Shutter speed can be the bane of a photographer's existence, when you're trying to learn how to really use your camera… how quickly the shutter opens and closes decides how much light is let in, which in turn is going to decide how bright your image is. Also, the longer your shutter is open, the more chance for camera shake (even just breathing) and making your photo blurry.
Some good (minimum) rules of thumb when shooting, as far as shutter speed:
If it's still life no slower than 1/80 hand held.
If it's alive no slower than 1/125 if it sits still.
If it is alive and moves no slower than 1/250 (Kids playing)
If it is alive and moves like the wind no slower than 1/500 in the best conditions.
These are talking about fractions of a second. Like, .008 seconds is 1/125. Not much time at all.
That said, there are some really cool things that can come of longer shutter speeds, over 1 second, or even closer to an hour! You can use flash when playing with light, and get some amazing effects.
I realize that some of these aren't the best photographically speaking, but when your subject is a 3/5 year old closed in his Nana's closet, you take what you can get! 🙂
First, I want to talk about light trails and light painting. You've totally seen them before; trails of light in a dark field, sometimes in shapes on purpose, or just random. The faster the shutter speed, the less blur you'll get, but you *want* blur with this method, so slower speeds are better. (Photographing fireworks; you'll get a much cooler effect with a slower shutter speed, more of the shape and movement than just freezing the explosion.)
So here's what happened when I stuck Max in a dark closet with an LCD flashlight and told him to wave his arms:
You can tell that none of the image is in perfect focus; with a 2.5 second exposure, even the most steady person, holding their breath, isn't going to be able to hold perfectly still. Even if the photographer does, the subject certainly isn't! LOL
Max mostly kept his hands down by his waist, only bringing his right hand down at the beginning of the exposure (that's the line from his face) and then he just moved them around down there.
Next, to get a different effect, I wanted to use my flash to get more of Max, PLUS the cool light trails… all I have to do to get this effect is to switch my flash setting to “Rear” (That's on Nikon; Canon, I'm not sure… if someone knows, please leave it in the comments!) It's called Read-Curtain Flash, and all it means is that the flash fires at the *end* of the 2.5 seconds instead of the start. This way, you get the light trails, but then the subject is also frozen (and exposed more) by the pop of the flash, so you get both in one image! See?
Now that you understand the concept of the long exposures and the light trails, you can make shapes and stuff!
When we were at the in-laws for Thanksgiving, Jamie and I took advantage of being away from the lights of suburbia and played around a little on the back deck… Jamie wrote and drew, I was behind the camera (which was actually on a tripod)
Another amazing thing you can do with long exposures is star trail photography… this is something I've been wanting to play with for a while, but it was always either too foggy or too cold (cold temps really sap the battery quickly) to get a really good attempt.
For these ones, I had to set my camera to “Bulb” mode for the shutter speed, which means that the shutter stays open as long as the shutter button is pressed. With my camera (Nikon D7000) I can use the remote to open and then close the shutter, so I don't have to stand outside in the cold for ages, hoping I'm still enough not to make a mess of the image.
I set the camera on my tripod on the back deck, facing south, and set the shutter open. I went inside and played a round of Liverpool gin with the family, and came back out to close the shutter. This is what I got:
Notice the horizontal lines from a satellite or plane or something. You can also see the overall red glow, especially in the trees at the bottom of the image. That is light bleed from inside the house… on the back deck, there are a lot of windows, and unless we were going to play cards in the complete dark, this was what I had to work with.
After a couple of those, I decided to head out front and see what I got out there… the front porch is much darker than the back, so I got nice even black for this image… I was also facing north, so you can see the dramatic difference:
See the arc? By pointing the camera north, I'm looking towards the pole that everything is rotating around, so the angle is visible and adds some interest to the image.
So, here are just a couple of things you can play with, taking advantage of slower shutter speeds… please don't hesitate to leave questions or comments! If I don't know the answer, I'll find someone who does!