Long / Slow Shutter Speed

Slow / long shutter speed.
First of all what is shutter speed. Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter is open. Slow shutter speed is considered anything from 1/60th sec and lower, (lower means a smaller number), when using a slow shutter speed you should consider using a tripod to help reduce camera shake. But why would you want to use a slow shutter speed? Well there are several reasons, one of which is to create motion blur for example. I am sure you have seen those amazing photos of waterfalls where the water is all blurry and soft. To create this a slow shutter speed has been used.

One of the difficulties is achieving the correct amount of blur. For a given shutter speed, three subject traits determine how blurred they will appear:
-Speed. Subjects which are moving faster will appear more blurred. This one is perhaps the most obvious of the three, but just as important.
-Direction of Motion. Subjects which are moving towards or away from the camera usually won’t become as blurred as those moving side to side — even if both subjects are moving at the same speed.
-Magnification. A given subject will appear more blurred if they occupy a greater fraction of your image frame. This is perhaps the least obvious, but is also the one which is most under your control, since subject magnification is the combined effect of focal length and subject distance. Longer focal lengths (more zoom) result in more magnification for a given subject distance, but this also increases the likelihood of blur due to camera shake.
But even with these three subjects it can be difficult to get it right first time, so practice is the way to go.

In the above photo the round-a-bout is clearly in movement but the people watching on the right are standing still, as you can see from the two above photos one is after dark and the other during day light hours meaning you don´t have to wait until after dark to use a slow shutter speed. If you are shooting long shutter speed during the day you will need a filter on the lens, use a small aperture or both.
Below is a long shutter speed photo. Here we have Dave with a floating hat and bow tie. Taken for more than 30secs, I moved Dave to paint the bow tie with light, (using a flashlight) then put him back and did the hat; unfortunately the hat is a little higher than it should be or is it that Dave has shrunk, and then lit up Dave with the torch so the camera would also pick him up.

Below is another example of long shutter speed, this was taken at midday, with loads of light, but I used a small aperture, and a longish shutter speed and while the shutter was open I used the zoom. 1/3s, f32, ISO 100.

Technical tips:
Use a tripod, or something stable. When you are using a tripod or similar and you have Image stabilization on your camera or lens then TURN IT OFF. Why? The image stabilizer will attempt to find movement that is not there and take a blurry photo.
Use a remote control or if you don´t have one use the self-timer. Why? This is to avoid touching the camera as even if the camera is on a tripod the moment you touch it, it will create some small movement that will make a blurry photo, so if you use a remote your fingers doesn’t touch the camera and if you use the self-timer you allow the camera to settle before taking the photo.
ISO: when using a tripod or something stable you can use a low ISO, this will help with noise and also allow you to use longer shutter speeds.

To download this as a pdf for printing or sharing CLICK HERE

Different types of lenses

Different types of lenses

Prime, zoom, tilt and shift, standard, close, up, macro, fisheye, kit lenses, fast lenses,  lens babies, fixed, wide angle, telephoto, I am sure you have heard all about them, but you may not understand the lingo.

A prime lens has a fixed focal length, to for example there is no zoom, you need to use for feet to move yourself closer or further away to achieve the desired composition, the advantages of these lenses is that they are very affordable, are fast, and as they have less glass than a zoom, give excellent quality photo.  50mm, 35mm, 85mm, 200mm are prime lenses.

Zoom lens is the type of lens that has a variety of focal lengths. They range from 55-200mm, 70-300mm, and of course there are different focal lengths.  They are excellent for those you require more distance between the camera and their subject, for example for animal/wildlife photography,, some zoom lens are excellent for portrait photography. You have a variety of different focal lengths without moving yourself.

Tilt and shift lens: Architectural photographers use tilt-shift lenses to eliminate the perspective distortions that sometimes give buildings the appearance of falling over. Aerial photographers use them to make large cities look like toy models. Art and portrait photographers use them to control exactly where the focus falls. They are expensive for the majority of us common people.

Standard lens: this is usually referred as a 50mm lens, although this term is not as widely used as before, see prime lens (above) for further explanation.

Close up lens: Close-up lenses are special lenses that screw onto the front of your lens like an ordinary camera lens filter. They’re basically just a sophisticated magnifying glass that’s placed between your lens and the subject. It’s for this reason that they’re also often called “close-up filters.”

Macro Lens: this is a dedicated lens to photograph 1:1 ratio. They produce images that are life sized, you will find some zoom lenses have a “macro “ setting but these are not true 1:1 magnification. Used for bugs, flowers and other small objects.

Fisheye. Where the lens does not attempt to draw the light in a rectilinear fashion, but rather a curved one. It has a high amount of distortion, but also brings in a larger field of view than a rectilinear lens with the same focal length. You might find the camera will give you an option to convert a photo and create a pseudo fisheye photo.

Kit lenses: Is generally a lens included with a body of a camera, a starter lens. It is generally an inexpensive lens priced at the lowest end of the manufacturer’s range so as to not add much to a camera kit’s price. Most kit lenses that will suit the average amateur photographer but if you are interested in selling or improving your photography a better lens will be required.

Fast lenses: these lenses have wider apertures, for example a 55-200mm f/2.8. The prime lenses, mentioned above are fast lenses, some of them with apertures of f/1.4.

Lens babies:a simple lens with a bellows or ball and socket mechanism for use in special-effect photography. The lenses are popular with photographers for the creative possibilities of the selective focus and bokeh effects.

Fixed: see prime lenses above.

Wide angle: They allow photos with a very wide perspective, useful for landscapes

Telephoto lenses: see zoom, above

ultrawide (~10-20mm)
wide angle (~17-35mm)
normal or standard (~30-50mm, depending on crop factor of sensor)
telephoto (~70-300mm)
supertelephoto (~>300mm).

Lens Lingo – What do all the letters and numbers on a lens mean?

I am sure that at some point you have looked at your lens and said to yourself  “I wonder what all the numbers and letters mean?”, so I decided to write a little about each letter or number for the most common lens makes.


So for example:  AF-S Nikkor 18-105mm 3.5-5.6 G ED

AF-S: Autofocus Silent: Focusing is driven by a “Silent Wave” motor in the lens instead of the focus drive motor in the camera. AF-S lenses focus faster than standard AF-Nikkors and almost completely silently. AF-S lenses with a “II” designation weigh less and are generally smaller than their equivalent predecessors.

18-105 mm is the focal length, you will find a variety of different zooms, for example 18-55,mm or 55.200mm etc.,  there are lenses that are zoom and some are prime lenses, prime lenses will only have one number before the mm, for example 50 mm. This is for all lens makes.

3.5-5.6: this will also depend on the lens, but it refers to aperture, so at 18mm the widest aperture is 3.5 and at 105 mm the widest aperture is 5.6, there are lenses that have a widest aperture of 2.8 throughout the zoom, these are expensive lenses. This is for all lens makes.

G: The lens has no aperture control ring and is designed to be used with cameras that allow setting the aperture from the camera body. G lenses also provide Distance information to the camera.

ED: Extra-Low Dispersion glass: High-quality glass that corrects for chromatic aberration, a type of image and color distortion that occurs when light rays of varying wavelengths pass through optical glass and don’t converge or focus at the same point. Nikkor lenses with ED glass deliver superior sharpness and contrast, even at maximum aperture. Super ED glass is a new type that is used together with ED glass in some lenses to achieve an even higher degree of freedom from chromatic aberration.

VR – “Vibration reduction”

DX: The lens is specifically designed for use on Nikon digital SLR cameras. It produces a smaller image circle for more efficient coverage of the imaging sensor in these cameras, which is smaller than the 35mm film frame.

M/A: A focusing mode on some AF-Nikkor lenses which allows switching from automatic to manual focusing with virtually no lag time by simply turning the focusing ring on the lens.


Canon IS stands for ‘Image Stabilisation’. Lenses with Image Stabilisation allow you take handheld images at slower shutter speeds without camera shake blurring the image.

A Canon EF-S lens is designed for EOS digital SLRs with an APS-C sized sensor. EF-S lenses are a subset of the Canon EF mount. The S in EF-S stands for ‘short back focus’, referring to the distance between the rear element of the lens and the sensor is shorter. EF-S allows lighter, smaller lens designs that cost less to be produced. EF-S lenses are not suitable for full-frame EOS digital SLRs and mounting the lens may cause serious damage to the camera.

Canon L-series lenses are top-end, professional Canon lenses. L-series lenses are sometimes dubbed ‘Luxury’ lenses. The ‘L’ moniker is reserved for professional Canon lenses, which tend to have extra weather sealing, a constant maximum aperture and superior optical performance. You can spot many L-series lenses thanks to the distinctive red ring around the lens barrel. L-series lenses include a lens hood (to reduce the chance of unwanted flare and protect the front element) and a lens pouch.

The USM label means the lens features an Ultrasonic Motor Drive. Canon USM lenses allow quick, accurate autofocus, which also produces less noise than traditional autofocus systems. There are two types of USM found in Canon lenses: Ring-type USM (premium) and micro-motor USM (value). Ring-type USM has the advantage of full-time manual focus, which allows you to adjust the focus manually without switching between AF and MF modes.

DO stands for diffractive optics, a special glass designed to reduce chromatic aberration and allow a shorter lens design. You can spot a Canon DO lens thanks to the thin green ring around the lens barrel.


Sigma DC lenses are designed for digital SLRs with ‘cropped’ sensors. Cropped sensors are smaller than traditional 35mm film or full-frame sensors. Sigma DC lenses are suitable for cameras with APS-C size or cropped sensors that need a smaller image circle to cover the sensor, compared to conventional lenses.

Sigma DG designates the lens is designed for use with digital SLRs but can still be used with 35mm film SLRs. Sigma DG lenses are suitable for cameras with full-frame or cropped sensors.

OS designates the lens has Optical Stabilisation built-in. Sigma OS lenses compensate for camera shake which can blur images at slow shutter speeds or whilst hand-holding telephoto lenses.

HSM stands for Hyper-Sonic Motor, a type of autofocus motor that provides fast, accurate autofocus whilst making less noise than traditional autofocus.

Sigma EX denotes greater optical quality and superior build quality. Sigma EX lenses used to have a distinctive crinkle finish, but this has recently been replaced with a matte black finish.


Tamron VC lenses are designed reduce image blur from camera shake. The Tamron Vibration Control (VC) technology corrects for camera shake at 4000 times per second, for a smooth stabilized view in both the viewfinder and your image. The VC system also allows you to pan without changing any settings.

Tamron PZD stands for Piezo Drive, a form of ultrasonic autofocus. Tamron PZD lenses offer you fast but silent autofocus, in a more compact lens size than traditional ultrasonic autofocus motors.

Tamron USD stands for ultrasonic drive, used for fast and smooth autofocus. Tamron USD lenses use deflective traveling waves to drive a rotor, moving elements within the lens to focus your image.

Tamron XR denotes the lens has extra-refractive glass, allowing Tamron to make the lens barrel shorter whilst retaining the same optical quality.

Tamron Di II lenses are designed for digital SLRs with ‘cropped’ sensors. Tamron Di II lenses are specifically designed for cameras with APS-C size sensors, whereas the Tamron Di series (without ‘II’) are compatible with full frame and APC-S digital SLRs.


HDR.  High Dynamic Range

It is post processing a series or one photo in an editing program, combining them and then adjusting the setting in the program to achieve your desired effect.

This method of editing is useful when there are extreme light levels, (high dynamic range) when there is very dark and very light in the same scene, the camera has a very hard time capturing this, unlike our eyes, so there is the option to take various shots to expose for each different light and combine them later.  You can get much more detail in photography with this technique.

But, when to use this technique? Lets say you are in the living room and outside the light is very bright and inside it is dark, the camera can´t take just one photo of both lights, so you can bracket for both lights and then combine the photos later one. A bright sky, with a dark subject in the foreground is another, although people and moving subjects are not the best for HDR.

You can shoot in bracketing mode or use the RAW option on your camera.  Although the best method is to bracket, take three or more photos (depending on the options on your camera, my D90 only allows for three).

ok, I know they are not straight)

Bracketing is sometimes called auto bracketing, exposure bracketing or look for the -2, 0 +2 on the camera menus. The bracketing button on a Nikon looks like this BKT and on a D90 is on the left, very close to where it says D90.  If you don´t have a bracketing mode but you do have manual options you can still take various photos with different exposures manually. I recommend aperture value, and then adjust the settings to the -2, 0, +2.

Set the camera in Aperture mode, this is so you can chose what is in and out of focus and it doesn’t change with each individual photo.

Chose the bracketing mode, -2, 0 +2, if you have the option to take 5 photos then do so but 3 are normally enough.

Shoot in Raw if you can as this contains more light information, but jpg is also fine.
The most important part is to use a tripod, the programs to a fairly good job with aligning the photos but a tripod is best.

The best program for HDR is Photomatix. I won´t go into a full tutorial for this just follow this link.

HDR Tutorial Part 2

(Trey Radcliff is considered one of the masters on HDR, some of his photo are amazing and he has also had the chance to photograph some amazing places and sights. )

If you only take one RAW file and then want to post process it, open it in Photomatix and use tone mapped option. But whenever you can, take 3 or more photos.

Photoshop also has an HDR merge. Follow these instructions. Open the files in PS. Click on File-Automate-Merge to HDR.  A window will open. Choose Add open Files-OK.
Wait for the program to do its job, then it will show you a preview of the finished job. An on the right a bunch of options-play around with these until you are happy with the result. Click OK.  The finished result will open in PS. Here you can also play around as much as you like. Then save, remember to use a different name for the file and also to remember where you save it.

Night Photography

Night photography & long exposure.

Just because the sun goes down doesn’t mean you should put camera away, there are so many opportunities to photograph after dark that you should really give it a go. It will also help you understand light.

First of all you´ll need to understand your camera, whether it is a DSLR or a bridge camera or a  simple point & shoot you should understand the limitations and how to use it properly to get the most out of it.

Can you control it manually, (manual, aperture, shutter speed settings), if not find an option for night photography in the presets.

Can you change the ISO?

Can you use a remote release, if not there is always a setting for TIMER, this allows the camera to settle down before taking the photo therefore eliminating camera shake.

When you are taking the photo you will need to determine the amount of light there is and set the camera to the correct settings (for p&s shooters choose night mode in the presets and click away).

The light meter does a great job at this, so press the shutter button halfway down and on the screen or thought the view finder you´ll see a little chart.

Make sure you point the camera at the darkest part of the scene, or something midway towards the darkest part. If the lines are too far away from the center line you´ll need to adjust slightly the settings on the camera, but sometimes try the photo, see what comes out. It may be way to dark or black or way to light or white even, so change the setting appropriately and take another photo.

Do your very best to only use the lowest ISO you have available to you. I have 200, but there are also a couple of lower settings on my D90 L1.0, L0.7 and L0.3, you may want to use this is you have the option.

Aperture, this determines how much of your subject in actually in focus. So it mainly depends on your subject, so think about what are you taking and how much you want in focus.

Remember: smaller f numbers = less in focus = more light is let onto the sensor
larger f number = more in focus = less light is let onto the sensor

Shutter speed. As you are taking the photo after dark the chance is you´ll need a longer shutter speed than normal, right, so remember a tripod, or if you don´t have one, make sure you find something solid, like a trashcan, or even the roof of the car to get a steady shot. One thing I took across Africa with me as a tripod was out of the question was a bean bag. Think about making one of these, with some left over material, beans, rice or anything similar.  When you half press the shutter button you´ll see the meter on screen (if you don’t see this you may need to change you camera settings) As you have already chosen your aperture then you´ll need to change the shutter speed to be close to the center of the meter. Take a photo and see if you like it. If not change the setting and try again.

Flash: this is entirely depend on your subject, are you taking a photo of some people, for example? If you are you´ll need to use the fill in flash to illuminate them.  The flash also will illuminate a few meters; this depends on the flash and the camera. (You can read the manual to find out this).

Remote shutter release, cable release or self-timer. As the camera is on a tripod or any of the other options mentioned, there will also be camera shake if you just press the shutter button, so use the shutter release or if you don´t have one use the self-timer. I remember this from years ago, my dad, also a photographer, used to take family photo by pressing the button and running into the shot, I am sure loads of you will also have these memories, well they still work today and as far as I know every camera, even the cheapest little, simple p&s have them so put it to good use. The symbol looks like a little clock.
the best time is when there is still a little blue left in the sky, this will create the best shots.

Do you need ideas as what to take, because it´s not just architecture and landscapes, try taking the kids out and having some fun with sparklers, for example, or why not try taking the car out and taking a photo using the headlights, fireworks is always a good one if you have some nearby, and we all have a church close by, if not take a photo of your own home, turn on all the lights, go out and take a photo, take a torch and write something in front of the camera during a long shutter speed.