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Suitable Shutter Speed for Portraits

Steve Simons , Jan 13, 2004; 08:52 p.m.

Before Christmas, I had to shoot some family portraits of myself and my family, they were for a present for my grandma's birthday (even though the film wasn't processed in time and we had to use Digital Photos we took months earlier).

Anyways, I faced exposure problems with shooting the pics. It was dusk outside so there wasn't much light coming in through the windows, I had the room light on, a large halogen light on one side of us, and a smaller light on the other side, but I was getting a shutter speed of 1/25th shooting at f/3.5. I didn't want to shoot f/3.5 either because that meant I was shooting wide angle and had to get close.

So... when I'm shooting in conditions like this again, what is a suitable shutter speed for family portraits where I can use a smaller aperture? I was shooting Kodak TMax 400 by the way, and the pics didn't turn out too great, They were actually slightly overexposed because, even using 9.5% partial metering, metering on faces, it picked up some of the shadows and must've tricked my metering :(


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Christopher Bibbs , Jan 13, 2004; 09:27 p.m.

The shutter speed is going to vary depending on the light. If you really want a rule, always use a tripod and cable release when shooting available light indoors. Then you can set it for your desired aperature and just ask people to hold still.

Pat Wilson , Jan 14, 2004; 08:41 a.m.

I shot some portraits that were about 1/8 because my light was insufficent, they turned out ok, but I would have rather shot at 1/60 at least (1/125 is good) because it's very difficult to capture instantanious things at lower than that. You always have to say "Ok hold that." More light, more light, more light.

Yance Marti , Jan 14, 2004; 10:28 a.m.

You can shoot shutter speeds of 1/2 or 1/4 second as long as you tell your subject to hold still and use a tripod. Obviously this won't work for shoots with children! I find that the softness from slight movement actually improves the image in portraits. Tack sharp images usually aren't as flattering for most people's complexions.

M . , Jan 14, 2004; 12:02 p.m.

Steve: First of all, you got confused with "wide angle lens" to the aperture setting. F3.5 on a 85mm lens is not wide angle. The wide angle lens refers to any lens that has a focal length length that is smaller than 50mm. It's a physical distance between the film plane and the lens glass element (no so scitifically speaking), while th eaperture ssetting refers to the openning iris in the lens.

With the same lighting condition, you only have the choice of, once the aperture is set, shutter speed of the camera and the film speed. If you find, with shutter speed set at 1/125 second or faster, the exposure meter reading below what your prefered aperture setting, then you need higher speed film to "compensate" the camera setting you want. Don't know if all this make sense to you.

No offense, but you might benefit from reading a basic photography book or attending a photography class.

Christopher Chen , Jan 14, 2004; 12:59 p.m.

I'm w/Pat Wilson. To be on the safe side, 1/60 or 1/125th of a second would be a good start for capturing your typical fidgety subjects. If you can't or don't want to use flash, I think your only solutions are faster film/glass or, as Pat pointed out, more light, whether artificial or natural.

Wentong: Steve didn't say he was using an 85mm lens. Sounds to me like he was using a zoom & f/3.5, the largest aperture, was only available @ the wider angle settings, which could very well be 35mm or whatever.

RJ _ , Jan 14, 2004; 02:04 p.m.


Over Christmas, I made a photograph of a friend sitting on his backyard bench with his Miniature Shnauzer. I was using a tripod, a cable release, a 150mm lens and ASA 100 4"x5" film. Because it was a very overcast day with occasional drizzle, and because I wanted a few feet of depth of field, the exposure was f22 for four seconds. To my amazement, the Schnauzer stared straight at the camera, without moving, the entire time, and the photograph came out very sharp. Fast shutter speeds aren't always necessary, as a lot of late 1800s and early 1900s photographs attest to.

Christopher Chen , Jan 14, 2004; 05:00 p.m.

R_: True, but didn't portrait photographers use special chairs that helped immobilize subjects, @ least back in the daguerreotype era?


"Fast shutter speeds aren't always necessary, as a lot of late 1800s and early 1900s photographs attest to."

Brandon Hamilton , Jan 14, 2004; 06:10 p.m.

"I didn't want to shoot f/3.5 either because that meant I was shooting wide angle and had to get close."

What?? hhmm.. when using low available light, as long as your subjects are all relativly the same distance from the lens, shoot with the lowest F stop your lens can muster.. in that situation, a 50mm 1.4 or 1.8 would of worked nice. Put that thing on a tripod with a shutter release cable or a 2 second timer, and you would of had no problems.

Steve Simons , Jan 14, 2004; 07:56 p.m.

^^ What I meant by shooting wide angle at f/3.5 was that, in order to get a shutter speed of 1/30th, I had to use the largest aperture possible on my lens, which is only available at wide-angle. Sorry for the confusiong.

And to Wenton Lin or whoever it was that told me to read a basic photography book, I think you should read the post before commenting, first of all, it wasn't an 85mm lens, and second of all, I know enough about photography to be past the basics, this was my first indoor portrait shoot and needed some advice.

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