Understanding your Camera: Managing Shutter Speed
Take a hard look at the water flow details in these two images. In first, the water has a silky flow, cascading down the fountain configuration in a smooth line with no hint of water droplets or splash. The second photo is all action, frozen in place, with water droplets and splash as part of the movement. The differences were not happy accidents: I manipulated the camera to slow the shutter speed in the fountain shot and to speed it up in the kayaking shot.
My husband and I were visiting Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia. We had strolled through the sunken garden to the end and were watching this famous waterfall as dusk began to develop and the fountain lights were coming on. Low light conditions were working in my favor. I knew if I set the camera on a landscape icon, the camera would adjust to a setting that would increase the focus throughout the frame and in doing so, would slow the shutter speed down. If the evening had been brighter, I would have insured that result by setting the light sensitivity of the camera – the ISO – to a low number (100, as opposed to 1600) to reduce the shutter speed. Be sure to hold the camera steady when you do this, as the slow shutter speed will also pick up any camera movement and produce a blurry shot.
We ended that trip with a slow walk along the river in Missoula, Montana. We came upon an overlook and were watching young people practice their kayaking techniques. Freezing the action was the required result. Who wants to look at a blurry kayaker? I still used the landscape icon. The day was bright, so I could use a 200 ISO to increase the light sensitivity so I would have a shutter speed fast enough to freeze the action as well as focus through the entire frame.
How do you figure out how to make those adjustments on your camera? All cameras come with a manual that most people toss in a drawer because it looks far too complicated to read. You don’t need to read the whole thing. It does pay off, though, to read the sections on how to change the icon settings from automatic to one you select and on how to set the light sensitivity — the ISO – on your camera. If you understand how to use those two settings, you, too, can manipulate your camera to get the result you want.