There are really two kinds of shutter lag: The first and 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 time, the camera determines proper exposure and focuses the lens.
With SLRs it also 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 move out of the frame!
Hidden pooch: Sometimes your subject stays right where you hoped it would, but something—or someone—steps into the scene blocking your chance to capture the moment because of shutter lag. ©2005 Joe Farace
The second type of shutter lag is man-made and is simply how long it takes for the photographer to see the photo and snap the shutter. This is far more common form of shutter lag, usually takes much longer that the electromechanical one, and more good photos are lost because the shooter just takes too long to make up his mind.
Tip: The secret of eliminating the effects 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! Sometimes it’s a good idea to shoot a sequence of photographs (some cameras offer a burst mode, check to see if yours does) to find the one that captures the peak moment of action.
Shoot a sequence: This furry Keystone Kop was photographed as part of a five-shot sequence starting when his mistress (she’s wearing the prison stripes in the background) picked him up and carried him across the stage during an annual Halloween contest for dogs. I didn’t wait to make that “perfect shot” and keep shooting during the few seconds the pooch was on stage. ©2005 Joe Farace
Joe Farace is the author of a new book called “Getting Started in Digital Imaging” published by Focal Press (ISBN 024080838X.) It’s available in all the best bookstores as well as Amazon.com.