Getting it Right with Fast Shutter Speed

Landscape photography is typically all about capturing photos with smooth water and long shutter speeds. When someone sees an abstract image of a bubble bursting (such as the boiling mud pots of Yellowstone National Park), they often assume that it is a studio shot.

I created the following image during our workshop in Yellowstone several years ago. To capture this bizarre image, I used a shutter speed of just 1/2500 of a second.

Fast Shutter Speed: 1/2000s - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Fast Shutter Speed: 1/2000s – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

On the day I took this shot, the light overcast sky helped minimize blown highlights on the wet surfaces. It also kept the shadows soft. After processing the photo with low contrast and cloning out a few distracting shadows in the smooth mud, I had my shot.

You can apply the same technique to many different photos in nature… a hummingbird returning to the same feeder, insects visiting a pollen-rich flower, water droplets falling in the same spot, and fishing birds.

Here are few tips to get you started…

Find the Right Subject and Location

If the subject you are trying to photograph appears randomly or moves unpredictably, it can be difficult to capture it at just the right moment. For the following shot, I observed the butterfly’s behavior and noticed that it repeatedly landed on the same flower.

So, I mounted my camera on my Induro tripod and loosened the ball head to use it as a gimbal. When the butterfly landed on the flower, I could quickly focus my camera and take this show using a fast shutter speed.

1/200s - Twinsburg, Ohio

Set Your Focus in Advance

Sometimes the location of your subject is fixed. For example, the bubble in the photo below exploded in the same location although at random times. Once I knew where the bubble would most likely to appear, I focused my lens on that location and disabled the auto-focus. With my lens set correctly, I could concentrate on getting the shot.

Fast Shutter Speed: 1/2500s - Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Fast Shutter Speed: 1/2500s – Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Take Some Test Shots

You must decide what aperture and DOF you need to use. Choose a shutter speed that is fast enough to completely freeze the motion. Depending on your subject, the actual shutter speed may vary. The following are a few shots using different shutter speeds to freeze the motion of the various subjects.

  • Shutter Speed: 1/400s – Maui, Hawaii, USA

  • Shutter Speed: 1/1250s – Capturing Puffins in Action

  • Shutter Speed: 1/2000s – Everglades National Park, Florida, USA

The slow-moving turtle required a shutter speeds of only 1/400s of second while the high-speed action of the cormorant trying to catch a fish in the Everglades required a 1/2000s shutter speed to freeze its motion. I captured the puffin with just 1/1250s shutter speed as he slowed down for landing.

Most of these landscape photos with fast shutter speeds were captured with a long, heavy lens. To prevent my arms from getting tired while I waited for the action to take place, I used a lens mount to attach the heavy gear to my Induro tripod.

Do you have any fast shutters speed photos to share with our audience? If so, feel free to share them in the comments below.

About Author Jay Patel

I could startoff like this – “Seeds of Jay Patel’s appreciation for beautiful places were planted early in his childhood….” but it would get boring really fast. I will just sum it up and say that I am a Landscape and Wilderness Photographer who loves to capture dramatic light. My photographs have been published in various magazines, calendars and advertising materials throughout the world.
Patience is a virtue...unless you are chasing your dreams

  • So often I read your guides or descriptions and think “golly, why didn’t I think of that?” I learned on film, and although you can push it a bit to change the iso, you had to do the whole roll or spend time and risk scratching the film to separate out the shots you wanted to push. Plus I was never that organized! The ability to select an appropriate speed and f-stop, then adjust the iso to the situation is simple and brilliant. I can’t believe I never thought to do this! Too stuck in my ways to see one more advantage of modern equipment! Thank you very much 😉

    • Thanks for the comments. Glad you enjoyed the short tutorial.

  • Great tip and good reference material for fast shutter speeds and time lapse work.

    • Louis, Glad you enjoyed the tip. :-))