This month we’ve continued to explore the Triangle Of Light by looking at the effect of shutter speed either in freezing motion or blurring either the background or the subject.

For the first two parts of the challenge, I used a competition at our local velodrome – one of the good things about the Commonwealth Games being here last year is that we got a few new sporting venues, and the velodrome happens to be about a mile down the road from me, so I used this both to fulfil the challenge, and to get out and experience the city more.

I had to crank the ISO up pretty high for this as it was indoors

In this first one, by pretty much freezing the action with a fast shutter speed it looks like this guy’s going nowhere fast:

And without background perspective, this guy doesn’t look too speedy either:

However, the introduction of panning with the slower shutter speed, gives a blurred background to give the impression of how fast they were going.  This is achieved by focussing on the subject and moving the camera at the same speed as the subject while pressing the shutter button:

In this shot I was focussing on the guy in blue in the bottom left:

This one was clearly a nail-biter for the girl in pink:

This was a sprint for the line:

While this was rather less of a sprint for the line:

The next part of the challenge covered water.  Over the years I’ve done many water shots – being in a country where rain features pretty heavily in the weather forecast means we get lots of nice waterfalls to photograph!  The effect of a slow shutter speed on water is commonly referred to as a silky or milky effect, and one of my photography friends tends to call the difference in effect between slow and fast shutter speeds as the ‘silky milky versus splashy washy’ effect.  He has great disdain for the silky milky side of things, so you will have to imagine that phrase uttered with a heavy dose of disgust.  In an Irish accent.  Got that?  Good ;o)

There are certainly moments when one may be more aesthetically pleasing than others, so for example in a landscape the silky milky effect works well:

While the splashy washy looks… well, rather less impressive!

Where splashy washy comes into its own is, for example, with wildlife shots involving birds plucking their prey out of water, or animals shaking themselves off, water sports, such as swimming, canoeing or rowing, or capturing a drip and ripple effect on a pool of water.  In each of these situations freezing the water actually gives the sense of motion.


How does it work?

You’ll be pleased to know that this is much simpler to explain than the aperture was!  Simply, the shutter speed is the amount of time that the digital screen/film is exposed to the light.  The longer the shutter is open, the more things can move about and change in the photo, so depending on your subject, a longer exposure can result in a complete blur, or if only part of your subject is moving, a partial blur.

Now not all blur is equal – ideally you want blur to be caused by your subject rather than by you, but there’s a good chance that with longer shutter speeds and/or longer lenses, you will be introducing your own blur.  Again this comes down to physics – grab a pen at one end between finger and thumb and very gently move the pen up and down – a minimal amount of movement at one end results in a considerably greater amount of movement at the other.  So it is with lenses on cameras, where the shutter is at the end you’re holding, and the end of the lens is getting the great movement – obviously the longer the lens the greater the effect, so with long lenses you need fast shutter speeds, while with short ones you can get away with slower speeds.  It’s not to say I don’t ever try and push these boundaries, but there is a definite point at which I introduce blur even if my subject doesn’t!

If you’re hand holding your camera, the general rule of thumb is that the minimum shutter speed you would want is 1/(lens length) in seconds, eg if I use my 17-55mm lens, with the lens set at 35mm, then my minimum shutter speed would be 1/35 seconds.  For my 70-300mm lens, at the 300mm end my minimum shutter speed would be 1/300 seconds.

Now you should have seen in the challenge that blur isn’t always a bad thing – it can give the impression of something moving quickly either because something like a tyre is a spinning blur, or because you have blurred your background by following your subject.  Panning, as the technique of tracking your subject is called, can be a challenging technique to master, but since it is only useful for a fairly small subsection of photography, I wouldn’t sweat about not getting it unless that area is your biggest passion.  If it is, then practice is your friend!  I took a lot of photos at the velodrome, but only about 20% of them were usable for various reasons – my panning isn’t that great at the moment as I haven’t done it in a few years, I’m not familiar enough with track cycling to know the best place to sit for certain shots (I wasn’t far from being opposite the finish line, but I often ended up with a cyclist with a box on his head as he crossed the line as the lap marker was in my direct line of sight to the finishing line) and my timing needs work in a number of places too, again due to unfamiliarity with how the different cycling races work.

So how did you get on?