How to Capture Movement Effects by Playing with Shutter Speed

We talked about the Exposure Triangle in a previous article where shutter speed was defined as one of the three elements that control how much light is caught by the film or sensor. Let us now look closer at how shutter speed works and the different ways we can use it to produce movement effects.

Shutter speed is measured by seconds or fractions of seconds. For example, you may leave the shutter open for 1/500 which means a five hundredth of a second or you may decide on one whole second. Shutter speed options vary in cameras. Compact cameras might not have a wide range of shutter speed measurements compared to DSLRs.

Aside from its relation to light, shutter speed can also be used to manipulate the appearance of movement in a shot. A fast shutter speed (such as 1/1000) can capture movement so quickly that the moving object can seem frozen and a really slow setting such as four seconds can intentionally blur the action for artistic effect.

Some cameras are capable of leaving the shutter open for a very long time. This is often called the B setting and by using it, you can keep the shutter open for as long as the shutter release button remains pressed. This is usually used for astrophotography (such as shooting star trails) and for particular effects such as light painting.

There are many popular in-camera effects that optimize shutter speed settings:

Motion blur – this is simply moving the camera while using a slow shutter speed to create interesting blur effects. Motion lines appear when the lens moves and these can be straight or wavy or just a haphazard pretty mess.

 Frozen action – by using a very fast shutter speed, you can freeze actions while keeping the subject in sharp focus. This is great for sports and nature photography where the subject is usually moving fast. Capturing them in mid-motion can make for very interesting shots.

Panning – this is when you focus on the subject while it is moving and while the shutter is open for a few seconds. Usually, it is easier to achieve if the panning motion is side to side. It is more challenging if the camera pans vertically. If done correctly, the result is a clear subject with a blurred background. An example would be a racing car in focus while the track has become blurred and shows motion lines. These lines can give the viewer the impression of just how fast the car is zooming by.

Zoom blur – this effect is more effective with a zoom lens and a tripod (or any steady surface) since the motion lines will come out straighter. Using a relatively slow shutter speed, use the lens to zoom away or towards the subject. If you don't have a zoom lens, manually move the camera instead. There is a chance the camera shake will be very visible, although interesting results might also come about.

If you want to keep your images sharp, your camera has to be as steady as possible, especially with the slower shutter speeds. Using a tripod or a steady surface will allow longer shutter speeds while maintaining clarity and focus. If you are holding the camera, make sure you are using the fastest shutter speed possible without compromising a decent exposure. Since less light is let in with faster speeds, you have to make up for it by adjusting the other two elements: aperture and ISO.

Try to experiment with the various shutter speeds because the image can appear different with every fraction of a second. By using it to show fascinating action effects, you can enhance the viewers' experience by giving them the visual illusion of movement.


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How to Photograph Leaves

One of the most versatile subjects you can find is a leaf. There are thousands of different kinds of leaves. If the saying is 'no two snowflakes are alike' then I would also argue that no two leaves are alike. Not only do they differ in family but also in shape, color, texture, pattern and size. Each leaf of the same plant is distinctive which just goes to show the intricacies of nature.

Leaves are easily accessible. They can be found almost everywhere you look, from the ones in the garden to the produce section in the grocery.

Your subject may be just a singular leaf, it may also be a pile of leaves. It can be in its natural state hanging at the end of a plant stem in a field, it might also have fallen and drifted to the edge of a concrete sidewalk. The possibilities of capturing stunning leaf shots are only limited by your creativity and skills as a photographer.

Did you know that leaf shots make great stock photos? Some clients buy them because they can be the perfect background for a magazine cover or a blog template, others buy them purely because they look interesting. You can upload hundreds of leaf shots to your online portfolio and each one would be unique and a possible sale.

The question is how do you make each shot interesting? Sure, the leaf itself is one of a kind but if your shot is uninspired, it will be obvious and your good shots will be buried under your mediocre ones.

Here's what you can do to spice things up:

Highlight its best feature. What is it about the leaf that makes it so special? Is it the strange patterns or the large veins? Maybe it is the color? If so, play around with the lighting to show it off. With this photo, I used the backlighting technique to further enhance the golden color of the leaf. A simple black background was used to add contrast to the gold hues. The lighting method also brought attention to the fascinating vein patterns.

Add 'props' such as water drops. Yes, dew or water droplets on a leaf would be considered a 'cliché' shot but if it does make your shot more interesting then why not. Try to surprise the viewer by going one step further such as overdoing the number of droplets such as in this leaf shot. The droplets make wonderful patterns and you might notice that they also magnify the details of the leaf which add to its 'interestingness'.

Do something to the leaf itself. Capture it as it is burning, cut it into strips, write on it, tear it, bend it, fold it, weave it, roll it, freeze it, dry it out in the sun, press it, wrap it around something. The shots you take after doing any of this are bound to be attention-grabbing. Of course, still keep the basic photography principles in mind or else you might end up with a very unappealing shot of some green mush that barely looks like a leaf.

Close up and macro shots are often used for leaf shot but it really depends on how you compose the shot. Depth of field can provide focus on only a few leaves while keeping the other leaves blurred and therefore less distracting in the background. The more you shoot leaves, the easier it will become for you to know how to show its uniqueness.


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A Guide to Taking Group Shots

Group photos are very popular and knowing how to take them is a great advantage, especially if you are planning to be an event photographer. From regular family events to activities like sports games, to weddings and other special occasions, the opportunities to take them are always available. However, photographing a lot of people in one shot can be quite a challenge. There are a lot of elements that might be hard to control, such as hyperactive children.

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Using Fill Flash to Illuminate Dark Foreground Subjects

Fill flash is a fabulous technique to add more life to dull images and it helps you brighten an otherwise dark subject. The fill flash is literally that; the photographer uses a flash to fill or to add more light to a shadowed subject. In order to maximize its effect, you have to know exactly when to use a fill flash. It does not mean that you always have to leave your flash setting on at every shooting occasion.

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