November 30, 2015

Creative Ideas --- Slow shutter speeds

When we first learn to take pictures, we are usually concerned with getting a sharply focused shot. But blurred photos can be interesting and effective if we do so intentionally.

5 second exposure, camera on tripod
Moran State Park
Orcas Island, Washington

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The key to this is the shutter speed you or the camera selects as part of the exposure process. A fast shutter speed such as 1/500 second opens the shutter for a very brief time, allowing no time for your subject to move, so it appears sharp. A slow shutter speed, such as 1/2 second, keeps the shutter open for a longer time, giving time for your subject to move and appear blurred.

Left---Fast shutter speed freezes water drops
Right---Slow shutter speed blurs water flow
Camera on tripod

Setting up your camera
Use slow shutter speeds of 1/30 second or longer. You want the blur to be obvious in order for it to look intentional and not a mistake. So a slower shutter speed gives you more blur. Most cameras have shutter speeds as slow as 30 seconds.

If your camera has it, use Shutter Priority exposure mode (S or TV on the exposure dial) to select the amount of time you want. Also be sure the ISO is set to the lowest number (not Auto ISO) as this will make the camera less sensitive to light and help ensure the longer exposure doesn't get too bright.

If your camera does not have Shutter Priority, turn off the flash and set the lowest ISO or use the night or fireworks scene setting.

Picking the scene and subject
It is easier to use slow shutter speeds in dim lighting conditions. So subjects in the shade or indoors, cloudy days, twilight and night all offer lower light levels that need a longer exposure time to make a picture. This plays right into your plans for a slower shutter speed.

If the picture is still turning out too bright, try adding a polarizing filter or a neutral density filter to the lens. Both these filters block some light and allow you to use a longer exposure time in brighter conditions.


If you want some parts of your picture sharp and other parts blurred, put your camera on a tripod or some other support. That way only the moving subject will blur and not the whole image.

Start with subjects that move "in place," such as flowing water or flags blowing in a breeze. Once you get a feel for the effect of the slow shutter speed, you can move on to subjects that are moving, such as bicyclists or pets.

1 second exposure, camera on tripod
Skalkaho Falls, Montana

Experiment with different shutter speeds. You will get different effects depending on the speed your subject is moving and the length of your shutter speed. Checking the camera's LCD screen lets you know when you have the right shutter speed for the effect you want.

Some techniques to try

Panning with the subject: Pick a subject moving past you. Set the camera to a slow shutter speed, such as 1/30 second or 1/15 second. Turn on continuous shooting so you can take multiple pictures as the subject passes you. "Track" the subject by looking through the viewfinder and take a series of photos as it travels in front of you. Your subject will appear relatively sharp compared to the blurry background.

Panning at 1/25 second, handheld
Florence, Oregon

Zoom the lens: Place your camera on a tripod and set a slow shutter speed, 1/4 second or slower. Zoom the lens in or out during the exposure to create lines that radiate out from the center of the frame.

1.5 seconds, camera on tripod indoors
Missoula, Montana

"Paint" with the camera: Choose a slow shutter speed, such as 1/30 second or slower, and move the camera during the exposure. Try following the shape of the subject or make random movements.

"Painting" up and down on a fall reflection in water
6/10 second, handheld
MaClay Flat, Montana
Give intentional blur with slow shutter speeds a try and see what you come up with!