How do I Understand and Use Shutter Speed?

I am continuing from where we left off when we previously talked about photography. This post is a part of the series of posts on Photography Basics, a series born out of my interest in the subject. In this series, I write and share with you what I get to learn about the topic. The impressions are entirely mine, and you are free to differ. (Though I don’t wish you to.)

Shutter speed is one of the most important things to consider in photography; the others being the aperture, focal length, and ISO. So far we’ve covered aperture in detail. Before we get to talk about shutter speed, we must first understand what a shutter is.

What is Shutter?

Shutters are like curtains. And, what do curtains do? They control the amount of light entering a room. Similarly, shutters help control the amount of light falling onto the imaging sensor through the lens. The basic mechanism in cameras is that when you click the shutter button, or tell the camera to capture an image – by releasing the shutter (that’s what it is called, technically), the camera opens and closes the shutter to expose the imaging sensor to the light. The imaging sensor captures this light and produces an image that is then written into the memory card and displayed on the LCD panel of the camera.

What is a Shutter Speed? And, what are fast and slow shutter speeds?

Shutter Speed is a representation for the length of time for which the shutter remains open. But, why speed? Speed, in photography, is more than just a figure of speech. Understand that the imaging sensor, by default, captures the image for only a frame of time. In some advance-level DSLRs, this frame of time can be as fast as 8000th of a second. But, you can regulate the image by manipulating the amount of time for which the shutter lets the light pass through to the imaging sensor – hence, fast and slow shutter speeds.

A fast shutter speed means that the imaging sensor is exposed to the light for only a fraction of a second; that the shutter opens and closes speedily (as speedily as 8000th of a second, as we just discussed). So, the light is exposed to the imaging sensor for only a short amount of time. So, if you see photographs of people hung in the air as they jumped, it was probably the camera that captured them at higher shutter speeds. Here’s a picture that my friend Arun shared with me specially for this post! Arun is a blogger, too. I love reading his blogs IdleMusingz and Lulling Lores.


Whereas, a slow shutter speed means that the shutter remains open for anything longer than a second (technically, anything slower and longer than a 100th of a second should be called slow shutter speed). Today’s cameras can have slower shutters that open for as long as 30 seconds to capture one frame. That’s actually slow. And, then there’s this bulb mode, where the shutter remains open for as long as the shutter button is in the released position. It is like 30 seconds of slow shutter speed multiplied by the amount of time the shutter button is released – something of that sort. But, that can be controlled by an intervalometer, which, as the name suggests, can be used for taking pictures at regular intervals.

How do I apply the understanding of shutter speed while capture images?

To capture an image, as you already now, you need the right focus, an aperture that lets in sufficient light onto the imaging sensor, an ISO that’s set to sufficient light sensitivity, and a sufficient shutter speed to capture the details. Irrespective of what or where you are capturing, you will need a combination of all these.

If, for example, you are shooting in the dark (or want to create a dramatic effect that shows flow), to set your camera to capture for longer shutter durations, because to capture a sharp image you will have to let in more light onto the imaging sensor. But, this again is subjective.

I prefer to shoot in the Aperture Priority mode. So, all I am supposed to do is control the aperture. The camera system controls the other elements based on the aperture I choose. This means that if I choose f/4, the camera system will analyze the scene and then set the other values automatically for me. Typically, a 2:1 ratio is associated for the aperture and shutter speed calculations.

How do I create special or artistic effects?

To capture images creatively, you have to learn to adjust your creativity to match the capabilities of your camera. There are lot of techniques available on the Internet that I found were easy to try. The motion blur effect that you see in all those utterly-clichéd photographs (Sorry, but no sorry.) of waterfalls, seascapes, and clouds are the result of slower shutter speeds. Here’s what I captured on my way to Harihareshwar (Konkan area), some years back.


Feeling dizzy looking at the picture? Me too!

You can combine a relatively slower shutter speed with panning to create a motion blur. Some photographers use this technique in sports and automotive photography. For those who don’t know about panning, it is a technique where the camera is fixed to a tripod and then moved from one point to another keeping the motion horizontally parallel to either the ground or the movement of the subject.

Are there any rules?

Yes; Keep the shutter speed inversely proportional to the aperture. The wider the aperture, the slower the shutter speed. Otherwise, you may end up over exposing or under exposing your photographs.

Rain Rain Come Again.jpg

That one’s from my Flickr profile.

I am still experimenting with the shutter speed: My Canon IXUS HS is a Point & Shoot, which powers up to only about 3 frames per second. So, I don’t have a lot of ground for a high speed action. The truth is:  Your creativity is your only limit.

Until next time, happy clicking!

Cricket and the 500th Test for India

I seldom write on sports. But of course, only if we think Cricket is just a sport, at least in India; It is the blood that runs through the nerves of the Indians. It is the thought that drives them closer, even strangers get to dance on the same tunes when India registers a win. Those are reasons enough to share my thoughts on it. And, hence this post.

The Indian cricket’s milestone figure of the 500th test match comes at a time when most of us are more interested in the pleasure of seeing the Cricket balls smash out of the Cricket ground. The test cricket, unlike the other – faster – formats of the game, is about patience. It is about something that today’s generation, mostly, will not choose to see… “you know, who waits for five days to see the result”, someone might add.

Amidst the current air of reaching the milestone figure of 500 test matches, I sense this strange feeling: Will we ever get to see India’s 1000th test? Not because it took us exactly 80 years to reach this milestone – and that, doing the basic math, it would take us another 80 to play the remaining 500 – but because the trend is shifting, for whatever reasons.

The game is increasingly becoming more about the story and glory of batters than about the overall spirit of the sport. The game is now more about the batting average than the fun in either chasing targets or not letting chase targets. Is it wrong? Are spectators’ expectations wrong? No, because they are in dearth of perhaps the most important thing: time!

My two cents worth of thought? I have always been a believer of that “old-school” thought that even pleasure must be earned, and Test Cricket, as a format, lets you do just that: Five days; close to 540 balls to be faced per day; scorching heat (or varying temperatures, in some cases); and test of patience for players from both the sides – now I know how it got its name. It just can’t get more demanding than that.

But, like I said before, it is the momentous pleasure that most of us seek today. All they care is about shouting out loud as they see the cricket ball being batted out of the bounds. All they seek is the “unearned” pleasure in the batter’s eyes for taking a hit at (pun intended) whatever comes. Is there even a technique in situations that already have your adrenaline pumped up? If you think so, I’d choose to differ.

For a player (doesn’t matter who they are, a batter, a bowler, or one of the umpires), the test cricket is the ultimate test of their physical and mental strength. It is only when they burn themselves on the hard pitches that they truly earn their pleasure –the true spirit of the game. It is like the rare encounter where you enjoy the journey as much as the destination. It is but pity that the spectators only seldom get the true feel of the game.

That is why I think we must celebrate this milestone; We really must. Also because this is time when we make a conscious choice: Of either preserving the soul of Cricket or moving on! Though I really like to watch Cricket, and that I will continue to watch whatever format they choose to play, I will continue to have my reservations in favor of my thought. Call me an “old school” guy.

Each format has its own good thing. And, every match is going to end in a result. But, that anticipation, constant engagement, and hard work in “earning” the pleasure will always be of the utmost importance to me, even though I will be one of those “poor” spectators who would never really get to “feel” the game. Even though I will continue to enjoy the new formats of the game, I will continue to have reservations for the “test” cricket. Howzat!

Three Tips to Internationalize Content

Last week, while I was talking to one of our teammates from the UK, this thought of writing for the international audiences drew my attention. I thought I should prepare a list of some generic points to consider while preparing content for international audiences. In this post, I share the that list with you. As a technical communicator, not often it is that I get to try my hands on localization (or internationalization, for that matter). Nevertheless, it is nice to know about the following points and put them to practice, whenever possible:

Culture-proof the references

This is by far the biggest cause of worry for the content writers. “He plays football” sounds a simple phrase to translate. But, as you know, more than one games share the spelling: The American football, the British football, and then there’s the Australian football. The English people wear black for formal parties and weddings. In contrast, it is not supposed to be good to wear black for weddings in India. As a communicator, if I come across any information that has a reference to a culture, I will like to either supply additional information or simply remove the reference.

I also make sure that I do not use any idioms, phrases, or initialisms that are specific to a location, culture, or race. For example: The Indians could have lost that match, had the other team not done a Devon Loch at the last minute. When you use idioms – like the one I used – you (or your translators) have to invest a lot of time searching for its equivalent counterpart in the language they are translating.

For those who don’t know, Devon Loch was a racehorse (Yes, racehorse is one word!) that collapsed just short of the winning line of one of the national horse races in the UK. That was in 1956, I suppose. So, you can use the idiom, only if you have the time and willingness to share the unnecessary background with the readers – assuming that your translator remains to be sane to translate it in multiple languages for you, multiple number of times.

Just for the fun of it, imagine translating the funnier idioms in the following sentences:

  • Today’s politicians are all talk and no trousers. (No imaginations, please!)
  • I’ve been a developer for donkey’s years. (Yes, trouble for you!)
  • Honesty will prevail in this world when pigs fly. (Seriously!)

There are also times when you generally refer to things from your own culture and expect others to know about it – unless you tell them about it. I’ve celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi ever since I was a child. But, to hear that this is a festival to celebrate the birth of the elephant-headed god was still weird for me. Still, the additional information helped my colleague explain our UK counterparts on what the festival was about.

Mind the Formatting

Formatting is one of the key aspects when it comes to comprehension. Translation can cost you the information if the formatting isn’t proper. During my stint as a freelancer, I’ve worked with a lot of clients who required translations from the English to the Hindi or Marathi language. And, in either of the cases, I faced issues especially with the alphabetical lists. Items marked until A, B, C, D, E, and F were fine, but anything beyond that became a little weird to read in Hindi and Marathi.

But, the comprehension is affected even when the language remains the same. For one of my clients, who, being from the US, used the MM-DD-YYYY date format, I had to get detailed clarifications for their date-based stamps that included one-digit dates. For example, 1-11-2016 is 11-JAN-2016 in the US, but 1-NOV-2016 in the UK. Not only is the date translation incorrect, but the difference is much as 10 months.

In some Indian languages, the bulleted list doesn’t exist in their legalese. So, whenever I’d receive scripts for translation, I’d double check for possibilities on using the numbered and unnumbered lists in their respective translated sections. It was time consuming, but definitely worth the time and effort. Speaking of the languages, some countries read right to left, like the Arabic or Urdu, or top to bottom, like the Mandarin. Are there any points that you consider when you localize, or if I may say, internationalize your content? I’d think considering placing screenshots in the middle of a page and using icons that aren’t specific to a gender, race, or ethnicity. But, I’m curious to know your opinion on it.

Error-proof your Data

The differences in the units of measurement are known to be fairly common ones. A 5’ is both five inches and five feet. In fact, this is so confusing that in some cases I’ve seen even 5” (a double quotation mark instead of a single quotation mark). Depending on the context of furniture designing, real estate, and even food – pizzas and cakes are measured in inches – the unit of measure will change. But, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. The standard unit of measurement for length in the US are Yard and Mile, while in the UK are Meters and Kilometers.

Then there’s also about the data integrity. If for a UK reader, I give data references like “the barren land is as big as the Lake of Utah, in the Utah state (UT, US)”, the reader will most likely either not understand it or completely misunderstand the estimate. Also, notice how states appear in the addresses in the US, such as the one we discussed. I cannot use the contracted form when I write the same information for the Indian audiences. For us in India, for example, the contractions UT and TN will never stand for the US states of Utah and Tennessee, but for the Indian state of Uttaranchal and Tamil Nadu.


I am a technical communicator, so I will only seldom get to try hands on localization and internationalization. But, in the limited amount of time and scope, I will find this list handy. Do you too have such a list? If yes, what are the points on your handy list?

Piecemeal Editing in the Agile Environment

Last week, I had a detailed conversation with one of my regular readers. While chatting over a few miscellaneous items, we drifted into talking about technical writing in the Agile-based environment. That is when he asked the following question. My answer led the discussion to more questions. This post is about those questions and answers:

In a lot of companies, which either follow the Agile methodology or claim to have sprints that are designed inspired from the Agile methodology, the technical communicators don’t have enough time for reviews and edits. How do you address challenges that arise in such situations?

I answered: As a technical communicator, I do a lot of things that majorly fall under either writing or editing. In a lot of my previous professional stints where we worked in an Agile-based environment, we could not afford exhaustive edit iteration cycles. So, we ran short edit cycles; mostly, quick checklist-based scans. For the most part, as writers and editors, we implemented our own versions of piecemeal editing.

Hey, what is piecemeal editing?

When pressed for the documentation delivery deadlines, writers and editors observe increasingly shorter cycles of creating, finalizing, publishing, and republishing the technical content. In fact, mostly they only get to republish the technical content, and not create any.

I’d call piecemeal editing as considering working and finalizing on parts of technical content rather than focusing on the whole project. It is a conditional response – an ad hoc arrangement, or sort of, at least – which is subject to the change in the prevailing situations. When you are pressed for time, you tend to focus on what’s:

  • Urgent
  • Important
  • Not worth missing

So, piecemeal editing is focusing on producing “just good enough” parts of documents that can qualify as a document when put together. The documents may still not be complete, yet will certainly contain everything the customers need to get things done.

How does it benefit?

Piecemeal editing is breaking the documentation plan down by focusing on making the instructions in your documents workable. You don’t cover the details, but still get to list everything that matters. You also don’t get to fix bugs, but still create error-free documentation. So, you save a lot of time and effort by concentrating on what needs your attention. This makes the writing clearer and to the point.

Are there any challenges?

Yes; much like every other thing. In the Agile development environment, the technical reviews and technical edits aren’t exhaustive. The editors do not have a lot of time to repetitively (Or, at least more than once) run through the writing process/the written stuff. So, all they get to do is keep a check to not miss out on anything critical.

If, for example, your organization assumes implementing the Agile software development methodology, you will continue to run in similar shorter sprints. This means you won’t get time to look into your legacy documentation or be able to edit and improve the quality of the technical content.

Then there’s another big issue: Unification. Piecemeal editing is One Thing at a Time, and not the whole thing at a time. Because of this, the contextual information that derives cues from the unification of information fragments often gets missed.

However, the biggest threat lies not in the process, but in the way it is often perceived implemented. When rushed, most writers become blind toward their mistakes. They overlook the errors by mentally placing words and associating meanings that the actual documents often don’t reflect. In absence of sufficient time, writers release the unedited versions of their content.

How do you resolve such issues? Or, are there any workarounds?

Technical documentation is always a collaborative effort – even if you are the only technical communicator in your organization. Here’s what I’ve tried and have succeeded at achieving:

  • When I worked as the lone writer, I would share the documents with the development/testing stakeholders. They designed and tested the product. So, they knew its limits. Also, when there weren’t any developers or testers around, I would perform edits the next morning, read those documents aloud, or just review the write-ups on a projector. Believe me, the text looks entirely different when you read it on a projector.
  • When I worked in teams, we would perform peer reviews. We would cross check the write-ups to make sure that we didn’t miss out on anything critical. Although, the writers would still remain primarily responsible for the quality of their documents.

But, here is, I believe, the BIGGEST condition: You cannot have piecemeal writing, but you can have piecemeal editing. It is “one thing at a time” as far as only editing is concerned. Writing will still focus on quality. Writing will still require commitment: The commitment toward creating and communicating correct information; in parts and in the totality. What’s your take at that?

Why Isn’t a “Help” Helpful Enough?

It is strange – and true – that technical communicators, like you and I, are into a profession that most others care a damn about… unless, of course, they are in dire need. No wonder most of the users yearn for the documentation only for troubleshooting their stuff. “I want to somehow get through this”, they intend. So, for the most part of their exploring the product, the users are busy finding answers to their how-does-this-damned-thing-works questions. Why is it still that we are unable to design formats that can make the users’ troubleshooting pursuits easy and manageable?

If I think about this whole thing as a user, it seems a daunting task for me to search for something I am not sure about; All I want is to solve my problem. But, how do I go about the help? How do I know where exactly to look for? How do I make sure to turn all the stones before I take a step further? How do I know how much information is sufficient? How, just how?

The users, I find as a technical communicator, use the following justifications for sending verbal curses to our so called “Help”:

  • Can I search for pictures? Does your help contain data/metadata to support searching for pictures?
  • I am lost. Where am I? What was I searching for? Is this what I was looking for?
  • I am tired. I’ll rather sleep.
  • I believe the reviews on the Internet provide more information than you can possibly cover in your next ten iterations. Sorry, I prefer the reviews.
  • I got the Internet; I will Google things up! I don’t need you.
  • I have other, better things to do.
  • I want a PDF. Do you take orders?
  • Is that a Help? Almighty, help me!
  • That many pages… are you kidding me!
  • The help only answers questions on information that is otherwise obvious and easy to locate and resolve. Why would I need answers to such simple things?
  • This help is outdated. Is there a new version?
  • This isn’t what I was looking for.
  • What I read partly solved my problem. What about the issues that remain? And, where can I find information about how to resolve those issues? Hello, are you listening?
  • Why aren’t there any graphics? Your writing sucks!
  • You call those graphics? I am better off with the written text.
  • You can’t expect me to read 20-odd pages just to look for a one-line information tidbit.
  • Your help does not contain the keywords that I am searching for. Why?

Sadly, this isn’t any one-person opinion. Most of them have equally creative, purposeful, and heartfelt verbal abuses for the help texts we share with them. Fact of the matter? The help isn’t helpful enough. Yes, it is true that a product is like a shrine with a thousand doors, and that the devotees can enter from anywhere. Yes, it is true that each devotee has a story to tell and a prayer that they want heard. And, Yes, it is true that it is close to impossible to predict the needs of each devotee. But, hey, isn’t that what we do every day as technical communicators? Just some food for thought.

Don’t Fix What Isn’t Broken!

We all learn. And, here’s the post on one such thing I learned, recently. For one of the projects I worked before I switched jobs last week, I was the only tech-comm contributor who held the dual role of preparing technical content as well as marketing collateral for the flagship product.

Until that time, I thought that technical writing made me be proud of one habit of pursuit: Perfection. I have grown, learned with time. And, I have gradually improved on my work and writing style. Consequently, I have developed this habit of looking for perfection in what I deliver, both in my work and in the blogs I publish.

The tasks required me to prepare the “usual” user and administration guides and then some customer-facing, enticing marketing collateral to increase the purchases of our products. I took up that dual role on the special requests from the content writing team lead, because I – being the sole writer for the thread – could explain the products’ core strengths.

Though there were a lot of things that I improved upon in the project, there were some that I had to leave untouched as I wrapped up. Friday was my last day at the office. I also had the other engagements at my home to look into before I joined my new company on Monday. So, I was hardly left with any energy and time to manage the tasks pending with me.

I knew – and still know – that had I tried harder, I could have managed a couple of additional edit iterations on the marketing collateral I prepared. I wanted to share only the perfect content with my then customers and colleagues, but I was short of time. Just one more write-up. One more edit iteration cycle; another better version. One more day. One more feature. One more document. One more inch toward perfection… just… one… more…


Please realize that I don’t WANT to commit mistakes – no one wants to. Also, I don’t think that I am perfect. But, knowing that fact does not – and cannot – stop me from TRYING to be perfect. And, here comes the wisdom: I AM WRONG.

Don’t try to fix what isn’t broken.

The truth is: One of the biggest challenges in technical communication is feedback. And, it is good to assume that even if the users provide feedback, it is only for what (they know or they think they know) is missing from your documentation. Assumptions are good. So, if they never get back to you, you can ASSUME that you are good to go. Like it or hate it, it has always been the way to go for technical communicators.

But, if that is true, then what is perfection?

Perfection is the state of being “all correct” in a situation, given a premise, under specific parameters, and at a certain point in time. Given that to be true – I can’t find a definition better than that – I think perfection is BAD. It stops you from progression. Progression toward a version better than you created. Perfection is status quo. And, I want to continue to flow. I want to continue to evolve.

What is Aperture?

This post is a part of the series of posts on Photography Basics.

I’ve been reading about it ever since I decided on nurturing my interest in photography. And, the more I read about it, the more I feel the need to read about it. Of course, experimentation follows reading – in fact, experimentation trumps reading – but it is always good to know things before you try them. And, hence this post.

In photography, what is aperture?

In simple terms, it is the hole/space through which the light (and hence the image) travels through the lens onto the imaging sensor and, if available, through the viewfinder. The aperture is one of the most important points to consider while capturing images. The other important points are the focal length, the ISO, and the shutter speed.

Basically, it is the right setting of the aperture that helps you bring either everything into the focus or only the subject by blurring the background. But, how does that happen? That happens because the aperture controls the amount of light entering into the lens and onto the imaging sensor. And – unfortunately – here’s the catch! A large aperture doesn’t mean more light onto the sensor. In fact, it is the opposite; A small aperture means that the lens is open wide enough to pass abundant light onto the imaging sensor.

How does the aperture affect the depth of field?

You can control the light entering the lens using a diaphragm. A diaphragm is a device (if that is the right word) that functions much like the pupil in a human eye – Diaphragm controls the diameter of the lens opening. The structures within this diaphragm are called stops. Each stop represents are definitive number that defines the opening of the lens.

The lens aperture is typically written as an f-number, which is also called f-stop. This f-stop represents the ratio of focal length to the opened aperture diameter. The following picture, which is taken from the Wikipedia page for aperture – which I think best describes the concept – represents the range of aperture. Remember that lower the aperture number, larger the opening of the lens.

Image Credit: Wikipedia
Lens exposure per f-stop: Wikipedia (Image Credits) best describes the concept of aperture. Look how the aperture settings change for each f-stop


Wikipedia mentions, “Reducing the aperture size increases the depth of field”. This means that you will choose a smaller aperture number when you want to cover everything between the subject and the photograph’s actual plane of focus, with the subject and the plane of focus included. For a shallower depth of field, and to isolate the subject from its plane of focus (Yes, for that creamy bokeh!), you will use a large aperture – typically something like f/4.

Let me make it simpler for you:

  • If you want the entire picture in focus, use the following formula:

Entire Area in Focus = Greater DOF = Smaller Opening in Lens = Higher f-stop

(f/8 through f/16)

  • If you want only the subject in focus, use the following formula:

Only Subject in Focus = Shallower DOF = Larger Opening in Lens = Smaller f-stop

(f/5.6 through f/1.4)

You can have f-stops that are smaller than f/1.4 and larger than f/16, but I am only using those figuratively here – to give you the idea.

How does the understanding of aperture affect my photography?

Switch from the automatic mode on your camera. If you are using a DSLR, switch to the “A” mode from the “PASM” modes available. For those who are new to this setting, the DSLR allows modes other than the two at the extreme ends of the spectrum – the Automatic and the Manual modes. The PASM here stands for Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, and Manual Mode. For those of you who are using a point and shoot (P&S) camera, use the manual mode and set the aperture. You will have to dig into the menus, because every P&S has its own style of menus.

Select Aperture Priority as the mode for shooting. Aperture Priority is like a semi-automatic mode of shooting – but with a difference. Based on the aperture you set, the camera calculates and chooses the best possible ISO and shutter speed. You can use this to practice and master your understanding on aperture. Once you are habitual with the change in the shutter speed and ISO based on the aperture you choose, you can experiment with the Manual Mode, while changing any of these elements – Experimentation, as I said, trumps theoretical knowledge.

Do “fast” and “slow” lenses have anything to do with aperture?

A little background before we come to that question… Lenses come with either fixed aperture or variable aperture. For example, the 70-200mm f/2.8 denotes that across the focal length of the lens (70mm and 200mm, respectively), the lens will maintain fixed aperture of f/2.8; and the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 means that at 70mm, the lens will get you f/4.0 aperture and at 300mm, the lens will get you f/5.6 aperture.

Let us go back to the basics now. The lens aperture, as we discussed, denotes the lens opening diameter (managed by the diaphragm). A larger opening – which means a smaller f-number – will help you capture a lot of light, and a lot of details in your image. So, for a smaller f-number, opt for faster shutter speed. If this is too technical, read how simply Wikipedia defines this for you, “The aperture is proportional to the square root of the light admitted, and thus inversely proportional to the square root of required exposure time, such that an aperture of f/2 allows for exposure times one quarter that of f/4.”

Note that for both the fixed and the variable aperture lenses, we consider the maximum aperture opening as the most useful. This value of the maximum aperture opening is also called the lens speed. Lenses with aperture openings equal to or wider than f2.8 are called faster lenses. These lenses will give you faster focusing (usually, in combination with sharper picture, better detail retention, and faster shutter speeds). And, because you can focus faster with these lenses, they are called “fast” lenses. The lenses, though, are typically expensive.

I hope I have understood the concept of aperture, and that I was able to reproduce my knowledge correctly. I’d like you to let me know if there are any improvements.

Happy clicking!