using shutter priority to get sharper photos

So often great images can be ruined because they are not pin sharp. Droplets of water or a footballers expression frozen are very tricky to capture in all their glory and detail.  Kids running around, throwing a ball or slow moving subjects in low-light situations all require you to get your shutter speed just right. The aim of this post is to help you to get a feel for what shutter speed will freeze different types of motion.

freezing water droplets as child plays at the sea edge

There is no formula for setting your shutter speed correctly - it depends on so many things- you need to get a feel for the right shutter speed in a given situation. We will talk about all the things that affect choice of shutter speed. Taking a little time to do this will guarantee that you get sharp shots and don't have tons of great pictures ruined by motion blur

Find yourself  a ball (preferably with writing or a bold pattern on it).

Choose a wide angle lens.

Go indoors and Set ISO 3200 or ISO 6400 if its very dark .

Get a friend to stand 6ft away and throw the ball up and down.

Set your camera on Auto.

Take a photo.

Is it sharp?

Probably not pin sharp. Auto is not up to the job!

So we are now going to learn a simple technique to make the ball sharp!

Set your camera top mode dial on Shutter priority

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Try both front and back thumbwheels on your camera. Notice that one wheel controls shutter speed. Set your camera to 1/15th of second. Your camera will set the aperture. Now shoot and check sharpness. Still a blurry ball! So increase your shutter to 1/30th,1/60th,1/125th, 1/250th , 1/500th of a second. Each time check sharpness of the ball. Note the shutter speed at which the ball starts to get sharp.

The above images were shot at 1/60th on the left,            1/125th in the middle and                                           1/500th on the right

So which shutter speed does freeze the motion? 1/500th. Fast shutters freeze motion. OK so look at the other two images. Notice that the image on the left(1/60th) actually looks sharper than the one in the middle (1/125th). Seems weird, you would expect the one at the faster shutter sped in the middle to be sharper. Well, the key to understanding this is to think of the type of motion...check out he picture of the girl on the swing below and I will share with you great tip for getting sharp images of moving objects.....

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When is the best time to press your shutter if you are photographing a pendulum, a ball flying up in the air or a child on a swing? I photographed this Newtons Cradle to try and answer this question. You could photograph a conker swinging if you want to verify this for yourself.

newtons cradle with back and forth motion

Which one is photographed with the highest shutter speed? 

newtons cradle showing how blur with side to side motion

Well, actually it's a trick question. They are both photographed at 1/160th of a second.

The first image is sharp and the second is blurred. There are two reasons:

Back and forth motion is easier to freeze than side to side motion

Motion at the peak is MUCH easier to freeze.

This is why you should always press your shutter at the peak of a jump of a ballet dancer or at the top of the swing of your child on the playground. It is also why you can actually freeze a car driving towards you with a much slower shutter speed than if it is driving across your frame from left to right.

The key point is this. You need to watch the motion and get a feel for it and time your shutter press rather than relying on rules for shutter speed. However, I'm going to run through all the factors that affect your shutter speed. This should help guide you to the correct shutter speed. But remember, the best way is to do little experiment, gradually increasing your shutter speed and choosing the speed that freezes the motion infront of you.

So far we have talked about choosing a fast shutter speed to reduce motion blur. Motion blur is caused by your subject moving and the rest of your shot will be sharp. Camera shake also causes blurring but the whole of the shot will be blurry if camera shake is your problem. Here are my tips for reducing camera shake:

1. Choose a wide angle or short focal length like a 28mm lens to avoid camera shake. The rule of thumb is that you can hand hold a 30mm lens at 1/30th of a second, whereas a 300mm lens will need 1/300s or faster to avoid camera shake.

2. Use a tripod or use vibration reduced, VR lens( aka optical image stabilisation, OIS) 

I have abandoned my tripod in favour of vibration reduction. It is simply wonderful. Without it I can hand hold a 20mm lens at 1/20th . With it I can hold the same lens for 1/2s! 

3. Squeeze your shutter very, very gently.

The key here is to keep the shutter depressed and get a feel for the point just before it releases. It's not dissimilar to finding the biting point of the clutch in a car. By holding at this point, you avoid jabbing the shutter release and shaking the camera at the moment of release. This is a really big problem for tense amateurs who are waiting for that moment. It takes practice but makes a big difference. 

4. If you are in an amazing shooting situation and the light is low. Putting your camera into continuous shooting mode and taking the third frame on really boosts your chances of a sharp shot. Effectively you are removing your initial camera shake on first pressing the shutter.

5. Get good posture. Avoid leaning forwards, you will rock and shake much more. Instead keep you shoulders back, stand up straight, and keep elbow tucked in. Pressing the camera gently in to your face also helps! 

freezing motion of person at seaside with bucket
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