Shutter Speeds

One of the tricks of the trade that I’ve seen used most often, and have only recently started experimenting with myself, is making slight adjustments to the shutter speed of a photo. This is especially common when taking a photo of running water of some sort, whether it be a stream, white-water, or some sort of waterfall, like this example.

Yesterday, on our outing to the zoo, I took a few moments to take some photos of one of the faux-waterfalls they have near the entrance to Asia Quest. First, naturally, I took the photo in Automatic mode, letting the bright sunlight of the day dictate the shutter speed, which it did, at 1/250:


Shutter Speed 1/250

Now, you can see where the quick shutter really did a good job at catching the water as it fell, exactly in that moment, but maybe you want a fuller photo of the waterfall? Setting the shutter to a slower speed will, naturally, allow the camera to capture more water as it falls through the frame.

I’ve really kind of seen two trains of thought on this as well. One is to create an almost milky look to the water, slowing down the shutter so much that it creates an almost-dreamlike scene of water falling, like this taken at 1/20:


Shutter Speed 1/20

I was pretty happy with this view. I’ve seen people use even slower speeds, and exaggerate the effect even more, which can be nice. Although I’ve also seen a photo set where every single photo was given that exaggerated effect, and I frankly thought it got a bit boring after the 4th or 5th picture. Like any effect you use on photos, I think some variety is key to having a good set of photos. You wouldn’t take 15 pictures of gorillas and call it the “zoo set”, would you? Why do the same with effects?

On the other hand, you could also split the difference, and create a bit more volume of the water flow, while still having a photo that looks relatively untouched. This one, for example was taken at 1/100:


Shutter Speed 1/100

Like anything else with digital photography, it’s all about trying different things and seeing which one makes you happy. Shutter speed can dramatically change the way a photo looks, so it’s worth spending some time to try out different settings and experimenting. The worst thing that happens is some of your experiments don’t turn out too well, and you simply delete those photos and try again the next time.

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