Recently I came across a macro photo here, with this properties:

Focal Length: 105mm
Shutter Speed: 1/3200 sec
Aperture: f/4
ISO/Film: 200

So I am looking for possible reasons as to why such fast shutter speed has been chosen.

  1. I know that this could have been because of a very bright scene. Assuming that there has been a flash light, would all macro shots with flash light require such fast shutter speed?
  2. Does a f/4 aperture size produce a very shallow DOF in macro shots? If that is the case, do all macro shots require a very shallow DOF? I mean, wouldn't it possible to achieve the same shot with a narrower aperture (like f/8) and slower shutter speed?
  3. Some parts of this photo are blurred. Is it because of shallow DOF or because of manipulation in image editing tools?

>> click here to see the photo <<

  • \$\begingroup\$ I haven't seen anyone ask this, so I'll ask: Have you checked your camera exposure settings to make sure that you're not getting +1 or +2 stops of exposure? It's not always clearly displayed on all cameras, and I've been guilty of 'forgetting' that the +1 exposure I dialed in for a low-lit room may be still lingering in your settings. It'd explain your extreme shutter speed if you have the camera in aperture priority. Hope this helps! Good luck! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting point. Except it's someone else's photo. And the exposure looks right, doesn't it? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I do not know anything about photography so I cannot tell about aperture and exposure time. However I do know a bit about editing and this one seems to me to have been blatantly edited. The limits between blurred areas an the crisp one are perfectly rectilinear. This is very discernible on a closer look. \$\endgroup\$
    – M. Toya
    Commented Oct 6, 2012 at 6:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Meysam: It looks like you've copied a copyrighted image from someone else at 500px and uploaded it here. That imposes certain copyright issues, and the owner may not wish to abide by our license. It would be best if you simply link the image, rather than embed it, as you would have had to go through some explicit effort to copy an image off 500px in the first place (they explicitly block that kind of activity for a reason.) If you can get permission for use here, the image can stay. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Oct 6, 2012 at 13:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @jrista I left a comment under the original image and asked for permission. If the owner does not grant permission, I will remove the image in a few hours. \$\endgroup\$
    – B Faley
    Commented Oct 6, 2012 at 18:58

4 Answers 4


Here's a really good case for the application of Okham's Razor.

The simplest explanation is that the image was shot outdoors, under the midday sun. The blur was not added in post but is the result of the close shooting distance and relatively wide aperture of f/4. The fast shutter speed was required otherwise the shot would have been overexposed due to the bright conditions and bright aperture.

The Sunny 16 Rule states that on a sunny day you should get reasonably exposures at f/16 and shutter speed 1/ISO. This ISO speed here was 200, so that f/16 and 1/200s. Now this was shot at f/4 which is four stops wider, so to compensate we double the shutter speed four times, so sunny 16 predicts a shutter speed of 1/3200s, which is exactly the shutter speed used!

Let's rule out the other options.

  • The high shutter speed could have been selected to freeze subject motion. However, I have shot racing cars at less than 1/3200s, the shoe must have been going extremely quickly, which would have made framing the shot and focussing very difficult. And shoes don't tend to move on their own.

  • The high shutter speed could have been necessary to prevent camera motion. This is slightly more plausible but still highly unlikely, given the moderate 105mm focal length. The standard rule suggests you could shoot at 1/100s, with high resolution sensors I would double that to 1/200s. Still much less than 1/3200s. Also there have been other 105mm lenses however the most plausible candidate is the Nikon 105mm micro, which is a VR (vibration reduction) lens which is Nikon's optical stabilisation. Rather than upping the shutter speed the operator could have activated this function.

  • A flashgun could have been used, but with a standard focal plane shutter you have to fire the flash when the shutter is fully open. Above the "sync speed", around 1/250s the shutter starts closing from the bottom before it is fully open at the top causing dark bands to appear. At the given shutter speed the photographer would have had to have used an exotic in lens leaf shutter, an electronic shutter (only available in certain compacts or older DSLRs with CCD sensors), or they would have to have timed an extremely bright pulse before the shutter to make use of the relatively slow tail off. All of these schemes have major hurdles to overcome for some particularly marginal gain.

Flash is  commonly used for high speed photography, but in conjunction with relatively slow shutter speeds. By overpowering the ambient light you can leave the shutter open, and the short flash pulse freezes the action.

But as this is most likely a completely static scene, the high shutter speed is an example of a setting with no creative impact in this particular shot, which is set (most likely automatically by the camera) in order to balance the exposure equation.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Is it possible that the fast shutter speed has also been used to reduce the effect of camera shake? \$\endgroup\$
    – B Faley
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 10:23
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It's possible but I'd say very unlikely. At 105mm you can expect photos free from camera shake at 1/200s, certainly at 1/500s, there's no need to go to 1/3200s! Oh and that lens has VR (vibration reduction) so you could shoot at 1/50s \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 10:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ 500px.com/photo/8432369?page=2 In the comments, bright sun light. Never knew about the Sunny 16. Tops! \$\endgroup\$
    – BBking
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 12:25

My take on this:

3) For me the blurryness looks like it was due to the shallow DOF of short working distance and f/4.
2) Macro shots usually have small DOF due to the close working distance. With f/8 you would have more DOF, more of the image would be sharp. So it would not be the same picture. This is a matter of taste, my guess is that f/4 was used because of the shallow DOF, to make parts of the image unsharp. Unsharp parts lead the eye very nicely.
1) Macro shots do not require short duration. And I guess the picture was made with continuous light instead of flash light, since most camera/flash-combinations can't handle shutter speeds this short. Especially not studio flashes (while there are some ways to use flash with such a short duration, like HSS and Hypersync, these are rarely used for still life shots).

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If macro shots do not require short duration, why the photographer has used such fast shutter speed? \$\endgroup\$
    – B Faley
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 8:21
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'd guess it was a continuous lightsource too, well continuous for the next 5 billion years or so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 10:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Meysam, because if he would have exposed longer the image would be way too bright (since I guess f-stop and ISO was chosen deliberate and should stay that way). \$\endgroup\$
    – Sam
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 12:25
  1. It's very likely that a remote flash was used for this shot.

  2. A Macro shot doesn't necessarily determine a particular DoF. It's the aperture, focal length and sensor size. A smaller F stop results in a shallow DoF, while the bigger the F stop (remember, this closes the aperture) results in a wide DoF. No, closing the aperture will widen the DoF like in a portrait or wide shot. It's not specific of macro. If you made the same shot with f8, it would widen the DoF.

  3. While it could have been edited I'm guessing it's because of the f stop.

I could discuss further about focal length, aperture and sensor size but wanted to keep it to this particular question.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ 1) It's very very unlikely that a remote flash was used (it's incredibly hard to sync flash at that sort of shutter speed, for no apparent gain). 2) Macro distances have a huge impact on depth of field, far more so than the aperture focal length or sensor size. at 1:1 you get massively blurred backgrounds even with a tiny sensor and short focal length at f/11! \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 10:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Matt Grum The lighting looks too soft for sun light to me. I figured a bounce or umbrella may have been used. Also here: robinwong.blogspot.com.au/2012/03/… remote flash is used (although the shutter speed is much slower). I didn't mention anything about working distance, only focal length/sensor size/aperture. I was simply trying to explain that the aperture will affect the DOF, as it does in other situations. I upped your answer, BTW. ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – BBking
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 12:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ The lighting is hard, just look at the shadow under the lace, it's very well defined, entirely consistent with sunlight. The image itself looks soft but that's a result of the depth of field and low contrast subject... \$\endgroup\$
    – Matt Grum
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was more looking at the eyelet and the light reflected off that. It's smooth and not sharp which made me think it was possibly bounced or an umbrella was used. \$\endgroup\$
    – BBking
    Commented Oct 9, 2012 at 0:17

Guessing - as are we all.

Camera is a D700. User had a bright fixed amplitude light source and wanted shallow DOF and good quality.
They chose ISO 200 for quality.
They chose f/4 for minimum DOF.
Given aperture and ISO, and light amplitude controlled, shutter speed was the remaining variable required to balance the exposure correctly.

DOF seems about right given aperture and range with that focal length.
DOF is already shallower than the eyelet front to back width and about lace width. They had up to f/2.8 available which would have made DOF less than lace width at the eyelet location (it's marginal now) which would have compromised apparent sharpness.

Here is an online Depth of Field Calculator
Use D300 for D700.

At what I estimate distance to subject to be (250mm or less) DOF is even less than we see here at those settings. This suggests it is a crop rather than a compressed full frame. (At 105 mm distance is 250mm or less and DOF is under 2mm!). Macro setting on lens may change effective focal length.

Somewhat related, maybe ... below here.


f = focal length
N = Aperture f number
c = circle of confusion
s = subject distance (assumed >> f)

enter image description here

from Wikipedia DOF

c ~= 0.025mm for FF 35mm.
c ~= 0.018mm typical crop APSC.

see Wikipedia COC

Some more DOF calculators ..... agh

Many provide hyperfocal distance as well.

Overkill department:

Hyperfocal Distance

Source: See at end.

Setting focus at the Hyperfocal Distance gives maximum depth of field from H/2 to infinity.

H = (L x L) / (f x d)

Where: H = Hyperfocal Distance (in millimeters) L = lens focal length (ie, 35mm, 105mm) f = lens aperture f-stop d = diameter of circle of least confusion (in millimeters) for 35mm format d = 0.03 for 6x6cm format d = 0.06 for 4x5in format d = 0.15

Near Focus Limit

NF = (H x D) / (H + (D - L))

Where: NF = Near Focus Limit (millimeters) H = Hyperfocal Distance (in millimeters, from above equation.) D = lens focus distance (in millimeters) L = lens focal length (ie, 35mm, 105mm)

Far Focus Limit

FF = (H x D) / (H - (D - L))

Where: FF = Far Focus Limit (millimeters) H = Hyperfocal Distance (in millimeters, from above equation) D = lens focus distance (in millimeters) L = lens focal length (ie, 35mm, 105mm)

Source: Material on hyperfocal distance which is absolutely identical to the above appears on dozens if not hundreds of websites and has been available over many years. A number of sites say the material is for private use only or copyright BUT do not indicates that in fact it is from another source and probably public domain for decades. The actual formulae ARE public domain. I certainly do not intend to attribute the material to any site which has copied it from elsewhere without saying so.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @Russell: Can you properly quote all of the content that came from an external reference, and preferably link to that original reference as well? Thanks! \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Oct 5, 2012 at 22:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Meta discussion: Why is jrista “on Russell McMahon's case”? \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Oct 6, 2012 at 15:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ Ah - THAT's what you meant by a quoting tool. Yes, I was aware of that and use it occasionally elsewhere on stack exchange where I'm much more active. I'd just have seen that as cosmetic and not necessarily indicative in all cases of quoting external material. I'm puzzled re the request for sources as they were all already given and to my mind the terms like "from Wikipedia ..." etc make it clear enough that it's eg from Wikipedia. However, I'll try to lean towards the suggested style if it increases harmony. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Oct 7, 2012 at 0:23

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