Digital photography jargon


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Digital photography jargon S is for...

  • Scene Modes
  • Shutter Speed
  • Shutter/Flash Sync

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Digital photography jargon

S is for......

scene modes

What are Scene Modes?

Scene modes allow a quick and easy way for photographers to select camera settings likely to be appropriate for a particular type of photographic theme.

This enables inexperienced photographers or those unfamiliar with their cameras controls to stand a good chance of capturing a decent photo in many different types of situation.

The downside is that selecting a scene mode relieves the photographer of complete control over how the picture will be recorded.

As you become more accustomed to your camera's functions and more knowledgeable about photography principles in general, you are likely to want to take greater control over the camera functions and utilise either the “exposure modes” or even full manual mode.

Typical scene modes are

  • Landscape
  • Portrait
  • Sports
  • Night
  • Close up (Macro)

For each of the above the camera will select a combination of aperture, shutter speed, ISO and whether to deploy the on camera flash.

In addition features such as drive mode (for selecting between single or “bursts” of shots”) focusing method, metering mode will also be selected.

Also format for recording the image will often be determined (typically JPEG) and levels of image sharpening, contrast and colour saturation, which are most likely to compliment the style of image will be automatically applied .

Some cameras offer an even greater range of creative scene modes to cover scenes such as

  • Sunset
  • Night portrait
  • Pet portrait
  • Party
  • Candlelight
  • Fireworks
  • Panorama
  • Panning.

Important Note

Some scene modes will choose a slow shutter speed. In these instances it will be necessary to utilise a tripod to avoid blur as a result of camera shake.


Shutter speed and Shutter/flash sync speed

When you take a digital photo, the camera shutter “opens” and light from the scene passes through the lens to be recorded on the image sensor.

Exposure is therefore proportional to the duration of time that the shutter is “open”.

This is called shutter speed.

If you double the shutter speed, this halves the duration that the shutter is “open” for and consequently exposure is doubled.

Digital compact cameras often do not have a physical “shutter” that has to move in order to allow light to reach the image sensor. Instead the shutter speed is determined by electronically activating the image sensor for the specified duration.

Digital Dslrs typically have two sliding shutter curtains that traverse across the image sensor, one after the other.

The speed of movement of these mechanical shutter curtains is limited by physical constraints – normally to a maximum speed of around 1/200th second to fully traverse the sensor.

The curtains are configured so that during the exposure the first curtain starts in front of the sensor and traverses to one side thus allowing light to pass – the second curtain starts to one side and is configured to traverse across in front of the sensor thus blocking the light and completing the exposure. The second curtain's movement is timed to commence by a delay equivalent to the required shutter speed.

This means that for exposure times faster than 1/200th second, the second shutter is already blocking light from one side of the sensor whilst the first shutter is still moving across to allow light to pass. This means that during these fast exposures, the entirety of the image sensor is not exposed to light simultaneously.

For ambient light photography this is unimportant, but when flash is used to expose the image it becomes more significant.



Flash sync.

A typical flash pulse is a very brief duration, perhaps around 1/10000th second – at any rate certainly less than the 1/200th second that is the fastest speed at which the pixels across the entire sensor can be simultaneously exposed to light. This means that with a standard flash pulse, at shutter speeds greater than 1/200th second, not all of the image sensor will have the benefit of the flash exposure – resulting in a dark underexposed band across one side of the image.

This is why many cameras have a maximum “flash sync speed” of around 1/200th second.

High speed flash sync

Some external “speedlight” flash systems and most studio flash strobes offer a high speed flash sync function which enables uniform exposure across the frame even at shutter speeds faster than the max sync speed of 1/200th second.

High speed flash sync works by firing a rapid burst of flash pulses effectively increasing the duration of the flash in excess of 1/200th second.

This can be especially useful when using flash as “fill light” in bright ambient conditions when fast shutter speeds are necessary to correctly expose the image.

Create effects via shutter speed control.

High shutter speeds may be desirable to avoid blur as a result of camera shake.

Slow shutter speeds may be used to deliberately create motion blur to emphasise subject speed.

See taking creative control of your photos.


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