Take in the scene
Evaluating the scene that unfolds in front of you is the first step to deciding how you need to adjust your settings. It is essential to determine in advance whether you want to freeze the action or, on the contrary, let the movement unfold in succession. The settings used in street photography and sport scenes might be vastly different, even if the final result is the same—a frozen moment. The same is true if you want to show the traces of a person’s movement or register the progression of the luminous trail of a moving car, for instance. The settings must be adapted to the scene and the desired outcome. It is thus essential to have a good grasp of the image and, with a little practice, all these decisions will come naturally.
Shutter speed priority versus the manual mode
To make sure that you capture motion the way you want to, it is best to forego automatic settings and either opt for the manual mode or select shutter speed priority (called TV, time value, or S, speed, depending on your camera model). While adjusting the shutter speed for your shot, you will let your camera choose the aperture and/or exposure automatically. The manual mode, in turn, allows you to have full control over all the parameters, but it requires greater experience.
How to adjust shutter speed
As a rule, 1/60s is the minimal speed if you want to obtain a relatively sharp image. Logically, the higher the shutter speed, the more you will freeze the movement, and vice versa. You may, for example, use 1/400 seconds for sport photography or 1 second to achieve a silk effect.
However, remember that the shutter speed will affect the exposure, and compensate accordingly. The slower the shutter speed, the more light is allowed to enter the camera. To make manual settings a little easier, first select the speed most appropriate to your scene and to the desired effect, then adapt the aperture and ISO in order to obtain the right exposure.
Keep your eye on the subject
If your camera has a view finder, don’t move away from it right after pressing the shutter release. There is always a chance that some interesting action will follow, and it might happen right under your nose if you don’t pay attention. Another useful thing to remember is to point your camera ahead of the unfolding action and keep the subject in the corner of your other eye. You will thus be able to frame your image better, wait for the subject to move into the frame, and take the shot at the right moment.
Bring a tripod
If you prefer longer exposures, make sure to bring a tripod so that the image is not blurred because the camera is shaken during shooting. With the help of a tripod you will get a clearer backdrop and will be able to better foreground the moving subject. The tripod will also facilitate framing the shot and stabilize the camera while waiting for the action to move into the frame.
Practice makes perfect
To understand how the shutter speed works and how it affects the other parameters (aperture and exposure), there is just one secret: practice, practice, practice. Use the manual mode and freely experiment with the settings in a variety of contexts in order to master the different results you can expect by varying the parameters.
Seizing motion means either freezing it or letting it unfold. For movement to be perceptible as such, switch to the manual mode, analyze the scene in front of you, anticipate, and … practice! As your experience grows, setting the shutter speed will be as easy as the ABC’s.
By Céline Nebor