An afternoon at the beach – slow shutter speed

The other day I spent a lovely afternoon at the beach photographing my niece. As she somersaulted across the beach, I had lots of fun playing with different shutter speeds. In my photography courses I’m often teaching students how to get a sharp shot, but I wanted to illustrate that there are times when a blurred image doesn’t have to mean a failed image.

Slow shutter speeds

She was moving really fast so at first I chose a fast shutter speed of 1/500th of a second to freeze action, but it did nothing to portray a sense of movement.  I experimented with slower shutter speeds, before finally choosing a very slow 1/30th of a second (normally considered too slow to hand hold). Although blurred, I loved the painterly effect, which conveyed a dramatic feeling of movement.

Sometimes by striving to be “technically perfect” we can lose the ability to see beauty in our photographic accidents.

Camera and auto focus modes

To take these shots at such a slow shutter speed I knew I’d get camera shake, so I sat down on my towel to help minimize movement. I used shutter priority mode and changed my auto focus mode to AI Servo, allowing the auto focus system to continually adjust if she fell out of focus. You may find this mode is called AF-C or similar on your camera. You can also use the AI Focus mode (or AF-A mode), which is slightly slower than choosing the correct mode, but will mean you won’t have something extra to think about.

Predictably moving subjects

When you can predict the path of your subject, try using a single or small group of auto focus points. Because I could predict the direction she would be moving I positioned a single auto focus point in the middle of her back, however it could have been better to expand my auto focus points to reduce the chance of missing her and accidentally focusing on the background.

Erratically moving subjects

When you can’t predict the path your subject will travel, it can be best to choose a larger group of auto focus points which are slightly smaller in size than your subject. That way you can be confident that at least a couple of your auto focus points will be positioned on your subject.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes

These images reminded me of the photography teacher who inspired me the most. He passed onto our class his passion for the art of photography, and challenged us to be open to seeing the world and everything in it in a new way, he taught us the rules but encouraged us to break them, but most importantly, he taught us never to be afraid to make mistakes.