Saturday, November 26, 2011

Shutter Speed is your friend

OK, It's been an obscenely LONG time since I've been able to actually sit and write anything. It's been a rough couple months.

Only slightly (in my experience) better understood than the effects of the aperture is the shutter speed. Using this is how you either freeze or blur motion, make the difference where you get a decent hand held shot over needing a tripod, or in some circumstances, actually get your camera's sensor to do some strange things.

I'll start with an amateur car race I photographed right around the time that I actually intended to write this post.

I have to admit that I broke one of my cardinal rules, and I think it's well worth mentioning here as a little side note: Always have a list of intended shots! Since I was photographing the race (at least partially) with this post in mind, I came up with a list of what I wanted to show, but didn't write it down. In the excitement of the day, which included running back to the hotel to change- shorts are not allowed track side, as it turns out; I forgot a couple. If  I'd had a written list, or at least a note on my cell, I would not have so easily missed them.

On with the examples... First, stopping action. Generally speaking, the faster your shutter speed, the less time will be allowed for your subject (or in some circumstances you) has to move during the shot. Easy, right?

In the first example, I cranked up my shutter speed a bit (1/1600th of a second), and got an otherwise decent frame of this car.

The trouble is that you can't tell that this car is actually in the middle of the race. The wheels aren't turning, the grass is clear, as is the corner worker's truck in the background. I might as well have shot it sitting still in the paddock.

For the next frame, as well as turning down the shutter speed, I used a technique called panning. I was attempting to swing my torso in the exact direction as the car, at the same angular speed, keeping the car in the same spot in the viewfinder. At first it sounds reasonably straight forward (I know I thought so anyway), but the more I thought about it, the trickier it became. I have to admit, the first few frames didn't work out so well, but after a couple attempts I started to get the hang of it.

This Corvette was taken at 1/200th of a second- quite a bit slower than the first one.This time, you can actually tell that the guy was actually moving.

To be filed under the photographer moving category, as well as under poor technique, the next frame (taken at 1/320th of a second) shows what happens when the photographer (me) is moving during the frame. To be honest, I can't quite tell if I was swaying too much, or just wasn't panning with the car properly- I haven't looked at it that closely yet.

You'll notice that the car is totally blurry. We all get shots like this, especially when starting out. Considering that I had never even seen a car race before, let alone photographed one, I'm surprised I didn't get a greater quantity of these. There is a reason that every photographer I know goes through every shot from the shoot, and picks out the best ones. Nobody (except for a couple wedding photogs I've seen- and they should learn this rule, too) shows the client everything.

Also in the category of subject and photographer moving is the next one. About a decade ago (in the days of film), I was doing a lot of work with local bands, usually in night clubs. It was a lot of fun, and I had the opportunity to learn how to work in some of the most difficult lighting conditions I could think of. Anyway, I was looking through some prints from back then, and came across this one. Clearly, Wayne and I were both moving (notice the movement in the microphone stand- that's me moving), and due to the nearly total lack of light, I had my shutter speed way to slow to hand hold, but I actually kind of like the nearly surreal way this came out. I likely set it aside back then because it's technically very bad, but have grown to like it in a way. This is why I don't delete (or toss) anything, except for the worst of the worst, even if nobody else sees them.

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