One of the challenges of photography is figuring out how to make a still moment come to life. We all know that the camera’s shutter speed and lens aperture determine how much light falls onto your camera’s image sensor. But shutter speed is also one of the most powerful tools a photographer has when trying to take creative, dynamic pictures.
Bryan Peterson is a master of knowing how and when to manipulate shutter speed. He says there are correct exposures and there are creatively correct exposures. He puts his expertise on the subject to good use in his book, Understanding Shutter Speed: Creative Action and Low-Light Photography Beyond 1/125 Second, and shares some of the unconventional methods he uses to create interesting stop-action effects and motion blurs.
Don’t Overthink Freezing Action
To stop action in sharp, crisp detail, Peterson says that shutter speeds of 1/250, 1/500 and 1/1000 sec. are all a photographer really needs. With action that’s coming toward you, 1/250 sec. is sufficient, and especially true when shooting sports. For a motocross race where the riders were coming directly at him, Peterson used this speed, adjusted the aperture until he got a proper exposure at ƒ/11 and fired away. For freezing action from left to right or up and down, 1/500 or 1/1000 sec. is fast enough.
Peterson has noticed that while most photographers lean toward stopping action, the most interesting motion-filled images are those deliberately taken at unusually slow shutter speeds, from 1/60 to 1 sec. He suggests going into your backyard and shooting handheld at 1/4 or 1 sec. to create movement. The results are unpredictable, but experimenting like this often results in a fresh approach to shooting familiar subject matter.