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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Monday, September 21, 2009

To freeze or not to freeze - the shutter speed dilemma

As I've mentioned here before I pretty much spend most of my time in Aperture Priority mode. I choose the aperture and let the camera choose the shutter speed. I came to shoot this way from the days when cameras weren't so smart and if you set yourself a fast shutter speed (say 1/8000 second to freeze some action) and it was too dark for such a shutter speed - well the camera would take the picture anyway and you'd get a blank picture!

So I used to (and still do) put my camera into aperture priority and set my widest aperture. When you open up your camera as wide as it will go (say f2.8, f3.5 etc) you'll always get the fastest possible shutter speeds for those conditions.

Now they have smart cameras which, even if you set 1/8000 second, will drop back down to a shutter speed in the realm of possibility automatically for you.

But one place I've always used Shutter Priority is for slow shutter speeds. I like blur in my pictures more than completely freezing the movement in a lot of situations. Why? Because then you can tell that something is actually moving.

Take these wind turbines here. Photographed up at Ravenshoe on the Atherton Tablelands this is the State's largest wind farm and these things move really slowly on a calm sunny day. As in so slow that you need a really slow shutter speed to get any movement in them whatsoever. To get a slow enough shutter speed here I was using very slow slide film (ISO 50), I had on a polariser and a neutral density filter and this is as much movement as I could get.

If I recall I was down to a couple of seconds exposure time. I probably wouldn't need such a slow shutter speed on a windy day because I'm sure they move a bit faster but I like sunshine! :)

But the next time you see a moving subject and you try and get a fast enough shutter speed to freeze all the motion don't forget that having some blur in the picture can impart more of a sense of movement. Oh and if you don't want the entire frame to be blurry due to hand shake best to use a tripod.


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wow! this is so good! i really like it when you slightly unfreeze this image. theres this really cool effect