Book Recollection: Understanding Shutter Speed

It’s another month and it would have been another 1/2 inch off the read pile.  That is, if the book featured in this post was actually on that stack.  I actually picked up this particular book for my wife as a gift for some very special occasion … admittedly, I’ve since forgotten what that occasion was (oops).  But hey, it’s the thought that counts and nothing says I care more than a present that we can BOTH get some value out of.  In case the light is dim in your reading area, we enjoy a little hobby called photography.  This hobby is interesting in the since it always seems like there is more to learn, more creative things to explore and a constant reminder after every photo shoot how easy it is to blow an exposure.  Fortunately, there are a lot of experts in this field that are willing to share their tips and tricks.  While at the bookstore looking for gifts for Linda (and no, I still cannot remember the occasion), I noticed two books by Bryan Peterson that looked promising.  One of those books was Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second.  Consider the other as a foreshadowing.  Two things immediately popped out in this book.  First, it covered a key subject in our photography interest, motion stopping.  Linda likes to photograph agility dogs in action and I like to capture birds in flight, both of which generally require at least 1/500th second or faster to freeze the subject in the frame.  The other appealing aspect was the author primarily used Nikons and took the time provide camera settings for each of the numerous example pictures.

Linda had some other reading material stacked up so I took the liberty to read the book first.  You know, in case the book sucked I could save her from wasting valuable time – wow, the gift comes in so many facets.  After reading the first few pages I was hooked.  Bryan has the ability to take a technical subject and make it both entertaining and understandable.  If only he wrote Calculus books when I was in school!  This book is loaded with example pictures that drive home the main points of every chapter along with the zoom setting and triad configurations (the triad being the interrelationships of ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture).  Thanks to this book I now have the confidence to progress from the programmed settings (A/S modes) to full Manual giving me full control of the photography experience.  It will take a long time to get used to this much control, but the last couple of outings have produced some very nice shots (and some equally crappy shots, but no one said this hobby was easy).

If I had take some points off from this work, I would have to ding it for the chapters on shutter painting.  This is more from a personal perspective, since imposed motion on a subject doesn’t really appeal to me much.  Now panning a moving subject can produce some pretty cool effects by slowing down the shutter speed and moving the lens in the same direction as the subject is moving.  This will produce an image where the subject is still, but the background is blurred providing a classic motion sensation.  Contrast that with the other painting modes described by Bryan that includes taking a picture (again with a slow shutter speed) and moving the camera up, down, diagonal etc. causing a finger painting effect.  Some people may enjoy these more than Linda and I, but we prefer the more classic photography techniques.  For example, if you happen to see this book, take a gander at the incredible light house picture complete with light beaming through the fog or the long shutter shot of a statue with a lighted Ferris wheel in motion behind it.  Those two pictures were alone worth the price of admission.

In summary, this was a fantastic book and highly recommended for any photo enthusiasts library.  Bryan did an an excellent job of presenting shutter control concepts and encouraging us to keep striving to get better.  Now we just need to put this new knowledge in practice!  Oh, and a note to the author… including a picture of your wife in a bikini is just showing off.

Hit the jump for my takeaways


  • There are several equally correct exposure setting based on the combinations of the three photography pillars (ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed), however there is generally only one correct to produce the image you want to capture
  • Claims waterfall silks does not start until you get to f/16 or f/22.  I am not convinced of this based on the shots my wife has produced, but something we will try out on our next waterfall shoot.
  • Start with ISO 100 and move up only when aperture compensation and shutter speed do not produce the desired image.  It was a pretty big theme in this book to keep the ISO low which does produce less noise
  • Take meter readings from the sky about 30 degrees from horizon for a neutral setting
  • Rain is produced only at 1/60 of second shutter speed
  • Action coming at you can be stopped at 1/250 sec.
  • Horizontal or Vertical action can be stopped at 1/500 sec.
  • Filled frame action can be stopped at 1/1000 sec.
  • Shooting in snow – set exposure override to +1 (cloudy) or +2 sunny to prevent the gray wash
  • City Skyline exposure – f/8, meter reading from dusk sky and adjust shutter to correct exposure, re-compose and shoot
  • If you want to slow down the exposure (produce motion) up the f-stop
  • Foggy lighthouse beams – f/8 for 15 seconds (long enough to get multiple passes of the light)
  • Play around with long exposures and ghost like images – stand still, then move quickly out of the frame
  • Shutter speeds of 1/4 sec. are norm for capturing effects of wind
  • White Balance at Cloudy (5900K) handles 99% of shots
  • City Skylines actually look better cooler – 3200K  to produce bluer tones
  • Rear curtain flash sync actually fires at the end of the exposure and not the beginning (default) which can produce creative images
  • Polarizing filters – used to enhance 90 degree sun angles, eliminate glare and waterfall silks – can also be used to extend the shutter speed at low ISO since it reduces the exposure by 2 stops (for the silk effect)
  • 4 Stop Neutral Density Filter – simply reduces the light by 4 stops without impacting the image colors – useful for taking images in high light or need to smooth out water or show effects of motion (cars, wind etc)
  • Graduated Neutral Density Filter allows you to correct exposure differences between the sky and landscape (keeps sky from blowing out when delaying shutter speed to get the desired landscape effect)
  • Lightening – f/8 works with most strikes (meter off the dusky sky) – a 2 stop ND filter can help extend the shutter time to increase chances of getting strikes
  • The RAW Format can enables post processing filtering – you can actually 2 stop underexpose to get the stopping effect you need and then bring the light back to the required level through post processing (Lightroom) – this does works, by the way, based on my experiments
  • Filled frames convey better sense of emotion
  • Leave room for action – this is actually a golden rule I use for all wildlife shots – always give them room to move (typically forward) otherwise it will cause tension because they appear trapped
  • Another rule I follow almost religiously in my crops is the rule of thirds – news to me, this was invented by the Greeks (The Greek Mean) in order to reduce the tension in our minds as it tries to rationalize a visual winner in a 50/50 split
  • One interesting piece of photographic trivia was that George Eastman though the letter K was a strong and incisive letter due to its composition and angles (diagonal lines) – he tried out a number of combinations of words that started and ended with this letter and came up with Kodak

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