This week, I am teaching a food photography class at The Light Factory in Charlotte, NC. The class will cover everything you have seen in my photo tutorials and much much more. Next week, I will provide a recap of what the class was like. Anyway, in preparing for the class, I was putting together some slides on shutter speed, so I thought I would share a little what I am covering with you.
Shutter speed is a crucial element to the outcome of your picture. It is the opening and closing of the camera’s shutter and determines the length of the exposure. It is one half of the exposure equation. Unfortunately, the other half (aperture) is often seen as the creative side. Well this is just not true. You can become incredibly creative with shutter speed. All you need to know is how to use it.
Have you ever seen an image like this one? It is called a light trail. This is a very common way to play with shutter speed. By leaving the shutter open for a long time (1,3, 5 seconds or longer), the car’s headlights will create a streaking pattern. At busy intersections, you can get really creative. It is measured in fractions of a second. On your camera you may see 1oo, but that means 1/100th of a second. Only the denominator of the fraction is shown.
Shutter speed is used to show or freeze movement. When it comes to food, you might be wondering, why would I need to freeze or show movement when my cupcake just sits on the plate? (if your cupcake walks around your plate, you have bigger problems on your hands) With food, it isn’t the movement of the food we want to show, its the process of the food being made.
For example, lets look at grilling brats.
What is a slow shutter speed you ask? Well that can be tricky, it depends on how fast your subject is moving. Lets look at these examples.(Ignore the ISO and f stops for now, that will be another lesson, they are for the class I am teaching. Focus just on the shutter speed number)
Now if we wanted to show the motion of him moving the brat we would use a shutter speed that is longer.
Lets look at an example side by side.
Lets look at one more image.
Lets recap. To show motion of a moving object, you use a slow shutter speed. To freeze a moving object, you would use a fast shutter speed. So back to the previous question of what is fast and what is slow? Unfortunately, that is not a cut and dry answer. It all depends on how fast your object is moving. If you are trying to freeze the motion of a food processor blade it is going to be much different than freezing the motion of a pasta being dropped into water.
Here is a general guide line for an average moving object (the best way to figure this out for yourself is to experiment on you own)
Remember the shutter speed scale?
When I am hand holding, I don’t like to shoot at anything slower than 1/100th of a second, that changes with the lens I am using, and If I can brace myself on something, but as a general rule, I try and shoot faster than 1/100th when shooting a still object and I am worried about myself causing camera shake.
If you are trying to freeze an object, I would start at 1/250th and faster to ensure you freeze the image sharp. To show motion, I would start at 1/80th of a second and slower. The slower the shutter, the more movement you will see (assuming object’s speed is constant). With a slower shutter speed be careful of camera shake and make sure you have the image in focus. The movement will be more powerful looking if it is blurry and the rest of the scene is sharp.
Remember, these are just guideline to what I do. What works best for you and your set up may be different, so experiment and play around.
If you have never played around with shutter speed, I suggest you do!