Dealing with Shutter Lag

Coping with shutter lag

Olympus E-P3 has a shutter lag of only 60 milliseconds

Sometimes when making a candid photograph your subject stays right where you hoped they would be but occasionally something or someone steps into the scene blocking your chance of capturing the moment, all because of shutter lag.  Shutter lag occurs with all kinds of cameras, including film or digital, but can be more of a problem with digicams because of the delay resulting from the charging the imaging chip and then transmission of its captured data to the circuitry of the camera for processing and storage. Out here in the real world, there are really two kinds of shutter lag:

The first and most accurate technical definition is the amount of time that it takes from depressing the camera’s shutter release to when an image is saved onto a memory card. During that brief time, the camera also determines the proper exposure and focuses the lens. With digital SLRs it includes the time needed to move the mirror out of the way. Shutter lag times vary from camera to camera and with some point-and-shoots there’s enough delay for the subject to completely move out of the frame!

The second type of shutter lag relates to how you make photographs and is simply how long it takes for the photographer to “see” the photo and then snap the shutter. I see this all the time with people holding cameras up to their faces (or at arm’s length) waiting while the perfect moment to make the picture passes them by. This is a far more common form of shutter lag, usually takes much longer than the electromechanical one, and more good photos are lost because the shooter just takes too long to make up their mind about when to snap the shutter.

The secret of eliminating the effects of this second kind of shutter lag is to anticipate where your subject or the situation may be moving and don’t wait. Press the shutter release! Maybe more than once too! Sometimes it’s a good idea to shoot a sequence of photographs (most cameras offer a burst or continuous mode, check to see if yours does) to find the one that captures the peak moment of action.

Author: Joe Farace

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