Slow It Down! Shooting At 1/20th Of A Second

Take a deep breath. Now let it out slowly.
We’re not in a yoga class, but a nice slow breath and steady shutter release finger will allow you to take your shutter speed to a new low. And by low, I mean slow; 1/20th of a second, for instance. While it is not the slowest shutter speed out there, 1/20th of a second can lead to some interesting effects; from causing intentional blur in waterfalls to allowing for available light shooting situations and increasing depth of field. Then throw in a tripod or solid surface and more options appear.
It’s not a popular shutter speed. You might not even rank it up there in your top ten, if you were forced to rank shutter speed preferences. Yet 1/20th is a fine place to start experimenting, and that’s one reason I like it so. It’s not always about using just 1/20th, but finding a sweet spot around it to capture the mood of a shot. It’s most easily accessed in Shutter Priority Mode (or Time Value Mode) which will allow the camera to choose the appropriate aperture for you, freeing your creative spirit to being playing with light in different ways.
Using Photoshop Lightroom recently I decided to sort by shutter speed (accessed by pressing \ and then choosing Metadata then changing a column to list out shutter speeds) and found I had a decent amount of shots grouped around this shutter speed. A surprising amount. Below are quick tips followed by some of my own shots to help inspire some experimenting on your part with this often ignored shutter speed.
  • Breathe – As mentioned, breath when you shoot. Your body is most relaxed when you exhale and this is a prime time to take a shot.
  • Press Through The Shutter Release – Don’t press down hard on the shutter release, this will cause shake more easily noticed at 1/20th. Press through the button, as if wishing to hit a spot just below the lowest it will go. This helps eliminate the “tap” effect.
  • Brace Yourself – Hold your camera properly. But don’t be too rigid! If you can, brace yourself against a solid object (building, car, lightpost, the ground, etc..).
  • Use A Tripod – They really do help, but I think you already knew this. 1/20th is much easier to achieve if your scene isn’t changing quickly and can allow for tripod use.
  • Practice – Practice – Practice!
[Click on images for larger version]
In The Souq - Fes, Morocco
Past Sunset On The Serengeti - Tanzania
Maui County Fair - Hawaii, USA
Belly Dancers - Costa Rica
Church Details - Malaga, Spain
In The Bar - Washington, USA
Torches At Sunset - Hawaii, USA
Flamingos In Nogorongoro Crater - Tanzania
Dessert! Lahaina Grill - Hawaii, USA
Kayaking The San Juan Islands - Washington, USA
Karen Blixen Museum - Kenya
Campfire At Semiahmoo Resort - Blaine, Washington, USA
Falls - Costa Rica
Kegs Awaiting Beer At Boundary Bay Brewery - Bellingham, Washington, USA
Harness At Piiholo Ranch - Maui, Hawaii, USA

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