Slow Shutters

May 6, 2010 

Many of the technological advancements in camera equipment are most practically applied in creating sharper images. Since Niépce first captured a day-long exposure of the view from his window, we now have fast-recycling flashes to make up for the lack of light and high ISO films and their digital equivalent. The main camera body I use at work, a Canon Mark II N, is able to capture images with exposures as fast as 1/8000th sec. Long gone are the days in which portrait subjects have to remain motionless as their souls are transferred to glass plates.

There is still a place for slow shutter speeds, however. The most obvious is panning. Panning is where you move your camera along with a moving subject during the exposure. If you move your film plane or digital sensor along with the moving subject, s/he/it will be reasonably sharp while the background will be a streak. It’s a good way to convey a sense of motion and is common in racing and sports photography.

I recently had the urge to pan at the 10th annual Salmon Summit when I saw a station I remembered from last year that taught kids about predators and prey. Like many of the activities there, it started with some information and ended with a fun activity to keep the little ones engaged throughout the day. This station had kids dress up in animal costumes and play a concentrated game of tag. I missed my chance the first couple times passing by that activity, but managed to get one I liked before the summit broke for lunch:

I went with 1/30th sec., slower than I would normally pan at, because I wanted a nice, artsy, semi-abstract and colorful frame to end my gallery. I didn’t need a sharp frame with recognizable faces to offer for print and wanted to make an image that conveyed the swirling fun madness I saw. You can decide if it was successful or not.

Last week at the 21st annual Hispanic Academic Achievers Program (HAAP) awards, I utilized a slow shutter for another gallery shot, this time to borrow another photographer’s strobe during the group shot of all the scholarship winners:

I went with a very slow exposure of 0.3 sec. and f/7.1 at ISO 1600, which gave me a decent exposure for the brighter background. I wasn’t sure how strong his flash was going to be, but based on how fast his strobe seemed to be recycling during the awards portion of the program, I guessed it would be pretty close. I went with the slow shutter to have a bigger window of having my shutter open when his flash went off. This means stuff that was bright enough to be properly exposed in the brighter background has a good deal of camera shake and motion blur:

while the kids in who were standing on the risers in a dark corner of the TRAC stayed reasonably sharp because their exposure came from the other photographer’s flash:

Compositionally, I wish I could have utilized that dead space in the middle a little better, but it accomplished my goal of trying something a little different to help flesh out the gallery.

I used another slow shutter technique last week when I photographed actors in the Richland Players’ production of Blithe Spirit. When I learned that the play involved mediums and ghosts, I knew I had to bring a tripod to the shoot. After a basic CYA shot of the cast:

I went with a two-second exposure and had Crystal Deines, playing the ghost, move on cue from the right before pausing over Paul Roy’s shoulder, when I popped a little flash to expose Crystal. Paul and Christy Batayola had to hold still for each frame:

Crystal appears translucent because the slow shutter properly exposes the background. By the time she reaches her mark, the set has been exposed and a double exposure is created when the flash goes off, capturing Crystal’s likeness. This is especially noticeable and distracting in this outtake, which features some obnoxious flowers on the mantel and a very un-ghostlike shadow on Crystal:

As I was setting up for this shot, somebody suggested I combine two separate images in Photoshop. I said thanks, but no thanks, to which he insisted that digitally combining the shots would allow me to make Crystal translucent. He wasn’t wrong, but if I can accomplish something in-camera, that’s always my first option. Some people will probably see that shot in this week’s Atomictown and assume I digitally combined the photos, anyway, but it’s much more exciting to try and hang onto just a little bit of the magic you used to be able to create in a still photograph.

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