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[Part 2] Camera Functions Useful for Composition

Composition and camera functions, though seemingly unrelated, are in fact closely associated with each other. If we define composition as how an image is constructed, then camera functions are the hidden techniques to help emphasise the atmosphere or the intended image of the photographer. In this article, I will give an introduction to some must-know features. (Written by: Tatsuya Tanaka Illustrations by: Atsushi Matsubara)

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"Shutter speed" effect: For expressing the "movement" of the subject

Adjust the shutter speed

Almost all SLR cameras allow you to select a shutter speed from the range of 1/4,000 to 30 seconds (1/8,000 to 60 seconds for some models) in gradual increments. The different shutter speeds help to widen our scope of expression, such as "freezing" the movement of the subject or expressing movement through motion blur. In the examples here, the swaying coconut trees were captured using a slow shutter speed, which effectively conveys how strong the wind was from the blurry leaves. For the photo with waves lapping onto the shore, a fast shutter speed was selected, which allows the splashing waterdrops to be reproduced so clearly as if their movement was "frozen". To create such shutter speed effects, you need to predict the movement of the subject before composing a shot. Since this technique captures a glimpse of a moment that is not visible to our eyes, it is recommended that you keep photographing until you have obtained the best shot.

Effect on the photo when the shutter speed is varied

1/60 sec.

Let us take a look at how altering the shutter speed affects our visual impression with water falling off from a height as an example. At 1/1,000 second, the water appears "frozen", and the amount of water seems less than what we actually see. In contrast, the running water becomes blurrier when the shutter speed is slowed down. Starting from a shutter speed of 1/6 second , the water seems to increase in volume, and the trajectory of movement becomes visible. Try reflecting such differences in expression in your composition.

1/6 sec.

1/1,000 sec.

Express the strong wind with a slow shutter speed

A shot of the swaying coconut trees on a moonlit night. The shutter speed was set to 10 seconds, which created a sufficient amount of blur in the leaves. The profoundness of capturing movement is that it provides a guide for the appropriate expression according to the selected composition.

"Freeze" the splashes of waves with a fast shutter speed

Splashes of the raging waves caused by the severe weather. "Freezing" the movement of the waves with a fast shutter speed allowed me to capture changes not visible to the naked eye. Here, I composed the shot while anticipating a big wave before it arrived, and waited for the right moment to release the shutter.

Tip – Prevent camera shake at a slow shutter speed

Photographing at low shutter speeds is always accompanied by the issue of camera shake. While the use of a tripod may be the best way to address this issue, you should not place excessive trust on it. Even when the camera is mounted onto a tripod, the photo may turn out blurry due to the slightest vibrations from pressing the shutter button. In addition to the tripod, my recommendation is for you to use a remote shutter release, which helps to reduce unwelcome shake since you do not come into contact with the camera when taking a photo.

Tripods are most effective for reducing camera shake, but placing excessive trust on it is not advisable.

The remote shutter release is a must-have item, as it helps to prevent camera shake.

"ISO speed" effect: Providing support to your shoot by enhancing the light sensitivity

Adjust the ISO speed

ISO speed refers to the ability of the camera in sensing light, with a higher value indicating a higher level of sensitivity. In a low-light scene, such as when you are photographing a nightscape or indoors, a higher ISO speed helps to prevent the shutter speed from slowing down. The photos of the waterfall below illustrate the effect of altering the ISO speed under a constant level of brightness. Since the amount of brightness remains unchanged, raising the ISO speed increases the shutter speed proportionately. Next, the photo of a showcase display was captured at night without using a flash. By selecting a higher ISO speed to increase the shutter speed, I was able to capture this handheld shot without resulting in a blurry image due to camera shake. For snapshot lovers, this is an extremely useful feature. Although raising the ISO speed may also lead to more noise, there are cameras that can produce noise-free shots up to about ISO 1600. Try to make good use of the ISO speed to widen the variety of your handheld shooting styles.

What happens to the shutter speed when you alter the ISO speed with the aperture kept constant?

ISO 100 (0.3 sec.)

ISO 400 (1/12 sec.)

ISO 1600 (1/50 sec.)

ISO 6400 (1/200 sec.)

If the shutter speed is changed with the aperture value kept constant, the resulting photo will turn out underexposed or overexposed. A way to overcome this problem is to adjust the ISO speed. In the examples above, the ISO speed is altered with the aperture value left unchanged so that the scenery other than the waterfall looks the same. By doing so, we can make a clear comparison of the changes observed at different shutter speeds through the expression of the water flow.

Raise the ISO speed to prevent camera shake

One of the most common causes of unsuccessful handheld shots can be attributed to camera shake. Camera shake often occurs in vertical compositions, and even lenses with the IS (Image Stabilizer) feature may not be effective in countering it at all times. Another way of preventing camera shake is to raise the ISO speed.

Tip – Pay attention to noise at high ISO speeds

Although high sensitivity characteristics have been enhanced with advancements in the technology, noise still exists. Noise becomes prominent at a high ISO speed beyond 6400, and at about ISO 12800, which can be used to capture handheld shots of the starry sky, its presence is no longer negligible. You are therefore recommended to take this into consideration and make good use of the noise reduction feature in producing your works.

ISO 400

ISO 6400

While a night view captured at ISO 400 and ISO 6400 may look the same, noise becomes more noticeable as you enlarge the photo. Here, I enlarged a portion of the image to illustrate how prominent noise is at a high ISO speed.

Tatsuya Tanaka

Born in 1956, Tanaka is one of the rare photographers who produce works across a wide variety of genres from an original perspective. These genres range from objects in our daily lives, such as insects and flowers, to landscapes, skyscapes, and celestial bodies. Besides photography, Tanaka has also developed his own approach in post processes including retouch and printing.