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Control Shutter Speed and
Enjoy Great Flexibility

The shutter speed is the amount of time light is allowed to enter into the camera. To set your shutter speed manually, set your camera to S or speed priority. If you leave it set there, the camera will automatically set the aperture to give you a good exposure (hopefully). Or you can set both the speed and aperture manually, controlling the lighting and the depth of the area that will be in focus. For the average photo a speed somewhere between 1/60 - 1/125 second works well, letting in adequate light and is usually capable of stopping slow, small movements.

3 birds in flight

young male moose rocky mt park Slower shutter speeds are needed in low light conditions, such as dense forests or twilight. If you go below a speed of 1/30 second, either prop your hands against a tree or on a fence or use a tripod.

hanging lake in colorado - slow speed With my camera on a tripod I like to use speeds of 1/10 second or as slow as one full second to turn a waterfall or waves along a shore into soft cotton candy threads and swirls.

dove in flight Use a speed of 1/500 second or higher to freeze fast moving objects . The birds in my backyard dart about so quickly that I hardly have time to press the shutter down. But capturing birds in flight intrigues me and a few clear shots are worth investing some time. I set my camera on a tripod next to our living room window with a 300mm zoom manually prefocused on our platform feeder about ten feet away. When I see a bird leave a nearby tree branch, that usually gives me enough time to press the cable release and get a flight shot.

dark eyed junco flight 1 house finch in flight

house finch in flight black capped chickadee in flight

Though it will produce a grainier photo than an ISO of 200, I need to set the ISO to 400 in order to get adequate lighting for photographing flying birds in my yard. I then set the speed priority (letting the camera set the aperture) between 1/2500 - 1/3200 second and I get a fairly clear image about half the time if I have full sun. The photo below is too dark because it was taken without full direct sun.

flicker in flight scares birds

With the speed so high, the depth of field for the focus is extremely shallow - perhaps six to 14 inches. It's a hit or miss pursuit, not being sure if the bird flew through the focused area until I check the LCD screen. You can see below that the flying bird is in focus, but birds only about 8" closer to the camera are very blurry.

finches narrow depth of field

Photographing birds flying from farther away won't require such a high speed and your depth of field will reach farther, but in many of those cases you would benefit from a zoom greater than 300mm.

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