shutter speed

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It’s the start of a brand new year and I have a new technique for you to try that will revolutionize your photography from this day forward. Get Closer!

Get Closer? Get closer to what? Your friends? Your family? Your camera? Ohhh I bet your camera would love that, take it out to a nice dinner and a movie.

No, get closer to your subjects! One of the absolute most simplest, best ways to improve your photography is to start getting closer to your subjects. Perhaps a visual demonstration is in order…take my Gorilla friend here.

Gorilla Full Torso Shot

As photographs go, it’s not a bad shot. It shows the overall Gorilla, it’s relative size, and some of it’s surroundings. There may be some glare from the glass that was captured, but that can be forgiven considering the fact it was shot at a zoo. However, it is kind of boring and plain when you look at it. It’s basically just a Gorilla standing there.

So what if we got closer, much, much closer like this (btw I highly recommend clicking on the photo to see the full effect)…

Gorilla Face Closer!

Now the photograph has taken on a completely new meaning. It puts us right there eye to eye with the great majestic beast. At this distance we can see every wrinkle, every nuance of character in the Gorilla’s face, and most importantly those big, brown eyes starting right back at us.

There are so many visually interesting things to look at and think about now. Look at those crumbs in his beard…I wonder what he ate for lunch? His eyes look kind of sad…is he going through a rough time in his life, is he trying to express his displeasure at being stuck behind glass, or do his eyes always look like that?

Being so close to him in this photo it’s almost impossible not to connect with him on an emotional level, and think to yourself, wow those eyes really do look so human. All from simply doing nothing more than getting closer to your subject.

Now of course, when we say “get closer” we mean in a safe and responsible way. Certainly, I’m not suggesting that you climb into the Gorilla enclosure and meet them face to face.

There are 3 ways that you can get closer to your subjects when shooting your photos:

  1. You can physically walk closer to them when taking your shot; but perhaps not in the case of dealing with Gorilla’s or other wild animals. That would give a whole new meaning to the term “that’s the end of that camera”. It does work amazing when shooting people though, especially children.
  2. You can use the zoom function on your camera, or a zoom lens in the case of an SLR camera. This is a great way to get close to subjects that are very far away, or are out of reach, such as if they are a wild animal behind a glass enclosure.
  3. You can crop the photo in post-production after you’ve taken the shot to make it appear that you were closer. This is a good option for those times when you forget to get closer to your subject when shooting and decide later on that would be a better composition.

Each of these methods has positive attributes and also some drawbacks depending on the situation.

Physically getting closer to your subject is usually the preferred method if possible. This allows you to better connect with your subject while taking the shot, and also helps you to see your subject from a new perspective as the surroundings often change when you move closer. This allows you some really great options to set up the perfect composition in your shot. So why not do this all the time?

This method has some drawbacks too, which we discussed briefly before. Sometimes your physical location in relation to the subject doesn’t allow you to get any closer. Perhaps you’re behind a barrier of some kind. Maybe getting closer would put you in a dangerous situation such as if you were photographing a fire, or a flash flood. One key to taking great photos is definitely remaining safely out of danger so you can share them with others.

Physically getting closer to this flower, afforded me the opportunity to also capture this pollinating bee in the shot.

Getting Physically Closer – Flower and Bee

If you can’t get physically closer to your subject, you can try using the zoom function on your camera, or a zoom lens to get yourself closer to the action. Using zoom is a great alternative to get closer when your shooting situation doesn’t allow you to physically get as close as you would like. Such as, if you were shooting some people on a boat out on the lake, while standing on the shore. Or perhaps your subject is in a show or a concert, you certainly can’t get right up on stage with them. I mean you probably could, but it would most likely be the last thing you ever shoot in that venue.

Zooming is great, but it has it’s drawbacks as well. If you are using the zoom function on a point and shoot camera you need to be careful not to zoom too far. Point and shoot cameras use 2 types of zoom systems, optical and digital.

Optical is when the lens physically moves to make the image larger and the glass elements arrange themselves closer or further away to zoom in on the action. Digital zoom is when the camera actually does it’s own cropping of the image it’s shooting. In essence it’s not really zooming but enlarging a portion of the scene that the camera lens is seeing. Digital zoom is actually something you want to stay away from because it causes your images to have less resolution and pixelate the more zoomed in that you go.

Most point and shoot cameras use an optical system up to a certain point and then switch to a digital system. For example your point and shoot camera might use optical zoom until your image gets 3x as large, then it switches to a digital zoom up to 10x as large, which will cause pixelation. So as long as you use only the optical zoom function your image should still retain maximum resolution. Most cameras allow you turn off digital zoom in the camera’s settings.

If using an SLR camera with a zoom lens, you don’t have to worry about pixelation  as an SLR uses a completely optical zoom system. However, you do need to be concerned with camera shake. When using a zoom lens each small movement of the camera gets magnified because you’re focusing on a smaller area of the scene in front of you. This can cause blur to show up in your images and make them less sharp.

So how much zoom is too much on an SLR? The rule of thumb is that in order to hand-hold your camera your shutter speed should not fall below the value of the focal length of your lens. So for example, if you are using a 100mm lens on a full-frame SLR camera, you should make sure to use a shutter speed of 1/125s  (1/125 is the closest full shutter stop to 100) or faster in order to hand-hold your camera. Putting your camera on a tripod will of course eliminate camera shake and allow you to use slower shutter speeds with your zoom lens.

By the way…it’s important to remember when using a crop-sensor SLR camera that you want to use a shutter speed that doesn’t fall below the full-frame equivalent value of the focal length of your lens. For example, if you were shooting with a 150mm lens on an crop-sensor (APS-C size) SLR camera, you should make sure to use a shutter speed of 1/250s or faster in order to hand-hold the camera. This is because the full-frame equivalent of the 150mm lens is approximately 225mm. The closest full shutter stop to that is 1/250s.

Using a zoom lens allowed me to get a great shot of the “burning man” at the Lights, Motor, Action stunt show in Disney’s Hollywood Studios while remaining a safe distance away from the flames in my seat at the show.

Using a Zoom Lens – Burning Man

Which brings us to our last method of getting closer to your subject. Cropping your photo after-the-fact. Cropping is perfect for when you’re back at home reviewing your photos and that “ah ha” moment hits you, I should’ve gotten closer! Cropping allows you to almost create a brand new composition out of an existing photo while directing the viewers eye exactly where you want them to look in your photo.

If cropping is so great and affords you such a high level of control, then why not just shoot all your photos in any haphazard way and worry about cropping them afterwards? Because cropping has one nasty side effect. Think back to zooming for a minute, remember when we talked about digital zoom, and how it doesn’t actually change your lens configuration, but instead magnifies a tiny portion of the image being captured by the camera? Hmm…sounds a lot like cropping doesn’t it?

That’s exactly what it is! Digital zoom is a form of cropping, and why don’t we like digital zoom? It reduces the resolution of the image and causes pixelation. Unfortunately, the same thing occurs when you crop a photo in post-production. Your camera only captures a finite amount of pixels when it takes a photo.

Let’s say you have an 8 megapixel camera. That means when you take your photo it will be made up of roughly 8 million pixels, or tiny dots. You can never get more pixels than what is originally captured…so when you crop that photo the result is only a small portion of the original photo. That means that you have thrown away quite a few of those pixels in the areas of the photo that you cut out. Which means the portion you are left with may only have half the pixels of the original or less. If too many of those pixels get thrown away then your photo will start to get grainy, and pixelated.

So, when cropping your photos make sure not to crop too tightly, or throw away too much of the original photo. That’s why the best way to get a close-up image is to use one of the first 2 methods and not have to crop at all. This will make sure you have retained the highest amount of resolution in your close-up photo and will prevent pixelation.

As you can see in the image below when you crop the original photo too much, it becomes, grainy, blurry, and pixelated. Basically at this point it is unusable.

Too Much Cropping Causes Pixelation

There are so many ways to get closer photos of your subjects, there’s no excuse not to. I guarantee doing this one thing will add a whole new dimension to the photos you take.

How do you know when you’re close enough? What I like to do is get as close as I can, and when I think it looks right to me in the viewfinder and I’ve gone far enough…I go just a little bit further. Then I can be sure I’ve gotten just the right amount of closeness between me and my subject. Plus, if you find that you need just a little bit more after you’ve taken the shot…you can always crop it after-the-fact. Starting out with a close photo of your subject will ensure that you won’t have to sacrifice too many pixels if you feel the need to crop later on.

I have a bit of a homework assignment for you to reinforce this idea and it’s something I like to do from time to time because it really makes for some very interesting shots. You can do this whether you have a point and shoot or an SLR. Set your camera to the highest zoom setting, or if you have an SLR, use your longest zoom lens. Keep it at that setting for the entire day when you go out shooting. No matter what you want to take a picture of, don’t change that zoom setting. Find a new creative way to shoot that subject up close!

You’d be amazed at how it makes you see the world differently, and you’ll get some pretty interesting and spectacular shots. As always please feel free to share the results on here, we’d love to see them!

Scott Dengrove is a professional photographer from the NYC area. Scott’s work has been featured in many national photography competitions and published in several nationally circulated magazines and publications. In addition, his work can currently be seen in 2 exhibits at Cosi® restaurants in New York and Connecticut and a traveling exhibit entitled “America: Coast to Coast”. For more information, and to see more of Scott’s work visit his website at and connect with him on his Facebook page at

Welcome all, with Thanksgiving just around the corner and other many holidays not too far behind I thought we would spend some time talking about how to take some decent photos of your friends and family during these happy gatherings.

The first hurdle that we are faced with is all of these holidays occur during the Winter time, which means indoor photos, which also means FLASH.

Flash can sometimes be a dirty word amongst photographers. It can conjure up images of super bright blown out blown out faces with harsh unflattering lighting that can make even the most attractive person in the world look like Frankenstein. So let’s discover some ways that we can minimize the negative effects of flash lighting and still capture some awesome photos of your friends and family this holiday season.

Let’s discuss those of you using a point and shoot camera first. With these small compact cameras the flash is so tiny that the light it produces is always very harsh. In addition due to the small size of the flash it can only provide illumination for just a couple of feet in front of you.

Pretend you’re shooting a photo of some family members in a room at your house during Thanksgiving. Everyone has 5 foot tall mice in their family right? Although the room looks well-lit to you, to your camera it’s a very different story. Your camera decides that flash is needed. You snap your photo and your family members end up looking like a disjointed faces and torsos floating in a sea of dark murkiness.


Family Photo with regular flash

This is despite the fact that they were actually standing in what you would consider a well-lit room. Come on admit it, how many of you have photos that turned out this way, but you never knew what to do about it? It’s ok you can raise your hand, I’ll look away.

So how can we prevent this. The first and one of the simplest things you can do is increase your ISO. Even the most inexpensive digital cameras have a function to increase ISO.

As we learned in a previous article, ISO determines how sensitive your digital camera’s sensor is to light. The higher the ISO the more sensitive your camera will be to light, which means it can perform better in low-light situations such as when shooting inside your house. In fact you might even be able to raise the ISO high enough that you won’t even need to use the flash at all.

There is a side-effect to be aware of, however. As you increase your ISO setting you also increase the amount of noise or grain that will be captured in your photo. This is an undesired effect and something you need to keep in mind when increasing your ISO setting. Most recent digital cameras will perform reasonably noise-free to ISO levels of 800 or even 1000. Some of the newest digital SLR (DSLR) cameras will even peform well at ISO levels  of up to 6400.

You can learn more about ISO from this previous article on the Dengrove Studios blog.

Now that we have our ISO set properly; high enough to allow make our camera more sensitive to the low-lighting conditions in the room, but not high enough to cause excess noise, what else can we do to make our flash photos better?

We can also change the mode of our flash. Most cameras allow you to change the way that the built-in flash operates by changing it’s mode. There are usually several to choose from.

There’s Standard Flash Mode, which causes the flash to fire when the light meter in your camera determines it’s necessary. There’s Fill Flash Mode, which causes the flash to fire every time you take a photo. Red-Eye Reduction Mode which is supposed to prevent subjects in your photo from getting those nasty devil eyes. More often than not it simply just annoys the heck out of people because they get blinded  with 3-5  flash bursts before taking the photo.

But the one we want to look for  is Slow-Sync Flash Mode. Some point and shoot cameras refer to it as “Night Mode” or “Party Mode”.

Ordinarily, when shooting with flash the camera chooses a fast shutter speed in order to “freeze” the action in the scene. Slow-Sync Flash allows the camera to use a slow shutter speed when shooting with flash. As you may recall from a previous article, shutter speed controls the length of time that ambient light or the available light in the scene is allowed to enter your camera and hit your camera’s digital sensor or film.

By using Slow-Sync Flash more of the available light in the scene or ambient light will be allowed to hit your camera’s digital sensor or film. Allowing you to capture not only your main subject which is illuminated by flash but also the background of your scene which is being illuminated by ambient light.

Remember that floating head photo you shot of your family members earlier? When we take that same photo again using Slow-Sync Flash just look at how much better it comes out! Now, not only is your main subject visible from the flash light but we can now see the actual room they’re standing in versus the scary abyss of darkness from before.


Family photo with Slow-Sync Flash

For those of you shooting with Digital SLR cameras there are even more things you can do to make your indoor flash photos look better. One of the absolute best ways of improving flash photos is to get the flash off the camera. This is because the built-in flash of your camera is actually in the worst possible position it could be in for making people look their best in photos.

The built-in flash rests nearly at eye level and right in front of your subject. This causes a bright harsh burst of flash light to fall on your subject from directly in front of them. So how can DSLR cameras help with this situation? Because, when shooting with a DSLR camera you have the option to use an external flash unit instead of the built-in one.

Nikon SB-900 External Flash (photo courtesy of Nikon)

Using an external flash compared to the built-in one is the difference between night and day! External flash units, when used properly, can simulate overhead lighting, side lighting, and even help to improve your photos in natural daylight. Since all of these types of light are what you find in most everyday lighting situations your flash photos will come out looking very natural, almost like you never used a flash at all.

Even using an external flash unit in it’s simplest configuration, mounted directly on the camera, it is still a vast improvement over the built-in one because it adds 1-2 inches of height. This means that the flash is no longer at eye level of your subject which makes the light softer and more flattering. It also helps get rid of that nasty red-eye.

For  even better photos you can rotate the angle of your external flash which you can then use to “bounce” the light coming from the flash off of a wall or ceiling. When “bouncing” your flash off of a ceiling it simulates the look of your subject being lit from overhead lights. This is excellent, now we can light our subject using flash but have it look more natural.


Nikon SB-900 External Flash rotated for bouncing light off the ceiling (shown with diffuser) (Photo courtesy of Nikon)

For the ultimate in natural looking flash photos you’ll want to get the external flash completely off the camera. “Why is this” you ask? Moving the flash off the camera allows you unlimited possibilities in positioning and directing your flash when taking a photo. This even allows you to light your subject from above at a 45 degree side angle, simulating natural daylight from the sun.

In order to make this work you can purchase a sync cable for your external flash unit which allows you to connect the flash to your camera while still being able to move it around. Some external flashes will even communicate wirelessly with your DSLR camera allowing you to position the flash on the other side of the room and still be able to set it off.

So as you can see no matter what type of camera you’re shooting with there are a number of simple techniques that you can employ to get better indoor flash photos of your friends and family. Most only require the turn of a simple switch to activate. With the holidays just around the corner I’m sure you’ll find plenty of opportunities to use these new techniques. Feel free to post your results, we’d love to see them and get introduced to your families.

As always, please feel free to leave comments, ask questions, and share some of your results on this blog post.

Scott Dengrove is a professional photographer from the NYC area. Scott’s work has been featured in many national photography competitions and published in several nationally circulated magazines and publications. In addition, his work can currently be seen in 3 exhibits at Cosi® restaurants in New York and Connecticut. For more information, and to see more of Scott’s work visit his website at and connect with him on his Facebook page at

With summer upon us a frequent activity of mine and I’m sure many others is visiting a theme or amusement park with family and friends. The wealth of colors, sights, people, shapes, and the occasional furry bear make theme parks an excellent venue for taking some really amazing photos. However, it is important to make sure that you’re using the right settings on your camera. Not only to make sure you get a great shot, but also to make sure that you do not disturb others around you who are trying to enjoy the ride!

The idea for this article came out of a trip I recently took to Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL. More specifically while riding one of my favorite attractions, Spaceship Earth, at EPCOT. You know Spaceship Earth it’s the one that people claim looks like a “big golf ball”. In actuality it is one of the world’s largest geodesic spheres. It is while riding this iconic attraction that an incident occurred that prompted me to write this post.

Spaceship Earth

In general, this particular blog post is aimed at anybody who will be visiting a theme park and taking photos in the near future.

However, more specifically this post is aimed at the gentleman of average-description who was sitting 4 cars behind me on June 30th, 2010 at precisely 1:34 PM in the afternoon who decided it would be a bright idea to continually use his flash approximately every 10 seconds while taking photos, thus ruining the ride for not only me, but the other 25 people around me who were all taking the “slow-moving journey through the history of civilization” that is Spaceship Earth!

I can only hope that this man is a reader of my blog, and if so, my friend, you’d better listen up because I’m talking directly to you on this one! *End of rant*

For those who don’t know, Spaceship Earth is what is known as a “dark ride”. These types of rides usually take place in some sort of a vehicle, which brings you past various scenes of a story, such as a haunted house. The key thing that some people don’t seem to fully understand is the “dark” concept.

These rides are meant to take place in the dark and often times have extremely low-light levels. Naturally, it is very difficult to take photographs under these conditions and have them come out. This, I assume, is why there are people who take photos in these “dark rides” with their flash on.

There is a better way. Let me show you some techniques that you can use on “dark rides”. Not only to help you take better photos, but also so that you’ll be able to take the photos you want without disturbing the other people around you who are also trying to enjoy the attraction.

There is also a third reason why you shouldn’t use flash on “dark rides”. This is because the photos will never look like what you see on the ride. The people who create these rides use special lighting, and projections to create all the effects that you see, and to give the scene an illusion of realism. When you take a photo your flash is so strong that often times it overpowers all of these special effects and you end up with a photo of a very fake looking mannequin.

Let me give you an example…at the very top of the Spaceship Earth ride is a beautiful projection of the planet Earth. Naturally, everyone loves to take a picture of it. And of course there is always one person who will ruin the scene with their flash.

What this person doesn’t understand is that they just took a photo of a big white nothing! You see the image of planet Earth on the ride is a digital projection, like when you watch a movie. So when you shoot your flash at it, it ends up being so bright that it drowns out the projector and all you get is a photo of a blank white screen.


Image of Earth (f/1.8, 1/10s, 1600 ISO)

Earth with Flash

Image of Earth taken with Flash

As you can see from the images above clearly the flash doesn’t work in this type of situation, and all you have done is upset the other riders around you. So how can we get a nice photo of the Earth projection or any other scene in a “dark ride”? The first step is to turn off the flash! Every camera has a way of doing this, usually you should look for this symbol on your camera. This is where you can change the flash setting on your camera to OFF .

Once you have your flash off, there are some other settings on your camera that need to be “tweaked”. You’ll want to increase your ISO. We’ve talked briefly about ISO before. ISO is the setting that controls how sensitive to light the sensor on your digital camera is. If you’re using a film camera the ISO is determined by the type of film you place in your camera. The higher the ISO that you use, the more sensitive it makes your camera to light an therefore makes it easier to take photos in low-light.

Great so let’s crank our ISO setting to full blast and take some “dark ride” photos. Wait just a minute, it’s not quite as simple as that. You see although increasing the ISO makes our cameras more sensitive to the light coming through the lens, it has a very detrimental side effect that we must take into account.

Increasing the ISO also increases the amount of noise in your photo. This means that if you set your ISO too high your photo will turn into a big grainy, noisy mess. What’s worse is you won’t realize this until you download the photos to your computer, because on your cameras tiny little screen everything looks sharp and clear.

Spaceship Earth Scene with ISO set too high

Fear not though, today’s modern digital cameras can usually use ISO settings as high as 1200-1800 without showing any noise at all. In addition, camera manufacturers are pushing the ISO envelope all the time, creating better and better sensors that can take high ISO’s without showing any noise at all. Just this year 2 of the major camera manufacturers came out with cameras whose maximum ISO settings are over 100,000!

Changing our ISO will allow us to take better photos without flash, but what other settings do we need to know about when taking photos on “dark rides”? As you know, in nearly all “dark rides” there is some sort of movement or vehicle that you travel in, this is the “ride” part of the “dark ride”. When you leave your camera on it’s automatic settings it wants to slow down your shutter speed so that it can allow the most light possible into your camera.

Your camera’s shutter speed controls how long the sensor or film in your camera is exposed to light. Slowing the shutter speed down will allow more light to enter your camera because the shutter is open for a longer period of time which makes for better photos. There’s only one problem, when you combine a slow shutter with the movement of a “dark ride”, you get blur. Basically your photos would be a big blurry mess if you simply used your camera’s automatic settings on a “dark ride”

In order to correct this, we must tell the camera which shutter speed we’d like it to use. This way we can pick one that’s slow enough to be able to take decent photos in low-light but still fast enough so that you don’t get any blur from the moving ride vehicle. To do this we must put the camera into Shutter-Priority Mode, or S-Mode. You should be aware that not all cameras have an S-Mode setting on them. For those that don’t you can usually use either a “Night Mode” setting or “Portrait Mode” setting on your camera. These modes limit how slow the shutter speed will get so you can prevent or eliminate blur.

For those of you with cameras that have a Shutter-Priority Mode I would recommend using a shutter speed of 1/15 – 1/30 of a second. I find that setting is usually sufficient to get a nicely exposed photo while eliminating blur. If you’re not sure what kind of settings your camera has, consult with your owner’s manual to see if it has an S-Mode setting, and to see what other exposure presets it may contain.

Some digital cameras today come with over 15 programmed exposure modes. With everything from a “beach” to a “fireworks” setting there should be one offered on your camera that will allow you to limit your shutter speed. For more information about S-Mode you can click here to view our previous blog post about it.

SSE Scene

Properly exposed scene without flash (ISO 1600, 1/10s, f/2.8)

As you can see from the above photo when you combine a high ISO with the proper shutter speed you can walk away with a great photo of any “dark ride” without using your flash, just as the designers intended the scene to look. And more importantly, without disturbing your fellow riders! So the next time you find yourself at Epcot, riding on Spaceship Earth, I beg you, please keep in mind what we’ve discussed here today. Not only will it help you take better photos, but as you can see Mr. average description gentleman sitting 4 cars behind me, I might just be the one who is on the receiving end of your flash bursts.

Imagine if you will a beautiful sunny day. You’re walking along, have your camera of course, and come upon a beautiful place to snap a shot. You get all ready to shoot and then it hits you! Uh oh, you left your light meter at home! This is terrible, how are you going to set the proper exposure for your sunny day photo? In fact not only did you realize you left your light meter at home, you remember that it’s really the light meter you’ve only been thinking about buying, you don’t even own a light meter yet!

Fear not, it turns out there is a way that you can set a close to perfect exposure on a nice bright sunny day without a light meter. This is excellent news for those of you who left your light meters at home, or haven’t gotten around to buying one yet (you know who you are out there). Enter…the Sunny 16 rule! It’s not just a record title by Ben Folds.

The Sunny 16 rule can be used as a guide to set a near perfect exposure when shooting on a sunny day. Here’s how it works. First switch to Manual Exposure mode on your camera. Not sure about Manual Exposure Mode? Just check a few blog posts back for our series on Exposure Modes. Next set your aperture to f/16 (that’s the 16 part of the Sunny 16 rule for those of you who were curious). Then set your shutter speed to the nearest full stop reciprocal of your ISO (what did he just say, did he just curse me out?).

Relax, reciprocal simply means to take the inverse of your ISO setting. So if your ISO is set to 100, then the reciprocal is 1/100. If your ISO is set at 200 then the reciprocal is 1/200. Hang on a minute though, I did say the “nearest full stop” to the reciprocal right? This is true, there are many cameras that only let you set your shutter speed to full stop settings, 1/100 and 1/200 are not full stop settings so you may not be able to use those on your camera. This is why we use the nearest full stop to the reciprocal. So if your ISO is set to 100, the reciprocal is 1/100 and we would use a shutter speed of 1/125. This is because 1/125 is the nearest full stop to 1/100. If our ISO is set to 200, the reciprocal is 1/200 and we would use a shutter speed of 1/250 because that is the nearest full stop to 1/200. Here is a list to refresh your memory about the full stop values with regard to shutter speed.

Shutter Full Stop Values: 1s, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1/15, 1/30, 1/60, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, 1/1000, 1/2000

So what is ISO? ISO is basically a setting of how sensitive the sensor in your digital camera is to light, or how sensitive your film is to light. The difference between the 2 is that with a digital camera you can change your ISO with the touch of a button, in a film camera you actually have to put a new role of film in. Most digital cameras set the ISO automatically for you, and use ISO 100 or ISO 200 most of the time, of course it is possible for you to change this setting, and then you would take the reciprocal of whatever you currently have your ISO set to. As a rule of thumb though on a bright sunny day you would typically use a low ISO of about 100 or 200, this is because there is plenty of light around you so your sensor or film doesn’t need any extra sensitivity.

That’s all there is to it! So the next time you find yourself shooting on a bright sunny day and don’t want to drag that light meter out of the camera bag you can use the Sunny 16 rule to make sure you have perfect exposure almost every time. It’s May, the weather is beautiful, go put the rule into practice and shoot some bright sun scenes. As always feel free to post the results or comment.

Here is a photo using the Sunny 16 rule, as you can see a very nicely exposed photograph, ignore the funny looking guy on the Segway, he thought he was in the 3 o’clock parade.

Properly Exposed Photo Using the Sunny 16 Rule, f/16, 1/250, ISO 200

We’ve finally made it to the end of our 5-part series on exposure modes. We finish with the king of all creativity, Manual Mode. This is the mode that lets your knowledge of photography and creativity shine through. Manual Mode is the one where you basically tell the camera to “shut-up” and let you do the driving.

Are you in a dark room where the camera is telling you it’s too dark to make  a proper exposure? No problem, Manual Mode will let you take that photo. Do you want to take a photo with a very deep depth of field and also freeze the action, but don’t have enough light? Switch to Manual Mode, and give it a shot, you’re not paying for film!

Ok ok, so Manual Mode is not a magical cure for exposure problems, but it does allow you to go out of your camera’s, and possibly your, comfort zone to take some photos that the camera might not allow you to take while in one of the other exposure modes.

Let’s review a bit…we’ve already learned about the other 3 exposure modes..

Programmed Auto Mode (P-Mode) your camera does all the thinking. Aperture and shutter speed are set for you automatically.

Aperture Mode (A-Mode) you set the aperture and the camera determines the shutter speed for you.

Shutter Mode (S-Mode) does just the opposite, you set the shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture value.

By now I’m sure you have guessed that in Manual Mode (M-Mode) you’re flying solo. You’re responsible for  setting both the aperture and the shutter speed yourself. That’s a big responsibility! Are you ready for it? Can you handle it? I think you can.

Even if you don’t think you’re quite ready, I implore you to try Manual Mode. Nothing will teach you about exposure settings and the relationship between aperture value and shutter speed faster than being out there on your own making your own exposure settings.

Plus, if you make a mistake, you might it’s a part of life, because you’re shooting digital it costs you nothing to try, and it’ll be our little secret if it doesn’t turn out quite right the first time. If you’re shooting film however, you may want to borrow your friend’s digital camera to try it out. You’ll most likely be going through a lot of frames, plus the digital camera allows you to get instant feedback, instead of having to wait for the film to be developed to see what worked and what didn’t.

The toughest thing to shooting in Manual Mode is picking a starting point. When choosing your aperture and shutter speed where do you begin? It can be very overwhelming. Sometimes when shooting in Manual Mode professional photographers will use a light meter. A light meter is a hand-held device that measures the light in the scene around you and gives you values for what your aperture and shutter speed should be.

Now wait a minute…that sounds just like what your camera does when it is in P-Mode. Well you’re right, your camera has a built-in light meter which is how it determines the proper exposure values for the scene you are shooting. So what do you do when you’re new to Manual Mode and your light meter is in the shop? Put your camera in P-Mode and press the shutter down half-way.

This is going to give you an exposure reading. In P-Mode the camera will use it’s built-in light meter to “read” or “meter” the scene and tell you the aperture and shutter values that it comes up with. So now armed with this new information we can switch back to Manual Mode and plug in those values we just got from the camera’s built-in light meter. You now have an excellent starting point for setting up your shot in Manual Mode.

You know these values are going to give you a relatively decent exposure to begin with, so now you can start getting creative by varying either the aperture value or shutter speed to achieve your desired results. Want a shallower depth-of-field? Go ahead and dial in a larger aperture value, just keep in mind that you’ll need to adjust your shutter speed to keep your exposure well balanced.

A good rule-of-thumb to remember is that for every full stop of aperture value you increase or decrease you should also change your shutter speed by a full stop to maintain the same Exposure Value (EV). We learned about this a while back when we discussed reciprocity.

So for example, if our light meter (built-in or hand-held) chooses an aperture of f/8 and a shutter speed of 1/125 and we want a shallower depth-of-field. We can change our aperture value to f/4. That is a change of 2 full stops. So in order to keep the same Exposure Value (EV) we will need to raise our shutter speed by 2 full stops bringing us to a shutter speed of f/500.

This is because when we make our aperture value larger by a full stop we are letting in double the light. Since we changed our aperture from f/8 to f/4, 2 full stops, we are now letting in 4 times the light at f/4 than we did at f/8. So to compensate we use a faster shutter speed by 2 stops from 1/125 to 1/500. This causes 1/4 of the light to be let in at 1/500 than we had at 1/125 which cancels out the 4 times more light coming in from our aperture value.

How do I know that is 2 full stops you ask? Well I have included a chart at the end of this article that shows the full stop values for both aperture and shutter speed. Some high-end cameras will let you change your aperture or shutter speed in 1/2 or 1/3 stops as well, but all cameras will let you dial in full stop values.

Manual Mode also comes in very handy when shooting with flash, especially external flash. A full discussion on shooting with external flash is a topic for another blog post, but we’ll touch on it briefly. When shooting with an external flash the cameras light meter may not take this into account. Therefore it might choose a very slow shutter speed automatically for you because it is metering the available light in the scene. The light meter may not know that an external flash will be used. This is the perfect time for Manual Mode.

By shooting the scene in Manual Mode you are able to tell the camera that you would like to use a faster shutter speed. We know this still will result in a good exposure because the flash is going to provide quite a bit of light to our scene. Shooting in Manual Mode let’s you choose the shutter speed and also the aperture value that will work for your flash lit scene.

There are some people who are perfectly content taking all of their photos in P-Mode and letting the camera do all their thinking. Most of the time this yields decent photos. However, you cannot truly begin to explore the creative possibilities of photography or take your photos to the next level until you turn that dial and try shooting in one of the other 3 modes.

Maybe you feel Manual Mode is a bit too much for you to try right now, but Aperture Priority Mode or Shutter Priority Mode are just begging for you to give them a shot. They let you start taking control of the exposure in your photos without having to fly solo. And as with most things, there is no better way to fully understand your cameras exposure modes than to get out there and shoot as much as you can!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this multi-part series about exposure modes, even if the end was a long time coming. Feel free to ask questions, leave comments, and share your creative photos. Until next time.

Exposure Value Chart

Chart of full stop values and Exposure Values (EV), Courtesy of thecrosseyedbear on Flickr

I’d like to continue our series of discussions on exposure-modes. Yes, I know with the last installment over 6 months ago, it can’t really be called a continuation. Perhaps an extension, extended-leave, or vacation, whatever you’d like to call it we’re going to chat about our next semi-manual exposure mode, Shutter Priority Mode (S).

Shutter Priority Mode or S-Mode functions very similarly to Aperture Priority Mode or A-Mode, it just does it from another point of view. Shutter Priority Mode allows you to manually set the shutter speed of the camera, or how long the shutter will remain open when you take a photo. In Shutter Priority Mode the camera will automatically set the aperture for you based upon the shutter speed that you choose.

Shutter speed is measured in time (seconds). Usually very small parts of a second such as 1/500th of a second, or 1/1000th of a second for shooting in very bright conditions, such as high noon on a bright sunny day. Or in full seconds such as 1 second or 30 seconds for shooting in low-light conditions, such as indoors by candle-light.

The shorter the shutter remains open for, the faster the shutter speed. For example, a shutter speed of 1/250 means that I could take roughly 4 photos in the same amount of time than if I was using a shutter speed of 1 second. This is because at a shutter speed of 1/250 the shutter is open nearly 4 times shorter than if I was using a shutter speed of 1 second; hence we say that 1/250 is a faster shutter speed than 1s.

By using a faster shutter speed, the cameras shutter will be open for a shorter amount of time, which means less light will be allowed to hit your digital sensor, or film. This is why we use faster shutter speeds when we are shooting in bright conditions. When we use a slow shutter speed, the shutter remains open longer and therefore lets more light into the camera to hit your digital sensor or film.

Now I know what you must be thinking at this point…”Scott this is all very fine and good information, but if I wanted to change the amount of light that enters my camera I could’ve just used the Aperture Mode that I learned about 6 months ago and not have wasted my time with the last 4 paragraphs.”

It is true that aperture also controls the amount of light entering your camera by varying the size of the shutter, and you will recall from our earlier discussions that aperture size and shutter speed are linked together. So why would you want to change the shutter speed instead of the aperture?

Well just like varying your aperture controls your depth-of-field, shutter speed has a side-effect as well. Changing your shutter speed allows you to “freeze” the action in your photos. The faster the shutter speed the more “frozen” your subject will be.

Imagine if  you were trying to photograph your child in his or her first little league game. They are about to make the winning slide into home plate. By using a very fast shutter speed we would be able toshow the exact instant their body touches the plate, and it would be extremely sharp and in focus.

Some digital cameras that do not have a Shutter Priority Mode may have a “sports setting”. Using the “sports setting” will force your camera to take photos using a fast shutter speed, usually 1/500 of a second or greater. Just keep in mind that you’ll need bright sunlight in order to shoot at such a fast shutter speed.

Take a look at this photo of a car doing aerial stunts, caught in mid-jump. Shooting with a very fast shutter speed, 1/800 in this case allowed me to “freeze” the action of the car while making sure it retained sharp detail. Also notice that the photo was taken in very bright sunlight as anything less than that would have yielded a photo with blur.

Jumping Car

“Frozen” Jumping Car, 1/800

So now that we know some exciting things that we can do with fast shutter speeds, when are some appropriate times to use slow shutter speeds? Slow shutter speeds allow you to create some very beautiful artistic effects in your photographs.

Imagine a beautiful waterfall cascading into a pool of water. If we used a fast shutter speed to shoot the waterfall we would end up with a very boring photo of sharp, “frozen” water. All of the beauty of that waterfall rushing over the mountain would be lost. There would be no sense of motion.

We can correct this by using a slow shutter speed. If we shoot the waterfall using a shutter speed of say 2 seconds, we will retain all of the motion and power that waterfall has, and end up with a beautiful photo of a nice silky waterfall. Just resist the urge to dive in, remember your camera doesn’t like water. 🙂

In the photo of a carousel race horse below, we are able to convey a sense of the motion of the carousel to the viewer by using a slow shutter speed. Although the main horse is relatively sharp and in focus, if you look to the other race horses moving around in the background you’ll notice they all have motion blurs, thanks to the slow shutter speed that was chosen. The slow shutter speed helps to instantly evoke thoughts of a moving carousel to anyone looking at the photo.


Derby Horse with Blur 1/30

Derby Horse with Blur 1/30

Slower shutter speeds are also used in low-light situations. It is important to remember that our cameras have a very different definition of low-light than we do. Think about it, how many times have you been in what you would consider a perfectly bright house, but when you try to take a photo, your camera almost always wants to pop up that flash! This is because our eyes are much more sensitive to light than even the most high-end camera.

Have you ever tried taking that same photo without the flash? It usually winds up dark and blurry. This is because your camera naturally chooses a slow shutter speed. With such a slow shutter speed your subjects will not be “frozen” so even the slightest movement of either them or you causes blur.

This is why god invented tripods. It was dark in those tents in biblical times, how else were the photos going to be sharp 🙂

For those of us with cameras that don’t have an S-Mode, your camera might have a “night mode”. When you place your camera in “night mode” it forces the camera to shoot at a slow shutter speed, usually 1/30 or slower. How many times have you heard someone complain “my camera is broken, every time I shoot in night mode my photos come out blurry”! Now you know why. You weren’t one of those people were you? 🙂

Now that you have a new creative tool in your photography belt, I implore you to go out and give it a try! Next time we’ll combine the best of Aperture Priority Mode and the best of Shutter Priority Mode into one big manual mode that we call…well we just call it Manual Mode 🙂