Photography Tip - shutter speed should be double your focal length

Donzi speedboat Treasure Island, Florida - Nikon D300 Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8D @ f/2.8 ISO 400 1/1250th 200mmOne of the most common difficulties when first entering the DSLR world is to produce sharp action photographs.  This Donzi speedboat was cruising into the Gulf of Mexico near Treasure Island, St. Petersburg, Florida just after 6pm in February 2009.  The sun was already getting close to the horizon.  The Donzi was going fast.  This added up to a photography scene with very little room for margin of error.  It required pretty exact settings to produce an acceptable image.  

I always keep in mind one basic axiom about shutter speed

  • the shutter speed should be at least double the focal length 

Since I was shooting at 200mm with my trusty Nikkor AF ED 80-200mm f/2.8D lens, according to that axiom I needed a shutter speed of at least 1/400th of a second.  However, that shutter speed is really just a theoretical minimum.  One then has to take into consideration the speed of the subject and the available light.  If I had set my shutter speed to 1/400th you would be looking at a white blur.  In general I never shoot any moving subject at less than 1/500th no matter the focal length used.  

For something moving really fast I keep in mind that it will probably take 1/1000th to freeze its motion.  So since I made the Donzi shot with a shutter speed of 1/1250th, I was able to produce a tack sharp image.  

So the first thing to check if you are having a hard time photographing moving subjects is to check your shutter speed.  Is it at least double your focal length?  For anything moving as fast or faster than a child running around, is your shutter speed over 1/500th or greater?  If the answer to these questions is no, then you know at least the first step you then need to take to start producing sharp action shots.