Have you ever tried taking a cool action shot of your dog or cat mid run only to walk away with a blurry photo of something vaguely shaped like your pet? It’s no fun is it? Well, the good news is that there is an easy fix to this issue that only takes a few minutes to learn.
Shutter speed significantly impacts the texture and pace of your image and it plays an important role in creating a dynamic pet photo. Especially action photos.
Although shutter speed adjustments are typically only available on DSLR and mirrorless cameras there are still many ways you can adjust your shutter speed when using your phone camera or a point and shoot.
Your shutter speed setting has a massive effect on your pet photography so it’s really important to not only understand how it works but how you can get the most out of your shutter setting.
The shutter, simply put, is a thin plastic curtain inside your camera that separates the sensor from the light.
With DSLR’s, when you press down on the shutter release button to take a photo, the mirror folds up and the shutter curtain retracts exposing the digital sensor to light. Shutter speed is measured in fractions of a second (ie. 1/60, 1/100, 1/1000 etc) so your shutter will stay open for varying lengths of time depending on what speed you pick.
If you pick 1/30 or something even slower like 1 whole second then the shutter will be open for a long time, but when you pick something like 1/500 or 1/1000 the shutter will be open for a very short period of time before snapping shut.
Now typically in photography you’re dealing with fractions of a second so when I say a long time it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be waiting around. But the neat thing is that even the difference between 1/50 and 1/60 is enough to change the way your image looks in a big way.
Each increase or decrease, no matter how seemingly incremental, will impact your image so it’s important to plan your shots, understand how shutter speed works and know when to pick the right setting.
Before you pick your shutter speed setting you need to decide what you want your photo to look like. Do you want your pet photo to be tack sharp and freeze the action of a running pup? Do you want your pet photo to have a sense of motion that makes your dog seem even faster than she is? Or, maybe you want a mix of both; a stationary dog with many moving dogs blurred around it?
There are so many ways you can use shutter speed that planning your image and considering your surroundings will play a huge role in what shutter setting you choose and what the end result will look like.
Perhaps the best known use for shutter speed is stopping action. When you try to take a photo of your pet running but all you get is a blurry smudge moving through the frame that’s because your shutter speed is too slow. Generally speaking, the higher your shutter speed the clearer your action photo.
Anything from 1/500 and up is considered to be a high shutter speed but for really quick action you’re going to want to use 1/1000 and up. At these speeds you will have no problem getting a clear action photo of your pet running their little heart out.
The drawback to high shutter speeds is that they require more available light in order to properly expose the photo.
The shutter opens and closes so quickly at high shutter settings that a tiny amount of light is able to hit the sensor, so if you’re photographing in low light you might need to widen your aperture, or boost your ISO setting in order to get the desired exposure in such a short time.
Phone cameras and point and shoot cameras often don’t have the ability to manually adjust the shutter speed. However they often have a very useful automatic setting called ‘Sports Mode’ that works the same way.
When you’re taking photos on a phone or point and shoot camera you often have to tell it what you’re taking photos of, so it knows how to respond. When you set your camera to Sports Mode your camera will automatically crank up the shutter speed and increase ISO and aperture as needed in order to achieve the desired goal of stopping the action.
When in doubt, throw your camera into sports mode and fire away!
If you keep your shutter speed at a slow setting you allow more light to reach the sensor meaning your image will be brighter. So shutter speed can also be adjusted to compensate for limited available light.
When you are using slower shutter speeds you typically add an element of blur if the subject you are photographing is moving quickly, this can also add some artistic flare to your photo if you’re looking to really accentuate the speed of your pet. This is different than the smudge effect we discussed earlier.
Typically when you add blur intentionally it’s much more controlled and stylish than when it is added accidentally due to improper camera settings. Sometimes a little bit of blur can actually enhance a photo and give it the specific look you want, depending on what you’re going for.
You can also use a tripod and a really slow shutter speed in order to take a long exposure that highlights the stillness and speed of two objects.
For example if you want to take a photo of your dog standing still in a stream with the water rushing beneath his feet in a blur, you would slow your shutter speed down and take a long exposure using the tripod as support.
A Helpful Tool
Understanding shutter speed is an important part of photography and once you know how to use your shutter setting it opens up a whole new world of creativity for you and your pet photography.