Sunday, March 15, 2009

Always Learning: Knowing Your Shutter Speeds

When I first started getting really interesting in seascape long exposures, I had no clue how long of a shutter speed to use. I filled many a memory card with trial and error shots (mostly errors) to determine what effect the duration of the shutter had on the appearance of the water.

I distinctly remember shooting down near Big Sur and having great success with 8 seconds to create a misty feel to the water. I remember shooting one day in Santa Cruz and using 30 seconds and was pleasantly surprised at the "glassy" feel the ocean was given from such a long shutter.

Since those early days, I have continued to learn through trial and error, but now the errors are fewer. I can now better visualize a scene and determine what shutter speed is required to get the shot I want.

In the shot above, I knew something in the close to a second would give me streaks of water long enough to cover more of the frame, but short enough to retain the detail between the white water. I still used my neutral density grad filters to hold back the sky as this hot was a solid half hour after sunrise and the sky was getting brighter. I increased my ISO 2/3 of stop to keep my aperture relatively small in order to get the depth I wanted, all while keeping the quick shutter speed to freeze the rush of water.

I am excited by all the learning, the trial and error, and the increase in successful visualization and execution. I am not a professional, but I do have goals. One of them is to always keep learning, and another is to hopefully get better. Getting out there to shoot often is one of the best ways to do this.


  1. nice post Jim, it really helps getting to know your settings inside and out, great photo

  2. Your photos are wonderful but you are a good writer too :) This was my first visit but not the last...very interesting and helpful for a novice as I.
    Best Anna, (from Flickr)