, but my camera battery ran out a few minutes after I arrived, so I had very limited options.  I am anxious to fiddle around with this a little more later.  With a still place (or tripod) to put my camera, and a full battery.   I still enjoyed taking it though.  :)
For that kind of a shutter speed, you will need either a flat surface to put your camera, or a tripod, because you have to leave the shutter open as long as possible (therefore the motion of the water continues to be captured and runs together, while the stillness of the surroundings are also captured.).  This shutter speed was 2.5 seconds (the longest I could leave it open with my camera's settings.)

The last type of picture you can take focusing on shutter speed is a "moving picture".  In this type of picture, you set a slightly slower-than-normal shutter speed (fast enough to get a clear picture, but slow enough that your movement will affect the shot) and follow your subject after you have taken the picture.  This shutter speed would generally be from 1/30-1/60 of a second, but it would also vary with the time of day.  This results in a clear (or somewhat clear) photo of your subject, while making the environment around it show the movement, like this:

These photos are the ones I just emailed my teacher for my first assignment.  I had this great plan to get my horse running as the last "moving picture", but I ran out of time.  I think the alternative is pretty cute though, and I'm sure I'll be able to squeeze Rocky into another picture.  :)

Good luck with your picture taking!  I hope you were able to understand what I was trying to explain, and the you have a chance to play around a little with shutter speed.  It's really fun!

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