Better Photography: White Balance

I have a confession: I spent a good chunk of yesterday trying to write this post, but never got past the blinking cursor. Blinking cursors have always been a struggle for me. They just sit there, taunting you while you try to think of a suitable beginning. So today we’re going to pretend like this is a suitable beginning and jump right in ;-)

White balance is how your camera handles colors. As you probably learned in kindergarten, visible “white” light is made up of several different colors -> the rainbow! What your kindergarten teacher may not have told you, is that different light sources have different quantities of each color. Red has a much longer wavelength and takes less energy to produce, so cooler lights, such as candlelight and tungsten lamps, have a lot more red in them. Blue, on the other hand, has a short wavelength and uses a lot of energy (kind of how high notes take more energy & air to produce than low notes), so hotter light sources, like the sun, have a lot of blue in them.

Now your eyes in combination with you brain are incredible, and a white shirt looks white to you inside with tungsten light as well as outside in the sun. With your camera, you have to use white balance to make colors appear as they really are. The most common way to achieve correct colors is with automatic white balance. Auto white balance, like auto exposure, does a good job in most common situations: impromptu family photos on the lawn, flash photos at a party, travel pictures of that gorgeous beach, etc. But auto white balance has two main situations where it struggles.

The first is when an image is overly comprised of warm or cool tones (which explains why sunsets are not nearly so vibrant when photographed with auto white balance). This is the red mulch around our bushes. In the first image they came out a little more purple than they really are, but with the addition of a white paper towel, it came out perfectly.

If you were with me on the exposure discussion, you might think that you would need to add something blue to help balance out the colors. Instead, white balance performs best when it has something white or bright gray within the frame, because it’s programmed to think of bright tones as colorless (which they frequently are).

White Balance_0001

The other area where automatic white balance struggles, is extremely colored light. Auto white balance wants to neutralize color cast, but only to an extent, because it has no way of differentiating between an orange wall and a white wall with orange light on it.

These were taken in my bathroom with the overhead tungsten light. The bathroom has very light cream walls, a light cream hand towel, white light switch plate, and a white door. In these first two images, however, not only is everything too orange, but the door appears to be the same color as the wall. I shot the second set of images with the present “tungsten” white balance which got rid of the orange cast and also created unity across the images (the door matches the switch plate as it does in real life).

White Balance_0002

White Balance_0003

With automatic white balance, the balance will shift with each image taken, based on whatever is in the frame at the time. That means that the perfectly matching chair & rug set you’re trying to sell on craigslist might not appear to match in the photos. When you set the white balance, either with a preset or with a custom mode, you get accurate color differences across images. Of course it will also accurately show any color differences in the light, but at least that is predictable and avoidable.

The most common presets are auto, tungsten, florescent, daylight, flash, cloudy, shade, degrees Kelvin, and custom. Aside from auto and the two custom modes (“custom” and “degrees Kelvin”) they are generally in order from warmest to coolest. This is especially helpful when shooting outside because there are so many variables that can affect the color temperature of a given setting.

Obviously the original light source isn’t changing, but clouds and other obstacles affect different wavelengths of light differently. Cloudy days generally have a bluer color because the short blue wavelengths are better at bouncing through all of the clouds. They’re also better at bouncing into deep shade, but tend to get lost at sunset when the longer red wavelengths are able to bend around the earth more. At least I think that’s how my Weather & Climate professor explained it… In any case, lots of things affect the light and being able to go “hmm that’s a little too blue” and go down a setting or “that’s a little too warm” and go up a setting is very helpful.

These images were shot in daylight with all of the preset white balance settings in order from auto to shade.

White Balance_0004

Of course the perfect setting may end up being between presets, and that’s where the custom modes come in. With degrees Kelvin you can set the temperature you want, which is really all the presets are doing. Higher numbers are for bluer lights and create warmer images. Lower numbers create cooler images. You can also use the “custom” mode which generally involves photographing a gray card. That is you telling the camera, “hey this is gray” (or white or black) and the camera can then neutralize any colors in that image and save those settings for your future photographs under that light.

Custom mode is especially useful when you’re shooting under florescent lights. Even though florescent is one of the presets, there is such a wide variety of florescent bulbs that not only have different color temperature (orange/blue casts) but also different tints (green/magenta casts). The degrees Kelvin setting will only adjust the temperature, but the custom setting will neutralize all of the casts, including green/magenta.

These red mushrooms were under actinic aquarium lights (super blue florescent lights that show the phosphorescence of the corals). Needless to say they didn’t look red when photographed with the daylight setting and the florescent setting wasn’t coming close either. If I wanted the most accurate colors, I should have put a gray card under the aquarium lights (read inside the aquarium) and taken a custom reading. Since that would have been a little rude, I opted to shoot in RAW* and adjust the white balance later.

White Balance_0005

The main issue with adjusting the white balance later, is that you have to rely on your memory to get the colors right, and slightly incorrect can easily look correct because you have nothing to compare it to. Remember how your brain and eyes are awesome? Not only can they make a white shirt look white under different light, they can also make a white shirt look white when it’s slightly blue in a photograph, just because they know it’s supposed to be white. In the end I put the mushrooms at 50,000 K and that looked close enough to what I remembered for my purposes. If I were trying to sell this coral online, however, I would definitely be more concerned about getting truly accurate colors.

Well that pretty much covers the basics of white balance and your different settings. There are definitely other color issues that can come up (mixed lighting anyone?), but this post is already much longer than I intended, so we’ll save that for another time. ;-) In the mean time, try it out and let me know how it goes, or if you have any questions. Next week we’ll be getting more into lighting, since that’s such a huge factor and I only briefly covered it earlier.

*Quick note about RAW: The option to shoot in RAW is under the quality settings of your camera, and not all cameras give you this option. Most cameras default to shooting in JPEG. JPEG is good because it is a standard format and it is a compressed format. The first means you can view it and share it without any special software. The second means you can take more pictures on one card, back up the photos with a smaller drive, and send them over email. RAW, on the other hand, is more like a film negative, and it has to be processed before you can use it anywhere. It also has a lot more data (since it’s not compressed) so you can do more editing without ruining the quality of your images. Since white balance is all done after the fact anyway (your camera doesn’t alter the light that’s coming in in any way, it just applies the settings to the data received), you can adjust the white balance of a RAW image on the computer later without losing any quality. JPEGs, on the other hand, have already been compressed and had the white balance settings applied, so you will lose quality when you edit them later.



Adventures in Cooking: Italian Spaghetti

The actual name for this recipe is spaghetti aglio, olio, e peperoncino, but there was no way I was going to remember that. It’s actually a really simple recipe, and its simplicity is what really messed me up the first time. All it is is spaghetti noodles, olive oil, garlic, chili pepper flakes, and salt & pepper to taste. See? Simple and delicious! Except for the chili pepper flakes.

The first time I made this recipe I looked at the pictures (from,

and used red pepper flakes. Because that’s what the picture looks like, and that’s what I had on hand. Of course the result was scalded tongues and cries for large cups of milk. Oops.

So I went on a quest for chili pepper flakes. I had chili powder in my cabinet already, but the flakes were so pretty and really made the dish look delicious. I tried Walmart, Food Lion, and even Bi-lo (yes Bi-lo is my idea of a high glass grocery store, don’t judge), but no one had chili peppers in flake form :-(

So I used chili powder and I remembered to take pictures. It turned out quite well, though for the two of us, we could have halved the seasoning.

Spaghetti_0001 Spaghetti_0002 Spaghetti_0003

Recipe is from


7 ounces of spaghetti
2 large or 3 small garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons of chili pepper flakes
1/4 to 1/3 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper


The measurements in this recipe can be shifted depending on your taste preferences.

  1. Cook spaghetti according to the directions on the package, until it is al dente.
  2. Strain spaghetti and place in a large serving dish.
  3. Add minced garlic, chili pepper flakes, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and mix together well.
  4. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Serves 2 to 4.

Happy Birthday Dear Fur-Butt!

Today is Cole’s birthday! In celebration of such a momentous occasion, I went through some old photos and picked out the ones that seemed to best sum up Cole’s first year of life (and to prove that he wasn’t always a humongous monster ;-) )

This is Cole’s first photo shoot, when he and Trey visited me in Columbia. Wasn’t he adorable?


and already learning basic commands =)



One of his first trips to Smoaks (aka paradise) when he learned how to swim.



His first trip to Atlanta, when he met Ivan.



Going to the lake. The other paradise =)



The dog park makes for a well behaved pooch.


His day at the doctor, poor thing ;-)


His first Christmas and his daily spot in my office, keeping it safe from any invading songbirds.


Cole, you’re a terror, but you always keep our dinner time stories fresh. Here’s to another year of slobbery kisses, piles of fur, and always remembering to enjoy the weekends!


Making Things Grow: Update

About two months ago the herbs that Trey bought for me sprouted. Since that day, they and I have come a long way: I read about how easy it is to over water them, how they need crazy amounts of sun, how they’re one of the hardest thing to grow indoors (figures), and I watched over them meticulously for any signs of immanent demise.

Indoor Herb Garden

Probably the biggest break though happened last Friday. I’ve been really wary of over watering, waiting for the soil to get dry before watering again, but it took them forever to dry out. Like the first month I think I only watered them once. So then I figured that maybe they needed less water more frequently, but they still weren’t looking very good.

Then last week my friend came over (Martha, the chef, who has actually grown herbs before) and she said that thorough watering is really important because it makes the roots grow. If they had to reach for the water they would get stronger and be able to support the plant as it grew. Well that makes sense.

So after she left I made sure to water them really thoroughly, and discovered something interesting. The pots didn’t have holes in the bottom! How did I miss that for two months? No clue, but it certainly explained a lot. (Note that Trey bought the herbs as a kit designed for beginners.) So I started drilling holes, or trying to. Turns out its actually pretty difficult to drill through, what I’m presuming are some kind of ceramic, pots without dumping the dirt and plants everywhere. Anyway, I got holes of one kind or another in each of the pots, watered them, and left for the weekend. When we came back, the plants were huge! Ok they probably didn’t grow that much, but there was an obvious difference.

I watered them again today, so here’s to hoping that wasn’t too much…

Sweet Basil

Cilantro & Oregano



Better Photography: ISO

For the past two weeks we’ve been talking about the three aspects of exposure. So far we’ve talked about aperture and shutter speed, which means that today is all about ISO! ISO stands for International Standards Organization, super helpful right? As it turns out there is an organization devoted to creating international standards. They’ve created quite a few standards in different  fields, so a lot of people use the term “ISO” to refer to a lot of different things. In photography, ISO refers to the sensitivity of the digital sensor to light. Remember our diagram from the past couple weeks?

The digital sensor is a digital camera’s version of film, and ISO is a digital camera’s version of film speed. If you ever shot film, you know that it came in different speeds, and oftentimes the box would say what that speed was useful for shooting (daylight, sports, night shots, etc). Using “night” film is the same as setting your camera to a high ISO.

Now remember that changing the ISO has no effect on the amount of light coming into the camera. Only the shutter speed and aperture size affect that. Instead, changing the ISO affects how the camera handles the amount of light it receives. A higher ISO is more sensitive to light, so it will create a brighter exposure with the same amount of light, while a lower ISO will create a darker image. Each of the following images were shot at f1.8 and 1/400th of a second, so the same amount of light went into the camera for each picture. The only difference between these images is the sensitivity of the sensor (ISO). They were shot at ISO 400, 100, and 800 respectively.


ISO also affects your image quality. It’s kind of like a inkjet printer. You can print a photo at “photo quality,” “normal quality,” or “draft quality.” Photo quality will give you the best image, but it also requires the most ink. With draft quality you can still see the picture and you use a lot less ink, but the quality is not as good. A higher ISO uses less light, but at some point grain becomes a problem.

At what point it becomes a problem relies heavily on your camera and the quality of its sensor. Obviously more expensive cameras tend to have higher quality sensors, but because technology improves so quickly, a newer camera that is in a lower class may have better performance at high ISOs than an older, originally more expensive camera. Ex: a point and shoot bought today would probably take much better hand held, low light images than a digital SLR bought in 2000.

These pictures were taken (left to right, top to bottom) at ISO 1600, 800, 400, and 100 with shutter speeds of 1/125, 1/60, 1/50, and 1/5 (the aperture remained constant at f 1.8). The third image is a little under-exposed, but my subject was not patient enough for a redo ;-) You may be able to see that the higher ISOs have more grain, but at such a reduced size it’s practically invisible.


If you view the same images at half resolution (full resolution is really big and not necessary for this illustration), however, the difference becomes obvious. Notice that the last image doesn’t have any grain, but the low ISO required a shutter speed that was too slow to freeze the motion of my dog.


Now you may be thinking that you can get around the quality issue with editing. “I’ll just underexpose my image a bit. Then I can use a fast shutter speed to freeze motion and a low ISO to retain high quality. I can just increase the exposure later in Photoshop and voila! The perfect image!” Except that editing also reduces image quality and brightening images only makes any grain that is in the image more apparent.

Both of these images were taken at ISO 800. The first was properly exposed with a shutter speed of 1/1000 which is definitely fast enough to stop motion, but for illustration’s sake I under exposed the second image so that I could get my shutter speed up to 1/4000. Then I adjusted the exposure in Adobe Lightroom to match the first image. Even at such a reduced size you can probably see the grain along the right side of the photo. The grain appears worse in the second image even though they were both taken at the same ISO.


These are the same pictures at half resolution, and the difference is clear. You’ll always have higher quality images if you can get it right in the camera, than if you rely on fixing it later.




Adventures in Cooking: Cornstarch

I wonder if, when Martin Luther King Jr was making speeches, organizing boycotts, and generally leading the Civil Rights movement, he ever thought that he would have a holiday named after him? I love MLK day because it comes at the perfect time of year. It’s pretty close to the longer breaks around Christmas and New Years, so you don’t feel the need to do any intense merry-making, but can simply stay home and do things that need to get done.

What does a three-day weekend mean for the Hall household? It means we’re simultaneously caught up on sleep, dishes, and laundry! But wait, there’s more… Two of the dinners this week have included vegetables!! “But, Becky,” you may be thinking, “there have only been two dinners so far this week.” Heck yes there have! The Hall household is currently two for two on veggie consumption this week! Best homemakers of the year award right here! (If you think veggies should be consumed at meals other than dinner, your expectations are unrealistic and you’re ruining my moment.) So thank you, Rev. King, for your contributions toward race equality in this country, but also for a three-day weekend that means a cleaner, healthier household for my little family :-)

As part of the long weekend, I tried out a new recipe for Teriyaki Chicken. We had grown tired of my last Teriyaki Chicken recipe after we had to eat leftovers of it for a week and a half straight, and the picture on pinterest looked different enough to be tasty. Of course I later saw the same picture linked to two additional recipes, so who knows how it was really made. I would show you how mine turned out, but I was too busy eating it. Oops.

Anyway, the recipe was simple enough except that it involved cornstarch at the end to make the sauce. I hate working with cornstarch. It always clumps no matter how much I stir and it always seems to need more than the recipe calls for to get proper thickness, so I keep adding more at little at a time until suddenly I have a glaze instead of a sauce. Ugh!

Obviously the solution to the second problem is to be more patient, since it takes a little while for it to thicken, but that still didn’t solve my clumping problem. Until I read this recipe. It instructs you to mix the cornstarch with an equal amount of cold water before adding it to the sauce. Genius! The cornstarch dissolved beautifully in the cold water without any clumping! Then I was simply able to pour the mixture into the sauce and it came out perfectly.

Of course I have no idea whether this is a transferable concept (maybe mixing the cornstarch with water has some unknown effects in addition to the obvious one?), but you can bet I’m going to transfer it every chance I get until some disaster occurs :-D

Oh and by the way, this recipe was delicious! Trey even said it was just like the kind we had at Miyabi’s, but he might have been exaggerating a bit ;-)




12 boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 3 pounds)
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup soy sauce
6 tablespoons cider vinegar
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon pepper
4-1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
4-1/2 teaspoons cold water
Hot cooked rice, optional


1. Place chicken in a 4-qt. slow cooker.
2. In a large bowl, combine the sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, ginger, garlic and pepper. Pour over chicken. 3. Cover and cook on low for 4-5 hours or until chicken is tender.
4. Remove chicken to a serving platter; keep warm.
5. Skim fat from cooking juices; transfer to a small saucepan. Bring liquid to a boil.
6. Combine cornstarch and water until smooth. Gradually stir into the pan. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Serve with chicken and rice if desired.

*image and recipe from

A Lesson in Asking

Since Wednesday I’ve had a chance to sleep (yay!), eat real food (yay!), and thaw out in the warm Charleston sun (super yay!!). Word on the street (aka facebook) is that it’s snowing around Charlotte today, and while people seem happy about it for the most part, I can’t help but feel a little smug :-)

Anyway, now that I’m feeling a little more human, I thought I’d share one of the things I was reminded of at the What’s Next Tour. Now this isn’t a new lesson; in fact it’s a very old lesson, but then most of the best ones are. This lesson is about humbling yourself, asking, and being persistent.

In Luke 11 and 18 Jesus tells two separate parables. The first is about a guy who goes to his friend’s house to ask for bread because he had an unexpected guest and he didn’t have anything to serve him. The friend is already locked up and in bed, so he tells the guy to go away. The guy really needs the bread, though, so he just keeps knocking and eventually his friend gives him some bread. In the later parable a widow is asking a judge for legal protection. The judge didn’t care about her or doing what was right, but because she kept bugging him, he eventually gave in. Now both of these parables are about being persistent in prayer, but they can apply to other areas of life as well.

When I was living in Germany, my apartment complex had a laundry room that worked with tokens. At some point the landlord probably got tired of people always coming to him to buy tokens (he didn’t really have office hours, so it was quite a difficult process), so they switched to a card machine. Now you had to put money on your student ID card at the mensa (umm caffeteria/student lounge kind of place) and then swipe your card to do laundry. I’m pretty sure there was a sign in the laundry room about the upcoming change, but there were a lot of signs in the laundry room. Most of them didn’t pertain to me, and they were all in German. Which is how it came to be a Friday afternoon, as I went down to do my laundry wearing my last set of clean clothes, that I discovered that the token machine had been removed.

Uhhh… How am I supposed to do my laundry? My friend lived in the same complex. Her German was much better than mine, so I went upstairs to ask her for help. I could see the card machine, so I figured that was how it was supposed to work now, but I didn’t have any money on my student card and the mensa closes over the weekend. My friend confirmed that the student card was the only way to pay now, and we were both pretty sure that the mensa had already closed. But I didn’t have any clean clothes and no one wants to wear the same underwear for three days, so we walked over anyway just in case it was still open.

It wasn’t. But there were two janitors cleaning inside and they could easily see us through the glass double doors. So I knocked. The man looked up, but motioned that they were closed. I tried to put my plea into hand signs, but he turned back to his work. I kept knocking and calling out in broken German and knocking. The man would look up occasionally but just kept working. The woman started to get annoyed though. She told us more than once that they were closed and that we needed to go away. I tired to explain that I just needed to use the card machine and it wouldn’t take long.

Pause here for a brief culture explanation. In America this probably wouldn’t have been a big deal. The inconvenience of me putting money on my card just wasn’t that great, but we were in Germany. Germans, at least where I was living, love their rules. They have rules and procedures for everything, and you have to follow them precisely or whatever you’re trying to accomplish won’t be accomplished. Of course there are pros to this system. If you know the rules and are able to follow them, things go quiet smoothly. If I had known they were changing the system, I could have turned in my tokens and put money on my card and everything would have been simple. But I didn’t know. So I stood outside the mensa banging on the door and begging in broken German for the janitor to let me in.

After awhile the woman came out of the door to get something from a closet that was in the same landing area as my friend and I were. She walked past us without looking at us, but now I was able to go into my whole spiel knowing she could hear me. I said something along the lines of

“I have no clothes. I have tokens, but tokens don’t work. I must put money on card. Please. I have no clothes.”

She got whatever she needed from the closet, rolled her eyes, sighed, and let me through the door. I think, on the whole, we knocked for twenty minutes while they cleaned the entire floor, and my friend suggested at least once that we just leave. If we had left it would have been fine. I would have worn dirty clothes for a couple days and I would have gotten over it. But I wanted clean clothes, and sometimes the only difference between “just fine” and what you really want is asking and persistence.


Charlotte in 18 hours

To say that yesterday was a blur would be an understatement. I left the house at 7:30 and returned at 2:00. 2:00 this morning.

The blurriness of the day was only enhanced by the weather. See it’s been high 70′s and gorgeous all week, and when I left Charleston yesterday morning it was 65. Charlotte is apparently not close enough to share weather patterns though, because it was 43 and rainy the entire day. The room we met in was also cold, and since I only had a light jacket, I shivered through the entire day.

This morning when I woke up late to the sunshine and another 70 degree day, it was hard to believe that yesterday even happened. But it did happen, and I have the pages (and pages) of notes to prove it.



Right now I’m on the way to Charlotte! Oh wait, what time is this thing supposed to post itself? Oh my bad, right now I’m in Charlotte! Wooooo! I’m at the What’s Next conference by Justin and Mary learning a ton of super awesome stuff, but don’t worry, I have something fun planned for you all while I’m gone: random internet day!  Because it’s Wednesday and laughter is good for you :-)

A day at the spa...


Better Photography: Shutter Speed

Last week we talked about aperture as the first of the three parts of exposure (aperture, shutter speed, and ISO). That means that today we get to talk about shutter speed! Shutter speed is probably the biggest ongoing battle that photographers face. Why? Because good light is often low light, no one likes a blurry photo, and tripods are heavy and awkward. But first let me explain what shutter speed is and how it’s used.

If the aperture is the diameter of your plumbing, the shutter is the cutoff valve. The longer the valve is open, the more water fills up your bathtub, and a properly full bathtub is a correct exposure.

The following images were shot a f4 with exposures of 1/13 of a second, 1/320 of a second, and 1/60 of a second respectively. As you can see, a longer shutter speed means more light and a brighter image, while a shorter shutter speed equals less light and a darker exposure.

Shutter Speed_0001

Longer shutter speeds don’t just mean more light, however. The entire time the shutter is open, it is recording whatever is in front of the lens. If the picture in front of the lens doesn’t change while the shutter is open, you get a sharp, blur-free photo (such as the images above). If the picture does change, either because a part of the image is moving or because the camera is moving, the photo will reflect that movement.

In the following pictures, I attempted to drop a ball within the depth of field and catch it on the first bounce. Attempted, because it was way harder than I would have thought and the last image still isn’t in focus (boo), but you can get the idea. These were shot with shutter speeds of 1/13, 1/60, and 1/320 with the aperture adjusted to get a correct exposure.

Shutter Speed_0002

Of course the ball probably wasn’t moving at exactly the same speed in every picture (faster movement means you need a faster shutter speed to freeze it), so I also took these shots of our ceiling fan (glamorous I know ;-) ). They were taken with the same shutter speeds as above, but you can get a clearer idea of the motion blur. Note that I used a tripod in both the tennis ball pictures and the fan pictures.

Shutter Speed_0003

Ok so now that you understand the basics, let’s talk about some of the really cool things you can do with shutter speed. The most obvious is that you can freeze motion! Now you may think that’s kind of boring because you’ve grown up around great photography- race horses frozen in mid gallop with sweat flicking off their sides, athletes frozen in mid air as they catch the game winning pass, a seal tossed into the air above the waiting jaws of a massive Great White, well you get the idea. Not only would none of these photographs be possible without a super fast shutter speed, but your eyes on their own would never be able to see these images without a photograph. All your eyes would capture is a blur of a horse as it passes you on the track. Sure you can see the guy catch the pass, but did you see his expression when he did?

Freezing motion is really at the heart of what photography is all about. You freeze that moment when your kids were small, when the sunset was perfect, or when your spouse gives you that special “I love you” smile. Freezing motion = super cool!

This picture was taken a 1/80 of a second and you can see that the guy’s hands were moving faster than the rest of him because they’re more blurred.

Shutter Speed_0005

The second cool thing you can do is blur motion. There’s a reason water is the number one illustration when demonstrating shutter speed- it looks cool frozen and blurred. Plus everyone loves a good blurred waterfall picture. These were taken at 1/4000 and 0.8 seconds (shutter speeds are generally represented as a fraction, but when they get longer than 1/2 they’re represented as a decimal).

Shutter Speed_0004

Shutter Speed_0006

The third and fourth cool things you can do with shutter speed are really just extensions of blurring motion: you can track a subject and you can “paint with light”.

Tracking is often used in car ads and nature articles about cheetahs. It’s also used by duck hunters to get dinner, but we’re talking about photography here. Tracking with a fast moving subject allows you to use a slower shutter speed than would otherwise be necessary to get a clear image. This technique can be useful when there simply isn’t enough light to use a faster shutter speed or when you want the blurred background to indicate speed (as in a car ad).

The basic idea is that you point your camera toward the subject (which is hopefully moving in a somewhat predictable direction & speed) and take the photo while continuing to track it. In this example I stood in my back yard with Alien Man held at arms length. I then spun in a circle keeping Alien Man at the same spot in my frame so that, even though I was using a shutter speed of 1/20 of a second, he’s relatively sharp against a super blurred background. If you were trying to photograph a sprinting cheetah, you would want a much faster shutter speed and probably a car to match his speed.

Shutter Speed_0008

The fourth and final (as far as this blog post is concerned) cool thing you can do with shutter speed is paint with light. Painting with light is when you have the subject in a dark room and “paint in” the areas you want to see by shinning a flashlight on them over a long exposure and/or when you point the flashlight at the camera and write or draw. A quick google will show you all kinds of really cool images made with this technique.

Both of these were shot over 30 seconds, and the one on the left was written by my friend, JC, for his girlfriend at the time. She is now his wife, and I’m not saying I had anything to do with it, but honestly, who could resist a heartfelt message written on the inside of a tent? ;-) Another interesting fact, I didn’t have a tripod at the time these were taken, so I shot them laying on the roof of my (parked, don’t worry Grandma) car. That just goes to show that you don’t need expensive equipment to take cool pictures (except that’s kind of a bad example since my car cost way more than my tripod…)

Shutter Speed_0007

Ok, so that should give you a good working knowledge of shutter speed! As always, comments are appreciated and your questions help everyone learn :-)






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