“A couple months ago, I was photographing cheetahs that were hunting,” animal photographer and New York Times best-selling author Carli Davidson tells us. “You can’t just say, ‘Hey, can you redo that? Can you slow down and do that again because my shutter speed wasn’t fast enough and the image is blurry?’”
Experimentation with shutter speed in advance of a shoot will help to give you a mastery of what you need and when you need it.
Freezing time with shutter speed.
When you don’t want motion blur — the effect caused by a subject or the camera moving during a long exposure/slow shutter speed shot — you can freeze time with a fast shutter speed.
“Two-year-olds are notorious for never standing still,” Carlson says. “You can set your camera to a higher shutter speed so they’re not blurry when you take that shot.”
But beyond simply avoiding motion blur, fast shutter speed gives photographers the almost magical ability to put a single moment in a time capsule.
“It goes back to your reason for taking the photograph,” photographer and designer Shawn Ingersoll explains. “Are you wanting to capture motion or a split-second in time where something is moving but it doesn’t look like it? Like a rock falling into a pond, so you see that split-second where the water flies up into the air.”
Water, an element that can be as still as a dewdrop or as powerful as a tsunami, showcases how shutter speed can tell two stories.
“If you’re looking at the ocean and it’s twilight, you might want a long exposure of 30 seconds,” Carlson suggests. “That can give you more light so that everything isn’t completely dark. It will smooth out all the waves and give you this really soft, glassy look for the water.”
And yet, that same ocean in a single snapshot at a quick shutter speed may showcase a rippling white cap or the roil of a choppy sea. It’s choices like these that give photographers creative options driven by technical adjustments.