S, Is for Shutter Priority

A late summer afternoon glow fills Grand Canyon as seen from Yaki Point on the South Rim. Cedar Ridge and O'Neill Butte bask in the light in the foreground. (Bill Ferris)

A late summer afternoon glow fills Grand Canyon as seen from Yaki Point on the South Rim. Cedar Ridge and O’Neill Butte bask in the light in the foreground. (Bill Ferris)

When shooting landscapes, I will typically set my Nikon D90 to either Aperture priority or Manual. Aperture priority allows you to control the depth of field by selecting the aperture. The camera will choose an appropriate shutter speed to compliment the aperture setting. A setting of from f/8 to f/11 will typically produce an image with everything in focus, including the foreground, middle ground and background. It’s not a hard & fast rule but, as a general guideline, landscape images with crisp focus throughout can be very pleasing.

Manual mode also gives you, the photographer, control over the aperture setting, as well as control of ISO and shutter speed. When taking advantage of the dramatic, moody lighting at the end of the day, shooting in manual and experimenting with different setting combinations can produce a balance between the intensity of highlights (clouds & sky), and detail in the shadows (land) that pleases you. After all, if you don’t like the image, there’s no reason to expect anybody else will. But if you love the image, there’s a good chance others will enjoy it, too.

There are situations when you’ll want to force the shutter speed to either be very fast or very slow. At these times, shooting in Shutter Priority can lead to amazing results. One such situation is when photographing a landscape featuring flowing water. Water is an element with multiple personalities. On the one hand, a waterfall or churning river rapid can seem violent and dangerous. At the same time, watery landscapes have a beauty and a delicacy that is undeniable. Let’s talk about how to use shutter priority to capture the softer side of water.

At the bottom of Grand Canyon, the Colorado River flows past Tanner delta during evening twilight. Vishnu Temple's distinctive profile is centered along the far horizon with Apollo Temple and Ochoa Point featured more prominently in the foreground on the right. (Bill Ferris)

At the bottom of Grand Canyon, the Colorado River flows past Tanner delta during evening twilight. (Bill Ferris)

This image of the Colorado River flowing through Grand Canyon National Park is a twilight scene that was captured about a half-hour after sunset. The Colorado has a well-earned reputation as a violent, dangerous river. Numerous rapids within Grand Canyon are so far beyond the most violent rapids you’ll find in other waterways that river runners have established a classification system just for the Colorado and other Western rivers.

In seeming contrast to that reputation, the Colorado River flows slow and quiet through much of Grand Canyon. The bend the river makes at Tanner delta illustrates the softer side of this great Western river. Photographing this scene, I wanted to capture this aspect of the Colorado River’s personality. To do that, I shot in shutter priority and selected an exposure time of 30-seconds. This allowed me to select a small aperture (f/9) to capture sharp focus throughout the image and to use an ISO of 200 to eliminate graininess from this twilight scene. That combination of long exposure and small aperture resulted in an image where the silky flowing river stands in stark contrast to the crisply focused inner canyon landscape.

It’s a ghostly, almost other worldly scene, and one that illustrates when to use shutter priority to capture a specific image. Give it try. Get out and Shoot!

Bill Ferris | August 2013

 

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