Camera Settings

Shutter Speed - How to Freeze Motion & Show Motion Blur

The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays. I am SO excited for the 4th this year! There is such a fun feeling living in a somewhat small town; I love driving with my windows down past beautiful green fields and mountain lakes, listening to all the patriotic country songs and thinking about just how LUCKY we are to live in America. I love the BBQ’s, parades, the rodeos, and the fireworks. 

I thought this would be a good week to learn more about good ol’ shutter speed! If you want to photograph cowboys trying for 8 seconds at the rodeo, freeze fun moments of your kiddos splashing in water, or capture the magic of fireworks, it all comes down to shutter speed. 

For those of you wanting to learn how to freeze motion or show motion blur, this is an easy tutorial to help you get the perfect shot at the perfect moment. 

How to Freeze Motion

To freeze motion in a photograph, you need to use a FAST shutter speed. Shutter speed gets quicker the higher the fraction is. Going from 1/60 to 1/250 to 1/500th of a second means your shutter speed is quicker. If you want to be sure that you freeze a subject running or jumping, using a shutter speed of somewhere between 1/500 - 1/1000th of a second is a good idea. 

I love freezing motion at one of my favorite places on earth, Lake Powell. We spent many 4th of July's on that lake! It's a lot of fun to get good action shots of water sports. For the skier, I shot at 1/750, f/6.7 and my ISO was 110. 

Learning How to Freeze and Show Motion Blur - Shutter Speed -

For the wakeboard shot, my settings were 1/500, f/8 and ISO 100. 


Wait a sec! That high of a shutter speed could be a problem right? Using a shutter speed that high means that you need A LOT of light. This can easily be done mid-day with the sun shining outside. If your lighting conditions aren’t bright enough, you’ll have to raise your ISO to a high ISO #, or open your aperture up as far is it can go (lower f/stop #). These are two keys to getting more light. Keep in mind that a lower f/stop will limit what is in focus and give you more background blur. 

Are you bugged or overwhelmed by more manual settings talk? It's okay! I get it. Here’s another solution: change your camera settings to shoot in shutter priority. That way you can pick your shutter speed, and your camera will help you out with the rest. Phew. It's that easy! 

Shutter Priority Mode for Practice freezing/blurring motion

I shot this photo below at 1/1250 of a second and it's still not tack sharp! It's a fun shot but sometimes it's a lot of trial and error until you get the perfect shutter speed. 

How to Freeze Motion -

Here's another fun photo of freezing water in motion, taken at 1/600. 

Freezing Motion

How to Blur Motion

Blurring motion is the exact opposite idea. To show movement or motion blur, you’ll need a longer shutter speed. This will be a slower amount of time, such as keeping your shutter open for 1/4th of second, to perhaps three minutes or even longer. Your camera records what it sees in that amount of time, thus showing any movement. 

For this image below, these were my settings: 1/40, f/22, ISO 400. Because the ride was moving fast enough, 1/40 of a second was just long enough of a shutter speed to show the movement. Had I changed it to three seconds or longer, the shapes of the seats and the people would be a complete abstract blur. I chose this shutter speed because I wanted it to still be recognizable. 

Learning How to Freeze and Show Motion Blur - Shutter Speed -

First, you have to think about how fast your subject is moving. Second, think about how much light is in your scene. If you have a long shutter speed on a bright sunny day, your image will easily be overexposed (SUPER bright). If you only use a somewhat longer shutter speed at night (like 1/15th of second) you may not have enough light in your scene and it could be underexposed or DARK. 

If you try to show motion blur but your image is too bright, change your ISO to a LOWER # (less light) and your aperture to a HIGHER f/stop # (less light will enter your camera). If that’s too complicated to balance, once again switch to your SHUTTER PRIORITY and pick the longer shutter speed that you’d like to try out.

Two ways of blurring motion are:

1. Keeping your camera totally still and having your subject move.
2. Moving your camera (also can refer to the term panning, which is a fun trick we'll talk about later)!

To show your subject moving, it’s a great idea to use a tripod to ensure that you won’t shake your camera while taking the shot with a longer shutter speed. If you hand-hold your camera and try taking a two-second exposure, your photo will show camera shake from your hands moving. If you don’t have a tripod, you can try setting your camera on a table or anything stationary, set a self-timer and release the shutter. Even the motion of pressing your shutter release button can cause camera shake! 

I didn't have a tripod for this photo and you can see that his figure is a little fuzzy and blurry. It would have been much better result if I had a tripod. 


I shot this photo below at 1/10th of a second, f/4.8 and ISO 320. 

Learning How to Freeze and Show Motion Blur - Shutter Speed -

Using a tripod and a long shutter speed, you can get some fun images with sparklers by light painting; simply waving your hand around while the camera is taking the photo. 

Learning How to Freeze and Show Motion Blur - Shutter Speed -

For the shot below, I captured the movement of car lights by shooting at 1/10, f/3.5 and ISO 100 and of course, used a tripod so the rest of my image was clear. 

Learning How to Freeze and Show Motion Blur - Shutter Speed -

Use this holiday weekend to play around with your shutter speed and see what interesting images you can create! Be creative, have a tripod handy, remember SHUTTER PRIORITY and have fun! 


Printable Photography Cheat Sheet

Let's take a break from editing tips and get back to some basics! Today I made a really convenient printable photography cheat sheet for those wanting a little guide that can fit inside your camera bag! This is a 3x5 card that you can carry and refer to easily on the go. When you want to know what settings to use in certain situations, just snag your card to help you remember what all those crazy settings will do to your image. It can be easy!

Keep practicing shooting manual, or choose your aperture priority to practice selecting your own aperture. That's always a good place to start; you only have to think about half of the equation because your camera will choose your shutter speed for you!

Click here for the full 3x5 file. 


Understanding a Full-Frame vs. a Cropped-Sensor Camera

Lately I have been asked a lot of questions about cameras, which one to buy and what the difference is between a full-frame camera vs. a crop-sensor camera. SO I decided to spell it out simply so you can understand the difference between cameras that have a full-frame sensor and a crop-frame sensor. 

On a full-frame camera (a camera with a full-frame sensor) this is referring to a sensor-size that is equal to 35mm film. In other words, the rectangular sensor that captures your image will record the same area as 35mm film will (roughly 24mm x 36mm). 

A cropped-sensor refers to any camera that has a smaller sensor than that of a full-frame camera. Most entry-level cameras have this cropped sensor. If you were to take the same photo with a full-frame camera, using the same lens from the same distance as a crop-frame camera, the cropped-frame camera would capture a smaller field of view; this means a smaller piece of the scene projected by your lens. The full-frame camera will get more of the edges of the same scene, or more 'real-estate'. 

You can see the difference in the example below. The image on the left was taken with a Canon 5D Mark III and the image on the right, a Nikon D7000. Both cameras had a 50mm lens, shot with an aperture of f/2.8 and were taken from the same spot (the same distance from the dog). 

Understanding the Difference Between a Full-Frame Sensor Camera vs. a Cropped-Sensor Camera -

Every cropped-sensor camera has a crop factor of either 1.3 x, 1.5x or 1.6x (the field of view gets smaller). This means your sensor will be a smaller version of a full-frame sensor. 

Let's take a look at what each option has to offer to figure out which one is right for you. 


A full frame sensor will give you better performance in low light scenarios, allowing you to have a better ISO performance at high ISO numbers. They also give you a little better image quality than a crop sensor. This is why they are considered "professional camera bodies" and most professional photographers pick full-frame cameras over cropped. Full-frame also allows a wider-angle of view which can be helpful for things like landscape or architectural photography. A full-frame DSLR will also give you a slightly more shallow depth-of-field than a crop sensor DSLR. 


  • Better low light performance

  • Shallower depth of field

  • Better dynamic range

  • Wider angle of view


Having a cropped sensor will lose that extra 'real-estate' in your photo. With a wide-angle lens on a crop-sensor camera, you won't get the widest field of view like you would with a full-frame camera. On the other hand, a crop-sensor DSLR paired with a telephoto lens will give you more distance from this smaller field of view. For example, if you have a 200mm lens on a crop-sensor camera, you apply the 1.5x crop factor to the lens (200 x 1.5 = 300). This would really get you 300mm focal length for the subject you are shooting, or in other words, FREE ZOOM! This can be very beneficial for shooting subjects that are far away, such as getting closer shots of an athlete in a sporting event or for wildlife photography. We'll talk more about the crop factor and lenses later on. 


  • More affordable

  • Wider range of lens selection

  • Increased focal length

  • Lighter and smaller 

For most people, the decision is based upon cost. Think about the advantages of both, how they apply to what you photograph and what your budget for photography is in order to make the best decision.

In my next post I will teach you how to understand the way lenses work with both full-frame and crop sensor cameras. This can be confusing to understand so hopefully I can make it more simple for you!


Easy Tips for Taking Sharper Photos!

This is the final post about taking sharper images! I hope you're excited to try some of these final, general tips; they will change your photo life. Blurry photos are the worst. They aren't doing anyone a favor, so listen up. If you haven't read my previous posts in this series about taking shaper images, check them out here:

When it comes to understanding how to take sharp photos it is sometimes easier to think about WHY our photos are coming out blurry. Why, why, why??! Here are some reasons why your photos aren't as clear as you'd like them to be:

  • Your shutter speed is too slow, causing movement to show. 

  • You are shooting too wide open (your f/stop is low, giving you a small plane for focusing).

  • There's not enough light in your scene.

  • Your ISO is a little too high (showing grain).

  • You are causing camera shake.

  • You aren't using the best Autofocus setting for your subject. 

Shutter Speed

Let's start with shutter speed. There's a general rule-of-thumb that if you are hand-holding your camera, you should shoot at a shutter speed equal to or greater than focal length of the lens to avoid camera shake. For example, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, you want your shutter speed to be at least 1/50th of a second to avoid showing the shakiness ( that a word? If not, is in my book) of your hands. For any camera with a cropped sensor (most beginner DSLR camera bodies) you'll calculate 1.5 x focal length of your lens. SO for a 50mm lens, I'd need a minimum shutter speed of 1/75th. 

Another thing to think about is your subject and whether it is moving or not. The tips about shutter speed above are useful for anything stationary. Once you take into account how fast your subject matter might be moving, you will need a faster shutter speed to freeze motion. There are many situations where showing motion is the goal; but we're talking about SHARP photos here.

To freeze motion, I usually start by playing it safe around 1/250th. This works well for family photo shoots when kids are wiggly but may not be sprinting in a full-blown race. If I want to freeze motion of a kid being tossed in the air, I'd like to shoot at 1/400th or something higher to be sure it's sharp. Consider your scenario, and if freezing motion is key, raise your shutter speed as high as you can without having your ISO setting too high (results in a grainy photo) or your aperture going too wide (lower aperture lets in more light). Read more about shutter speed here


Shooting wide open (lower aperture, such as f/2.8) isn't necessarily wrong, it just limits what is in focus. This creates a shallow depth of field, so only a small plane of your image will be in focus when you take a photo. If you are going to use a low aperture, be sure you get your focal point spot on. For help with focusing tips, read my first two articles mentioned above! Learn more about aperture here. Most lenses are the sharpest a few stops up from wide open (the lowest f/stop setting). If I have a 35mm f/1.8 lens, the images I take between f/2.8-f/5 will be more crisp than at f/1.8. I shot this photo at f/3.5 and focused exactly on the right eye to make sure they were as sharp as can be. For portraits it's crucial to try and get the eyes in focus. 

Tips for Taking Sharp Photos -


When it comes to ISO, we know that the lower our ISO number is, such as ISO 100, the higher quality our images will have or the sharper they will be. Higher ISO settings, like ISO 6400, let in more light but show more grain. Read more about ISO here


You can't rely on your camera to pick the perfect focus point for you automatically. If you are wanting a particular part of your scene, someone's face or even just the eyes in focus, you need to select the focus point using my tips in the articles mentioned above. Camera's have to guess and sometimes the result isn't what you want. For this photo below, I shot at f/2.8 and manually selected the focus point to be right on the product (the bracelet). It's completely sharp because my subject was still, I had plenty of light in this studio to use a fast shutter speed and a lower ISO, and I used the right Autofocus setting to get accurate focus. If I had my camera choose the focus, it probably would have focused on her sweater, making the bracelet fall out of focus. 

Tips for Sharp Photos -

I hope you've learned a few tips to carry with you as you try to take sharper photos. Get out there and practice a few of these techniques and you are bound to have better results! If you have any other questions about how to take sharp photos, head to my contact page and let me know. 


Easy Tips for Taking Sharp Photos -

Road to Sharp Images - Understanding Focus Area Modes & Focus Points

Every DSLR camera is equipped with focus points. Focus points help the camera detect contrast, which (to make a long story short), help the camera focus on a scene more accurately. Some of these are regular vertical AF sensor points and some come with a newer cross-type technology. The cross-type sensors detect contrast vertically and horizontally, which means that the more cross-type AF sensors your camera has, the more efficient your Autofocus will be. It's also helpful to know that the more AF points your camera has, the better focusing results you'll get with moving subjects. 

AF-Area Modes

On my Nikon D7000, I change this setting by pressing this button and scrolling my front wheel dial. 

Understanding Focus Area Modes -

On an entry-level Canon DSLR, you might change this setting by pressing this button and then selecting your Focus Area Mode. If you're unsure about your camera, check your camera's manual. 

Understanding Focus Area Modes -

Single-Point AF-Area 

Known as Single Point (Nikon) or Manual AF Point (Canon), this mode uses one focus point (one specific area) that you choose to focus on your subject. This mode is great for precision. It's as simple as that. Here's what it looks like when you do Manual point selection on a Canon screen; only one focus point is activated.

Understanding Focus Area Modes -

Dynamic AF-Area 

Known as Dynamic (Nikon) or AF Point Expansion (Canon) mode, you first choose the single focus point; once focus is achieved on that area, you can pan (or follow) your subject, trying to keep it close to the focus point. Your camera will then try and help you track the focus, by using the surrounding points. This mode works really well for moving subjects. You can also choose how many focus points you want to use; every camera is different and has a different number of these points. If you want to track a small area of the scene, you can choose a smaller number of focus points. If you want to track a subject using the whole viewfinder, you should pick the highest number of tracking points. See my example below.  

Understanding Focus Area Modes -

3D-Tracking Mode

Some DSLRs have a 3D-Tracking Mode, where you pick the focus point and your camera will automatically activate as many focus points as needed to have an efficient way of tracking your moving subject. It uses a color-recognition technology so you can recompose, while it tracks, for instance, a red car driving down the street or a white bird flying around birds that might be black. The difference between 3D and Dynamic Mode is that you choose the area you want to focus in Dynamic Mode. 

Here's an example of what the different Focus Modes look like on a Nikon (image source from Nikon).

Understanding Focusing Area Modes -

It can be a little confusing to remember how our Focus Modes and Focus Area Modes work. Hopefully these posts help you understand how your Autofocus system works a little better. Try some of these different settings and see which Focus Area Modes work best for you, your subject matter and your camera!