BEHIND THE LENS

Why it's important to consider shutter speed in your photography

With a fast shutter speed of 1/8000 of a second individual droplets are visible as they are sprayed under pressure out o
With a fast shutter speed of 1/8000 of a second individual droplets are visible as they are sprayed under pressure out of the garden hose in my yard in Cedar Rapids on Monday, May 25, 2020. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)
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With everything seemingly slowed down or completely stopped for the last two months or so, I think a lot of us have had our minds on the passage of time.

I promise not to wax philosophically on the issue of time, you can get that elsewhere I’m sure. But I will give a short note on the importance of shutter speed in your images.

A potential limitation in photography as a medium is it really limits our ability to show the passage of time. A videographer can certainly show time in a long cut, a montage or perhaps even use music to do so. A writer can show you time with a seemingly endless array of words and structures.

But a photographer has quite limited options.

Certainly, there are more complicated exceptions such as time-lapses and time exposures, but in many situations, it comes down simply to shutter speed.

A fast shutter speed will show action frozen in place; a slow shutter speed will show the movement of the action. This becomes especially important in sports. For example, a race car photographed at too fast of a shutter speed may simply look like it is parked in place on the racetrack (I say this having recently made this mistake), whereas one photographed at too slow shutter speed may become a complete blur.

Outside of sports and other action-intensive subjects, shutter speed can greatly change the way we see things around us. For my examples, I wanted to keep it as simple as I could with water and fire.

Water at a slow shutter speed begins to appear as one thing, one expansive body even if flying through the air. But at a fast shutter speed, you begin to see the individual droplets that make up the larger stream. Conversely, in my fire example, you see the system of flames appearing to work together in harmony on a log with the fast shutter speed. But with the slow shutter speed, you are able to more clearly notice the one small spark that took flight up and away from the heat at the core of the flame.

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I’ll let you apply any poetic meaning or significance — but my point? Think carefully about the different ways motion or the lack thereof may communicate a feeling or idea in your images.

It can significantly change how you see your subject.

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