Exercise 3.3

Exercise 3.3

For part 1 of this exercise, I used my Nikon FM2n. This was a revolutionary camera at the time it came out in the early 1980s, at it had a fully mechanical shutter capable of speeds of 1/4000s, similar to the top speed of many DSLRs of these days (over 30 after the FM2 was first launched).

I removed the lens and set the camera on the table, looking through the back of the camera as I cycled through all the available shutter speeds. Only the shutter blades were visible at the highest speed setting, with the movement being imperceptible at 1/4000s, and only slightly so at 1/2000s and 1/1000s, At 1/500s it was already possible to perceive the light at the other side of the camera, but no clear form. It was only when the speed dropped considerably, to 1/15th of a second, that you could start to define the shapes of what was in front of the camera, with it being clearly visible at 1/4s or less. I was surprised when I did this exercise, as I was expecting an image to be clearly visible at a higher shutter speed (I was hoping for something like 1/125s or 1/60s), as recent studies indicate that the human vision can recognise shapes seen for as little as 13 milliseconds (1), which is equivalent to about 1/60s in camera speed rates. A video of this exercise can be seen here 

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For the next part of the exercise, I took pictures at various locations. The first one was in Canvey Island, in Essex. I was standing high on the sea defences looking towards the river Thames, about 6 meters above the sea level. The first thing you see in the foreground is the promenade immediately below the defence wall (which is about 2 ~ 3 meters tall). This is followed by a rock levee of about 2 meters and the beach. In the middle ground, you have the river and then on the background you have the south bank in Kent, with some of the villages and industrial parks in the isle of Grain visible, and the clear blue sky with some clouds on top. I looked at the whole scene, which was tranquil, and decided to focus on the waves breaking on the beach. To capture their movement I decided to set the camera at its top speed of 1/8000s. To achieve a mid aperture, I set the ISO speed at 800 (this gave me f/5). I waited until something else moved in the frame, and when a bird approached to the right, I took the shot.


27mm (equiv. 42mm in full frame). 1/8000s at f/5. ISO 800

I repeated the exercise some days later in a different setting. I was standing on one of the high walkways of the Barbican estate in the City of London, overlooking the artificial lake and the dining area next to it, just outside the cultural centre. The walkway is some 10 meters above the shore of the lake. I set the camera at 1/160s to avoid camera shake and to freeze subjects moving at reasonable speed. ISO is set at 800 to ensure mid-aperture (f/5.6 in this case). Just below me is a clear area of pavement, followed by some tables and chairs, and some more of this into the background, where you have some of the estate low-rise buildings and two of its three towers of flats. My attention goes to a person on the foreground looking at his smart phone while he talks to somebody else on the phone, probably from a hands-free device. Then I notice another person in the mid-distance who at first seems to be having lunch, but quickly starts using her phone or tablet. I wait to see if either of these two characters starts to do something interesting when a third person approaches the scene on the left, almost at the same level of the first person I noticed in the foreground. This new person first sits, uneasily, but after a few seconds she stands again, takes out her mobile phone and starts walking while looking at the phone. At this moment, with the three characters looking at their phones, I take the picture.


27mm (equiv. 42mm in full frame). 1/160s at f5.6. ISO 800


(1)  http://helldesign.net. 2016. The brain can process images seen for just 13 milliseconds | KurzweilAI. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-brain-can-process-images-seen-for-just-13-milliseconds. [Accessed 27 November 2016].