The Digital Photo Guy

Keep an Eye on Shutter Speed

by on Jan.02, 2010, under Monday Morning Tips

Monday Morning Tip – 1/4/10

Here’s a photo of Fred, a shoebill stork. Students who have attended a Hands-On Photoshoot with me know Fred is one of my favorite critters. He looks as if he has a real attitude but is described to be fairly mild mannered. In the left photo, Fred is calling his girlfriend. On the right, Fred is smiling and showing his sensitive side.

Fred calling   5325_shoebill2 

At first glance, both photos appear to be perfectly fine in terms of focus. The feathers on Fred’s wing are clear, crisp and finely detailed. Moreover, Fred’s eye is sharply in focus and contains a catch-light. However, at 100%, it’s easy to see the beak in the first photo is slightly blurred due to Fred vibrating his beak when calling.

5319_FredBarking_100pct   5325_shoebill2_100pct

Both were taken at 1/1000 second and you can see the rest of the photo is perfectly sharp so the only explanation is that Fred moved his beak. The point to all this is that shutter speed is relative. Because I didn’t know Fred’s beak vibrated or quivered at such high speed when calling, I assumed 1/1000 was more than adequate.

During my next Hands-On Photoshoot Workshop on Jan 23, if Fred is cooperating, I’ll try again with my shutter set for 1/1500 or more  to see if I can freeze his beak. With such a high shutter speed, I’ll need a wide open aperture and/or a higher ISO. Since this photo was taken at f/6.7, 1/1000 and ISO 200, I can gain 1.5 stops more light by going to f/4 at ISO 200 and increase my shutter speed to 1/2500. Fortunately, depth of field isn’t too important here since Fred is practically up against the reeds in the background so there’s really not much room for a nice smooth bokeh. Of course, this also assumes we’ll have a nice bright San Diego day.

0633_MadDogHere’s a final photo of Fred “mad dogging” a photographer. This is his usual station. Notice the sun is to his right (camera left) and there’s enough space behind him for a nice creamy, soft bokeh. This was taken with a Canon 20D and a 100-400/4.5-5.6L (1/640, f/5.6, ISO 200, 390mm).

There are three take-aways from this MMT. First, always keep an eye on your shutter speed. If you’re in Shutter Priority, don’t assume whatever you set it to is adequate for the situation. If you’re in Aperture Priority, don’t let the Shutter Speed drop below a predetermined point in your mind.  The second take-away is: Know your subject. Had I known how fast Fred’s beak vibrates when he’s calling, I would have compensated. As it was, I learned something new but this could have been a bummer if I had traveled to Africa to learn this. Finally, third, if you’re using the LCD to examine focus, be sure to magnify the image to closely examine areas of interest. In this case, I examined the feathers but failed to examine the beak.

Good light, good memories and good luck for 2010.

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