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5 High-speed Photography Tips


5
Select the Right Shutter Speed for the Action
The splash of a single drop of water, captured using high-speed photography techniques.
The splash of a single drop of water, captured using high-speed photography techniques.
©iStockphoto.com/Juergen Schonnop

One of the most basic concepts in photography is shutter speed. A camera's shutter speed indicates how long the camera's shutter opens to allow in light and create the photograph. In film cameras, this term is synonymous with exposure time, or the time that the film is exposed to the light.

Slower shutter speed may not keep up with the speed of a moving subject, causing a blurred image. Some photographers create these blurs intentionally to convey a sense of motion in photograph. In high-speed photography, though, you'll want to freeze that moving subject so that it appears suspended in time rather than in motion. For that, you'll need a fast shutter speed.

Cameras represent shutter speed in a fraction of a second, with "1" as the numerator. Photography guides can help you select a shutter speed that works best for the subject you're capturing and the direction it's moving relative to the camera. Here are some suggestions we found from photographer Tom Ang:

  • A person walking toward the camera: 1/30
  • A person walking at a right angle to the camera: 1/125
  • A cyclist at average speed moving toward the camera: 1/125
  • A cyclist at average speed moving at a right angle to the camera 1/1000 to 1/2000
  • An automobile at average speed moving toward the camera: 1/1000
  • An automobile at average speed moving at a right angle to the camera: 1/4000

These suggestions offer a starting point, but you'll probably want to adjust to higher or lower speeds based on your specific setting. If you have a digital camera with a preview screen, you can see the results and make shutter speed adjustments between shots as necessary.

Also, keep in mind that faster speed does mean less light captured to create an image. If the subject isn't already in bright light, don't choose a shutter speed that's faster than you need for the action you're capturing. With that in mind, our next tip covers how to use your flash to capture that perfect split-second shot.