Back To Basics: Capturing Time


Einstein may have denounced the possibility of time travel, but the greatest thing about our first love, photography, is that it gives us the ability to stop time. This final Back to Basics article gives you the power to choose how.

Credits: adam_g2000

Before you read on, you may wish to go through my previous articles. You will need to know about aperture and shutter speed to follow this one.

Your shutter speed and aperture do more than just allow you to control depth of field, they allow you to choose how to stop time. As previously discussed, if your shutter has to stay open for a long time, you get camera shake if it’s handheld, whack that camera on a tripod or stable surface though, and using a cable release, you can fix everything except things in your frame that are moving.

Conversely, if you set a very high shutter speed (depending on the speed of the thing you are shooting) you can stop that movement with tack sharp clarity.

You can see in the picture below, that I’ve opened up the aperture of my SLR, and set a high film speed in an attempt to capture the droplets of water in this fountain. Something the eye has trouble doing.

Tripod 1/1000 of a second.

However in this picture below, I’ve done the opposite, I’ve closed the aperture down and set a slower film speed, thereby capturing the flow of the water for a more dreamy effect.

Tripod 1/8 of a second.

Making things flow, blurry people crossing streets, flowing water, etc. is fairly easy and can be done with most cameras (more below), but stopping motion can require a very fast shutter speed and mostly only SLRs will allow you to do this. The shutter speed required to freeze time without blur will depend entirely on what you are shooting and how far away it is. A train, 10s of meters away from you may be ‘stoppable’ with 1/100, closer it could be well over 1/1000.

Fast enough to stop the bubbles, but not enough to stop the movement.

For a very intense lesson on achieving this, check out How to Calculate a Minimum Shutter Speed to Yield an Adequately Sharp Image of a Moving Object, there is a great chart there with some rules of thumb.

As we’ve progressed over the past 8 months we’ve learned about the trilogy of variables required to get a perfect shot, we’ve now got to learn how to use them with finesse, especially for capturing movement. This is something that will take you practice to do, without flexible ISO, something that a digital camera can do, you may want to achieve both of these effects on the same roll of film. In order to do that you need to play around with a light meter, the one in an SLR will do, until you can grab the right film for the day. Read, Back To Basics: Film 101 and Back To Basics: Aperture and Depth of Field if this isn’t clear. Ultimately, you know that you are going to be locked into certain Aperture Values and Shutter Speeds, so you are going to have to carefully choose the ISO, the speed, of your film.

You don’t have to own an SLR to achieve these effects, but you do have to be able to override you camera. Automatic cameras like our favorite, the LC-A is pretty much out. A manual camera like the Lubitel is perfect for the job, with its range of apertures and shutter speeds, you can stop time or blur things. You’ve got complete control.

Examples from the community of stopped or blurred time.

A Diana, Holga or La Sardina is another matter, your shutter speed is fixed and the aperture isn’t going to make a big difference to your choice. You can see (if you read the distance chart) that you can freeze time at a distance, but close up, it’s a no go. It is easy though to blur things. You’ve got a wonderful trick up your sleeve on those cameras – the B (bulb) switch.

Set you camera to Bulb mode, whack it on a tripod, use a cable release, and you can open the shutter as long as you like, you just need to make sure your film is slow enough to provide you with a long enough exposure. A light meter will come in handy.

I won’t go into it here (it’s a story for another to tell), but the last word should go to Pinhole Photography. Due to its nature that all shots made this way are very slow.

Credits: neanderthalis, azurblue, janiemeringuepie & adam_g2000

I hope you enjoyed this series of articles as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them. The biggest pleasure has been the discussions in the comments, and all the private messages I’ve had with questions, feedback or requests for more information. I thank you!

My new series will start next month, tentatively titled, ‘Basics Applied’. Each month I will select a Lomography camera and discuss it in terms of technical techniques and how to apply theory to said camera. I hope you will enjoy it.

We’re going out with a a bang! The team at Lomography have very kindly allowed me to suggest a Back to Basics Rumble, you can find that here, I look forward to seeing all your entries so get out there and show us what you’re made of!

And with that my friends, our time has come to an end!

Back to Basics is a monthly Tipster series by Adam Griffiths where he seeks to impart a little more technical film photography knowledge. For each installment, he chooses a fundamental subject and explains it quickly and in simple terms (with examples where possible).

written by adam_g2000 on 2012-10-29 in #gear #tipster #long-exposures #lens #camera #bulb-mode #iso #time #shutter-speed #film #tipster #asa #back-to-basics


  1. neanderthalis
    neanderthalis ·

    This is a very nice subject to end this series. I am looking forward to reading your next series.

  2. kiri-girl
    kiri-girl ·

    Great Adam! Looking forward to the next series! :)

  3. nuo2x2
    nuo2x2 ·

    oh Adam, another excellent article!
    you make basics into a must-know-for-everyone type of articles

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