Slower Shutter Speeds

This article features a selection of photographs captured handheld at Bird Kingdom using slower shutter speeds, and discusses some of the factors to consider when taking this approach.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/13, ISO-200

The first factor to consider is the amount of movement of your photographic subject. Often reptiles can stay quite still for extended periods of time making them easier subjects with which to use slower shutter speeds.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 260 mm, efov 520 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-4000

On the other hand, most birds are far more active, and even perched birds can exhibit a considerable amount of movement.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-2500

Many birds will pause ever so slightly during some of their movements. Timing your shutter release during these very brief moments of stillness can yield good quality images at fairly slow shutter speeds. This can be important when shooting under darker conditions.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-100

Staying relaxed as you wait for the bird’s moment of stillness takes some practice. Taking slow, measured breaths, and using a light, smooth finger movement on your shutter release are needed to avoid unnecessary camera movement. A fast jabbing motion on a shutter release will often create image blur. For some people, holding their breath while waiting to capture their photograph, can cause some unintended camera shake.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-1000

A ‘slower’ shutter speed is a relative term of course. Many photographers suggest using a minimum shutter speed of 1/200 to 1/320 for perched birds when using a long telephoto lens, to help avoid image blur.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-1600

The key is to understand your personal limits when it comes to your hand holding technique. Practising on a regular basis will allow you to discover the slower shutter speed zone at which you are confident.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-500

The focal length of the lens used, as well as the effectiveness of the image stabilization in your camera body and/or lens also need to be considered. Some photographers find that using silent shutter (i.e. electronic shutter) or an anti-shock setting can help reduce image blur when slower shutter speeds are used.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-400

Using some kind of stable external support like a railing, low wall, large rock, tree truck or branch can help achieve slower shutter speeds. Some photographers find that they can reduce their shutter speeds by one or two stops when an external support is used.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO-640

Since these kinds of supports are not always available it is critical to know your ‘unassisted’ handheld slower shutter speed range. For example, when I’m using my Olympus camera gear with an equivalent field-of-view up to 600 mm, I have a high confidence level using shutter speeds in the 1/30 to 1/60 range. Using shutter speeds slower than that requires more concentration and shot discipline on my part.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/15, ISO-2000

Using slower shutter speeds when photographing handheld helps us achieve good exposures at lower ISO values. This allows us to use more of the dynamic range and colour depth available with our camera’s sensor, as well as reduce the amount of noise in our photographs. This can be especially important when using smaller sensor cameras. Sometimes being able to shoot at a slower shutter speed handheld can make the difference between getting your shot or missing it.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-6400

How you can help keep this site advertising free

My intent is to keep this photography blog advertising free. If you enjoyed this article and/or my website and would like to support my work, you can purchase an eBook, or make a modest $10 donation through PayPal. Both are most appreciated. You can use the Donate button below. Larger donations can be made to tom@tomstirr.com through PayPal.

As a reminder to our Canadian readers, you can get a special 5% discount when ordering Tamron or Rokinon lenses and other products directly from the Amplis Store.

Word of mouth is the best form of endorsement. If you like our website please let your friends and associates know about our work. Linking to this site or to specific articles is allowed with proper acknowledgement. Reproducing articles, or any of the images contained in them, on another website or in any social media posting is a Copyright infringement.

Article is Copyright 2020 Thomas Stirr. Images are Copyright 2019 Thomas Stirr. All rights reserved. No use, duplication or adaptation of any kind is allowed without written consent. If you see this article reproduced anywhere else it is an unauthorized and illegal use. Posting comments on offending websites and calling out individuals who steal intellectual property is always appreciated!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *