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If I use a shutter speed below 1/30 on my Nikon P100, I get extremely dark images which are completely unusable. If I use the flash, it comes out fairly bright but just not natural.

My camera supports shutter speeds as fast as 1/2000 and as slow as 8 seconds. How do I use them correctly? What should I take into account before shooting, what else do I have to configure or use?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

First off, using any on-camera popup flash is probably not going to give you a "natural" look. You'll need to either use natural light or move your flash off camera (which I don't believe your camera supports). The popup flash (I'm assuming thats what you mean with just "flash") is on the same axis as your lens and generally doesn't produce "natural" pictures (largely because our eyes don't typically see the world lit by a bright light shining from our forehead).

Your shutter speed issue sounds like an exposure issue. With a fixed amount of light, the brightness and darkness (exposure) of your pictures will be determined by three things: shutter speed, aperture, and ISO -see exposure triangle. (Mattdm points out in a comment below, that this may better be visualized as a rectangular prism. See his comment - if you can visualize that, its even more useful.)

By going below 1/30 on your P100 in whatever situation you have, your aperture isn't large enough and/or your ISO isn't high enough to compensate. You'll need to try to open your aperture larger (lower f number) or increase your ISO (this is the light sensitivity of your sensor). These should be settings on your camera.

Its difficult to go into all the exposure details here, but there are several excellent books on the subject and many, many online sites. Try Understanding Exposure for an excellent reference.

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The "exposure triangle," I'll keep that in mind. Very informative! I'll study those articles. –  Matheus Moreira Dec 10 '10 at 1:50
    
This hits one of my serious pet peeves. Exposure is not like a triangle at all, and it's counter to learning to suggest that it is. Sure, there's three things, but they're not linked like the sides (or angles) of a triangle, so every diagram -- like the one linked to here -- is nonsense. That nonsense is powerful visually, so it gets in people's heads. –  mattdm Dec 10 '10 at 3:32
    
@mattdm - I've found it useful as a visual that indicates that they're "connected". Its simple and is just a reminder. I'm not sure how I find anything "bad" about it. Sure, you could pick anything visual with three ...things.., but a triangle is just simple. –  rfusca Dec 10 '10 at 3:37
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If you need a geometric representation, try a cube (or technically, rectangular prism). Height, width, and depth are analogous to iso/shutter speed/aperture. Each doubling or halving of any dimension is one stop. And then, the exposure value is simply the volume. This works out to be exactly right: double any one factor, double the volume. If you want to maintain the same volume, while doubling one factor, you're going to have to half something else. The pictures are a little harder to print in 2D, but it's still pretty simple, and unlike a triangle, it's actually useful and correct. –  mattdm Dec 10 '10 at 3:38
    
@mattdm - I like it :) Updated the answer a bit with that. –  rfusca Dec 10 '10 at 3:39

The amount of light that hits your imaging sensor depends on two factors: 1) Shutter speed 2) Aperture

The brightness of the resulting image also depends on a third factor, 3) ISO (Sensor Sensitivity)

So, for a given shutter speed, a lower f-stop number (aperture number) will let more light in and a higher ISO will make the sensor more sensitive, resulting in a brighter image.

You have to take all three into account at the same time when thinking about the exposure of your image.

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Actually, there's a third factor in how much light hits the sensor (or film, for those still using it): the amount of light in (i.e. brightness of) the scene (whatever area is visible through the lens). This factor of course doesn't correspond to a control on the camera itself, but it is an important factor in exposure, and can be controlled to a greater degree than people necessarily are accustomed to thinking about. Just something to keep in mind. –  lindes Dec 10 '10 at 2:34
    
Sure, you are absolutely right. While there's nothing you can do about this in landscape photography (except waiting for another time of the day and different weather conditions), you can surely make something about it in a studio or using a flash. –  Lagerbaer Dec 10 '10 at 19:30

Reading books such as Understanding Exposure certainly will help you a lot, but if you want some quick tips for using high speed shutter with flash on a compact camera, try playing with the flash intensity (if your camera allow this) or increasing the distance from the subject.

At a bigger distance (which you can kind of compensate with zooming) the flash wont hit so hard your subject, allowing for a better light.

I've posted some examples of shots done with a compact camera and short (and long) exposure times on a recently posted question. If you check there ( Help motivate me to use my SLR's manual mode ), the third photo is of a water drop on a kitchen sink. There I used a fast speed and flash, but positioned myself at about 1 meter from the kitchen sink in order to soften the light.

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