I keep promises. The door of my home studio is now open, which means, you have the chance to learn more about what knowledge, creative ideas, and stylistic choices create my food photos.
This Spring I bring you a whole post-series: 'Let's Talk About...', with various topics on technical, styling, and post-processing practices that I personally use to create my images.
You will learn the HOWs and WHYs and in addition to that, I have another surprise for you. I invited a bunch of my professional photographer and stylist friends to share their thoughts on each topic so you can add up the experiences and tips of two pros to get better results next time you pick up your camera. Sounds awesome, right? Let's do this!
What is Shutter Speed?
Shutter speed or exposure time is a time-based value that describes how long your camera's recording medium is exposed to light. We can control this by adjusting how long the camera's shutter stays open.
- Recording medium = the film itself, or the sensor in digital cameras
- Shutter = a shutter is a device that allows light to pass for a determined period between the time it is opening and closing.
This setting of your camera does not only control the exposure and recording time but also allows you to freeze or blur the motion you capture.
Settings can include 1” (1 second, which is the longest shutter speed) to 1/1000 (1-1000th of a second which is a more fast shutter speed) and more, based on your gear.
Exposure refers to how an image is recorded by the camera and more importantly: how much light is captured. It has three essential parts: how sensitive is the recording medium is to the light (ISO), how much light is this material is exposed to (aperture) and how long is it meeting with that amount of light (shutter speed).
The best way to think about the overall exposure of a photograph is to imagine a triangle. Each corner of the triangle is the home of the 3 essential camera settings: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. This exposure triangle represents the balance and correlations between these settings. An adjustment of any will require the adjustment of at least one of the other settings.
In this blog post, we will focus on the shutter speed's relation to the other two settings, but we will look into aperture and ISO in the future for sure.
Long and Fast Shutter Speed
Food or drink related actions such as an icing sugar sprinkle, a honey drizzle, or a liquid splash can be captured by
- freezing the action using fast shutter speed or by
- creating motion-blur using long shutter speed.
I personally love capturing actions with fast shutter speed, so every element of the action is crisp and sharp in focus.
Camera in Hand vs. Tripod
At the beginning of your photography journey, you most likely will hold the camera in your hand, which is totally fine until a certain point. Every photographer has a minimum longest shutter speed they can use their camera hand-held without causing motion blur by an accidental hand movement. For me, this limit is around 1/60.
We often need to use a longer shutter speed when shooting with natural light regarding we need to let more light enter our camera. When I need to set the shutter speed below 1/60, I mount my camera on a tripod or C-stand to avoid any movement. In addition, I also use remote control for the camera, this way the micro-movement of pressing the shutter button is not affecting the recording.
Our efforts on great styling, beautiful bakes, and good gear or lighting are completely unnecessary if we end up with a blurry image with our hero out of focus, so at some point in your photography journey, a sturdy tripod is a wise investment. Another benefit of using a tripod is the way it simplifies food styling by letting you style for the camera and letting you use both of your hands.
I recommend you do a hands-on experiment! Let's capture when you're sprinkling icing sugar. Simply use daylight. First, start with a slow shutter speed such as 1/10, then increase it to 1/125.
- Use long shutter speed, and the icing sugar particles will appear as lines, showing the motion of falling by "drawing a trail". This setting is great to represent movement and time as it passes. The action appears dynamic and blurry.
- Use fast shutter speed, and the icing sugar particles will appear as snowflake-like tiny dots. This setting is really useful to show a frozen action. The action appears still and sharp.
You can continue the experiment until you have enough light for correct exposure, which means the image won't get too dark. And why the exposure is getting more and darker by setting the shutter speed faster? The following explanation will be your A-HA! moment.
Shutter Speed's Impact on the Overall Exposure
- The longer the shutter speed is, the more light reaches the camera's sensor, so the brighter the image will be.
- The faster the shutter speed is, the less light reaches the camera's sensor, so the image will be darker.
When we reach this point at my consultation or mentoring sessions, a logical question comes from my students very often:
But Reka, what if I want to freeze the motion with a fast shutter speed that I don't want to change, but the overall exposure becomes too dark? What can I do with a pitch-black photo?
To sort this out, you need to recall the memory of our exposure triangle. It's time to re-create the balance by adjusting another setting (or both):
- you can choose a larger aperture (small f/ numbers) to brighten the image and/or
- increase the ISO
And for sure, if you want to capture motion blur with long shutter speed, and the exposure becomes too bright, you simply do the opposite:
- you can choose a smaller aperture (large f/ numbers) to darken the image and/or
- decrease the ISO
If you fall in love with capturing actions you probably will need more-and-more light to capture "wilder" actions, this is one of the reasons that made me move on from natural light into the world of artificial light. First I got myself a cheap continuous light, then, when I needed even more powerful gear I jumped in the world of different speedlights. But this will be another discussion between you and me.
I invited a professional photographer friend to process this topic by digging deeper into the technical and creative use of our camera's shutter speed setting, so welcome Lucie Beck on board!
Who are you and what is your photography specialty?
I'm Lucie Beck, food photographer, food stylist and interior photographer. I work for online food companies, food bloggers or restaurants.
I also have a shop in different vinyl photo backgrounds and Lightroom Presets.
Shutter speed is a great tool to present certain dynamics in a photo. How do you vary the shutter speed settings on your camera to capture different movements?
With different motion pictures, I play with my shutter speed. For example when sprinkling flour, pouring a liquid or dropping food.
When I want to pour syrup I want the syrup a bit sharper and my shutter speed is 1/60 with daylight.
When I work with a speedlight, it's even more beautiful.
In addition, I play with my shutter speed with interior photos if I want to capture people when they come to walk by. The trick is that they don't become one spot but that you see another leg and arm.
We all have a specific minimum shutter speed we are able to shoot hand-held with no risk getting a blurry image as a result. What is this 'safe' shutter speed value you can shoot without using a tripod or C-stand?
I can shoot with my Fuji camera up to 1/60 out of hand. When I go to 1/30 it is definitely moving and not sharp.
The main reason why photographers are using a tripod is to avoid blurry images. What other reasons make you mount your camera on a tripod or C-stand?
When I work with a tripod I don't get pain in my back when I have to take pictures all day for an assignment.
In addition, I can focus better on styling because I don't have to pick up my camera all the time. Also, you will never find the same point of view again.
What are the main benefits of custom shutter speed settings when shooting with continuous light and what are these benefits when using a speedlight?
When using my flash, I can use up to 1/200 shutter speed.
Everything is so sharp and bright, really perfect.
Shutter speed and ISO value affect the amount of ambient light falling on your sensor. Reduce your shutter speed or lower your ISO value to make the background darker. In combination with the flash, your subject will stand out better against the background.