The Need for Speed

I don’t usually remember movie quotes but I think there is a quote in Top Gun that goes something like “I feel the need…the need for speed”.

Learning to control speed is an important aspect of photography. In order to capture a fast moving subject without motion blur you need to have a fast shutter speed and if you want to capture movement you need to have a slow shutter speed. There are a couple of ways to do this and it does not involve the automatic setting of my camera.

Blue Angels
ISO 200, Aperture Priority, F5.6, 1/2000 sec.
Click for larger view

When I went to the 2010 Miramar NAS airshow, I knew I needed a fast shutter speed to capture the speedy Blue Angels in flight. I rented a 100-400mm lenses to be able to zoom in and set my camera so that I would have a shutter speed of at least 1/1000 sec. I did that by first setting my ISO to 200, then used Aperture Priority mode to set my aperture to f5.6 so that the camera choose a shutter speed of 1/2000 sec. That worked great for this shot of the Blue Angels…..


F-22, P-51 Mustang, F-16
ISO 200, Aperture Priority, f5.0, 1/3200.
Click for larger view

…but not so much on this shot. With aircraft with propellers like helicopters and prop planes a frozen propeller makes it look like it’s not moving. This photograph could be of planes hanging from my ceiling (no I don’t have planes hanging from my ceiling 🙂 ) rather than a live airshow. I should have used a shutter speed much lower than the 1/3200 this was at.

For the 2011 Miramar NAS airshow, my number one goal was to get the “prop blur”. The day before I was to go to the airshow, Kelby Training released, and I watched, a training video from Moose Peterson on Aviation Photography (perfect timing or what)

Using the recommendations from the video, I used a very slow shutter speed to get this late afternoon shot of Fat Albert (Blue Angels C-130 support plane) getting ready to taxi to the runway. To get this shot I used Shutter Priority to set my shutter speed to 1/50 sec, waited under the propellers were at full speed and moved so that I had the tower in the background.

Click for larger view

Fat Albert
ISO 100, Shutter Priority, f8.0, 1/50 sec.
Click for larger view

So what are Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority and why did I use them rather than the Automatic mode?

Aperture Priority is a camera setting on the mode dial (AV) of the camera that allows you to select the aperture or f-stop and the camera selects the shutter speed. Shutter priority (TV on the mode dial) allows you to control the shutter speed and the camera selects the aperture. In the case of Aperture Priority mode, I selected an aperture and focused the camera and looked to see what shutter speed was selected. I repeated that process until I had chosen an aperture that gave me the shutter speed I wanted.

Whether I was using Aperture Priority or Shutter Priority I was taking control of the camera to insure I got the effect I wanted. If I had used Automatic, the camera would have selected an aperture and shutter speed to get what the camera considers a proper exposure. The camera doesn’t evaluate the subject before it, to know that a faster or slower shutter speed, would make a more interesting photograph. Automatic mode may have captured the shots with the Blue Angels, but it’s unlikely it would have chosen a shutter speed slow enough to get the prop blur on Fat Albert.


One thought on “The Need for Speed

  1. Wow! I’m going to have to look here for some quick easy lessons. If only I had some knowledge and bigger lenses a few years ago 🙂

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