Friday, September 04, 2009

Fabulous Friday: Really Sharp Images At Really Slow Shutter Speeds

Good Morning Everybody,

We are in the home stretch prepping for my Digital WakeUp Call tour and LaDawn and I are looking forward to a few days - hopefully - of R&R before we hit the road on Tuesday.  So, without any further ado, let's get on with today's post.  Here we go...

Really Sharp Images At Really Slow Shutter Speeds

Photographers ask me all the time how I am able to pull off my really slow shutter speeds while hand holding the camera.  How slow you ask? How about 1/6 to 1/10 second.  Yep, that's pretty slow, I know. 

I've discussed my technique here at DigitalProTalk in a video tutorial I put together a few months ago where I showed images taken at 1/3 second hand-held.  In case you missed it, here is the link again.

But, you know, that's only half the problem when stopping the action say for example, during the wedding ceremony.  Maybe you can't even hold a camera steady with "image stabilized" lens. No problem - just pull out your trusty tripod and problem solved, right.

0001-Pause Points-2414-DZ_Schwartz W09 Wrong, the problem is only half solved.  The other part of the puzzle in getting sharp wedding ceremony images is being sure you are using a high enough shutter speed to stop the inherent action of the event.  Reminder, the bride and groom are saying their vows, they are putting the rings on each other's fingers - folks, there's a lot of action taking place in front of our lens and that action needs to be photographed in such a way so we come back home with clear, sharp images.

0002-Pause Points-2417-DZ_Schwartz W09 So you are asking, "OK, David, I'm on a tripod, I’m pushing the ISO to 1600, I'm using a larger aperture but my shutter speed is still hovering around 1/13 second and I still get motion blur in my ceremony images.  What can I do?"

I have the answer for you.  Are you ready?  You just have to wait till the motion is stopped or minimized so that your 1/13 second works for the shot you are trying to capture.  You have to wait for what I call "pause points" in the service.

OK, what in the world are "pause points"?  Simple, they are the pauses at the end of sentences from the priest, minister, or rabbi conducting the service.  The are the ends of the sentences from the bride and groom as they repeat their vows to each other.  That's when you press the shutter release - at the "pause points"!

0003-Pause Points-2421-DZ_Schwartz W09 That is the secret to getting those sharp images at those slower speeds.  Once you start practicing this technique, you will learn how to anticipate these "pause points"  and nail sharp images all the time.

I think this is one of those very simple techniques that separates the "men from the boys" photographically at least. (no gender slight intended).  But let me add, it does make a BIG difference in your ability to capture better images for your clients. 

0004-Pause Points-2474-DZ_Schwartz W09 Take a look at the accompanying images from my wedding in Vail. The first 3 images were shot at 1/13 second handheld.  The last image was at 1/20 second. Even though I was shooting at ISO 6400, it was so dark, I still had to deal the these lower speeds.

I could not have pulled off these sharp images without training myself to wait for the "pause points" and then at that split second capturing my exposure.  Shooting ceremony photos without regards to the "pause points" technique will only guarantee you less than the best results.

Anyway, give it a try on your next wedding or any job where you are locked into slower shutter speeds as a matter of necessity but still must come back with the clear, precise images. I think you will be pleasantly surprised and happier  with your sharper results.

Hey everybody, that's it for me today.  I hope to see many happy, smiling faces in Indy Tuesday night.  Everybody have an enjoyable, safe, extended weekend and I’ll see you from the road on Tuesday.

Adios Everybody,  -David


  1. Nice point David. I would really like to see one of these photos in full resolution. Would it be possible to post one of them (maybe cropped to the faces)? With those small photos it is impossible to tell if they are sharp or not. Anyway, thanks for a great post. Jiri

  2. Pause points, yet another must use technique. So much knowledge to take in.

  3. Nice article David but I wonder how you pull off such slow speed hand held - unless you're using a rangefinder or flashgun?

    Usually churches are around EV4-5, so ISO1600 f/2.8 1/30s or ISO80 f/2.8 1/30s should suffice. Here are some typical exposures for a wedding that readers may find of interest:

    Around 1/15s mirror bounce will also be an issue for the majority of photographers that use SLRs. Last year I did an experiment with my 70-200 lens mounted on a tripod and got a double exposure on each shot due to mirror bounce. Which is why I guess you must be using a rangefinder.

    PatB Photographer

  4. By accident I found that setting the aperture no wider than f5.6 greatly reduces the grain at high ISOs.
    So, wider isn't always better at slow shutter speeds. Try it out sometime. Add a hint of fill flash and it will stop the action for even sharper images.

    At dark receptions when people are dancing, I set my camera at f800, 1/10 sec and use a fill flash. You won't believe the incredible shots you'll get.