To set the scene for today’s post on shutter speed, the second of a series of three about the exposure triangle, I wanted to use Henri Cartier-Bresson’s quote.
In part one of my three-part series, I spoke about aperture (the opening through which light travels through the lens). For me, aperture is one of the less complicated concepts to grasp, making it the natural place to start when trying to understand how to use light in your photography. I used the analogy of the pupil of your eye to explain how we can control how much light travels through the lens to the sensor of your camera, and how that amount of light affects the end-result. Once you have the concept of aperture down, the next one to get to grips with is that of shutter speed. While the whole of Henri Cartier-Bresson’s quote is quite magical, there are two words to keep in mind for this post: “fleeting reality”. That’s really where shutter speed comes in.
First of all, let’s understand what shutter speed is. It’s the speed at which the shutter closes, or the length of time that your image sensor ‘sees’ the scene you want to capture. Being a measurement of speed, it is measured in seconds (more accurately, in tenths of seconds), and, as with the other two parameters of the exposure triangle, has an effect on aperture and ISO when adjusted.
Let me digress very quickly to explain how shutter speed fits in. Imagine that the exposure triangle is the window to a room, with big, heavy curtains hanging on either side. Aperture would represent the size of the window, and would thus affect the amount of light that is let into the room. Imagine closing the curtains really quickly, allowing the room to be exposed to light for a short period of time. That’s shutter speed (and a fast shutter speed at that). Finally, and this is something I will touch on in my next post, imagine you are standing inside the room with a pair of sunglasses on. The strength of your sunglasses represents ISO, making you less or more sensitive to the light that is coming in through your window.
The speed at which you shut those curtains determines how much of the light gets let into the room, and for how long you are exposed to the light. Remember that the shutter equals the curtain. A fast shutter speed (a measurement of 1/4000 of a second for example) will only allow light to be let into the room for a very, very short amount of time- barely lighting the room up at all. Conversely, by slowly closing the curtains (using a slow shutter speed, 1/10 for example), plenty of light will be let into the room, over-exposing things quite drastically.
Shutter speed and exposure
Hopefully my analogy of the curtains has made some sense. Moreover, I hope that you understand a little better how the speed at which your shutter closes affects exposure. Below, I have taken four photos of exactly the same scene- the beautiful Sand River that flows in front of Londolozi’s five camps. I have used four varied shutter speeds, which you will see next to each photo. Note the exposure on each- where a fast shutter speed allows only a small amount of light to reach the sensor, giving an end result that is quite dark. As I slowed down my shutter speed, light was let into my camera for longer, affecting the exposure and giving it that typical blown-out look to the photo, where barely anything but white light can be seen.
Shutter speed and clarity of image
So, you know that shutter speed lets light into your camera at various different speeds. This affects the amount of light, and results in under, or over-exposed images. The second important thing to understand about shutter speed is its effect on capturing movement. Again, understanding that the faster the shutter speed, the quicker a moment is captured, and the slower the shutter speed the slower the capture, you will need to consider your shutter speed when your subject is anything but standing dead still, or posing for you. Below, you will see a set of four photos that I took, again varying my shutter speed as I went. While my previous point about exposure is also nicely illustrated in these photos, the most important thing to notice is how sharply the movement and flow of water is captured with each shutter speed.
Shutter speed in the bush
While my two examples above illustrate my point well, they aren’t particularly related to what you might experience on one of your world-class Safaris at Londolozi. But, they are very important principles to know when out on the reserve. Here are my top five things to remember about shutter speed when capturing wildlife and the surrounds through your lens:
There you have it- that is shutter speed in a nutshell. By now, you should know that I always end off my posts by imploring you to get out and practice these, and other theories of photography. Virtuosity is the key: being able to do the common uncommonly well. Go out and find varied light conditions and moving targets and practice on shutter priority. You will learn a huge amount!
Next time, I will finish off this series by talking about ISO. Please let me know what else you would like me to feature, and let me know what you thought of this post.
Written and photographed by Amanda Ritchie- Photography Studio Manager