Friday, July 18, 2014

Testing Shutter priority mode

I usually keep my camera set to Auto, and toggle quickly from manual focus to autofocus. Both settings have their advantages; manual focus for face shots on critters that happen to be sitting still, autofocus for their more rambunctious moods. I've tried the aperture priority setting; it works out fine for larger objects, where I want the background to lose detail, but for the unpredictable smaller things, spiders and hermits and the like, it leaves me too often with the whole critter just out of range.

I hadn't tried Shutter priority before; "they" say it's for long exposures with a tripod, or on the other end of the scale, for sports and other fast action photos. And I rarely have opportunity for either.

But how about in macro photography, where the tiny subjects are almost too fast for my shutter finger? For the last few days, I've been experimenting with the fastest shutter speed setting my camera can handle. And I'm happy! I managed to "freeze" some amphipods!

Amphipod hiding in the sea lettuce, tests the current with one antenna, one leg. More legs are visible through the sea lettuce.

Tail end of an amphipod. Their legs stick out in all directions, which makes sense, seeing how they move about; they swim or scramble forward, backward, or sideways, "upside-down" in our terms, or right-side up; it makes no difference to them.

Courting pair, waiting for her (the small one) to be ready to mate. The male appears to be staring down a worm inching its way along the eelgrass. "Scram, or I'll stab you!" he says.

These photos are almost as they came from the camera, except for resizing and adjusting the white balance. I took out a few scratches on the glass, as well.

I had to jack up the ISO to 800, so there's a bit of noise in the darker areas, what with shooting through old glass and moving water. But the colours are truer than at my usual settings, and the flash doesn't produce the awkward highlights that show up at slower speeds. And even a running hermit crab gets his photo taken!

Very small hermit (less than 1/2 inch long) on a barnacled clamshell.

Another tiny one, at a crossroads high in the eelgrass.

Tentacles, tomorrow.


  1. I adore the courting amphipods! Wonderful pictures, always inspiring.

  2. ceratina3:18 pm

    I love the amphipod and the worm!

    When you get into it, you can use full manual to good effect. Aperture to control depth of field, shutter to control background exposure, flash to stop foreground motion, and flash exposure compensation to control foreground exposure. I'm not adept enough to do it on flitty things, but when the subject stays mostly in one place it works out pretty well. It does help to use external flash that makes it easier to adjust it's exposure comp. Menus are a pita.

  3. Thanks, Sara and ceratina!

    Yes, it's the flitty things that cause the real problems. I use a slave flash that works nicely, if my subjects stay within its range for any length of time. Since they usually don't, I use it for overall illumination mostly. Otherwise, the on-camera flash helps to stop motion.

    I agree on menus. And little, hard to read info screens on the top of the camera so that I lose my subject while I change the settings for the place he was a minute ago. I need something like Google glass in the camera; voice activated commands.

  4. ceratina5:49 pm

    Voice activated commands:

    That's a brilliant thought. If you can tether the camera to a computer (not all makes/models can tether), you could cobble together voice activation via the computer. You'd still be limited to what the camera model/tethering software allows, but there are utilities that can manipulate GUIs which should allow for voice control of at least the basics. I don't know enough about Windows software, but on a Mac I'd use a combination of the built in 'Speakable Items' feature with the 3rd party Keyboard Maestro. Presumably Windows has similar things if you hunt. If the Nikon software doesn't support tethering (IIRC they charge a bunch extra for that), I'm sure I've seen third party tethering software. Canon's free-with-camera DPP tethers pretty well, and I think I'd be able to control most camera controls. It would be especially useful with the compound microscope, so I could be moving the stage while telling the camera to shoot.

    If I ever get my old Canon back from a friend, I'll have to try it (well, after inside season comes back). Unfortunately, my Olympus em-5 can't tether at all to anything; one of its few big flaws, sniff.

    Many newer cameras have wifi and can be controlled by phones and tablets. Voice should work there too, but only if the control apps add the right accessibility support. "Siri, increase flash compensation".


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