Translating between photography and video: shutter speed and more

As DSLRs become more capable of recording high quality video, it is harder and harder to resist the allure of moving images. And why shouldn’t it be? If a picture is worth a thousand words, and 1 second of video is comprised of 24 images in a single second (or 30, 48, 60, or more images per second), then a single minute of video could be equal to 1,440,000 words or more… although I think reality in this case is likely to be less linear than the math.

I am still actively shooting stills, but I have been enthralled by what I can now also do with video. It is a fantastic tool for showing added dimensions to animal behavior, for showing scale of movement versus just movement, especially of things that aren’t wholly visible like wind (If you show a still of a leaf blowing in the wind, how is the viewer to know if it is a gentle breeze or a gale? Somethings will be expressed through context, but some of the story will still be missing.) Video, while it has its own limitations can fill in some of the gaps, and is also interesting in that it can make photographers approach situations in different ways, especially if they are trying for both stills and footage.

Much of my free time lately has been spent working on these new skills, and trying to find a balance between photography and movie making. Unfortunately this has eaten into my blogging time, but now, as I become more comfortable with the moving picture capabilities of my camera, I will hopefully be able to find time once again to share with all of you.

As I’ve been begun to shoot short movies, I’ve had to adjust my thinking about my camera’s functions in several ways. Composition for example is still very important, but with photography you are composing for a single moment, while with a movie you are composing for a whole series of moments, in which the world may or may not be static. What you are shooting might be moving… or you might be moving, as you pan, walk, or dolly. This is actually great practice for photographers, as we set up for the composition of that moment, but it helps us plan for our future shots as we shoot stills of wildlife or people.

Composition is only a single component of the differences though. Camera settings change in varied ways, some of which can seem almost counter intuitive to someone that has only shot photos. While shutter speed, aperture, and ISO have the same operation, their practice is rather different. When shooting wildlife photos, you often want to bump your shutter speed to a high enough point that you will have a crisp image frozen in time (I know, I know, sometimes you also want motion blur), while with movies ideal shutter speed is usually within a stop of 1/60th. A nearly unthinkable speed for a wildlife photographer. Shutter speed should generally be twice the frame rate you are shooting at (don’t worry, frame rate will be an upcoming post, but I don’t want to make this one too long or involved, and it’s already heading that way). Most common frame rates are either 24 or 30 frames per second, hence the 1/60th.

Such a slow shutter speed isn’t as scary as it sounds, because camera shake and movement have a whole different meaning. If you are shooting several seconds, or even minutes of video, bumping up your shutter speed isn’t going to hide it, because every movement of your camera will be captured. Whether that movement is a pan or camera shake, it will be captured over the course of several seconds. Changing speeds won’t matter, the movement will still be there. If you bump the shutter speed up much, it will make for a very stuttered scene, that does not have a smooth flow. The footage will seem choppy, because the frame rate and the shutter speed are too far out of alignment. The object being filmed will have moved so much farther in the time between two 1/400th of a second photographs, than it will have moved in that 1/24th or 1/30th of a second space (because of frame rates) that it is supposed to fill.

Here’s a short movie I made recently for a local farm. It has a lot of examples of different types of movement in it. The shutter speed is a consistent 1/60th of a second. Is the shutter speed noticeably that slow? No. Is camera movement apparent? Yes.

Food for thought- If shutter speed remains more or less constant, what does that mean for aperture and ISO as you adjust them for noise and depth of field? I’ll be addressing those in upcoming posts. In the meantime, happy shooting.

About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website-
This entry was posted in How To, photography, SLR, video, videography and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Translating between photography and video: shutter speed and more

  1. janechese says:

    Fascinating, Galen. I foolishly did not know that moving cameras would still be dealing with aperture and ISO and shutter speed. I enjoyed the movie,with the look at the foods that came from the garden before leaves are cut off, etc. and the process of going to the market and setting up.. Liked the zooming in and the fade ins and fadeouts, the panning. Not easy.

    • Using our cameras for video is similar to using them for stills, in that you don’t have to worry about aperture, ISO, and shutter speed, until you want to be able to gain more control. They are very capable of capturing high quality footage with the automatic settings, just as they can capture high quality photographs without going into the manual settings. I like the control I have over the final product though, by shooting video in manual mode.

      I’m happy you enjoyed my market movie. I’m still learning what lenses, angles and movements work, but what a fun journey it is proving to be.

  2. I really enjoyed your video, so well done. I especially liked the part showing the produce in the moving truck. It was such a story telling video, all the way to market and customers buying.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s