Creative Use of Slow Shutter Speed in Long Exposure Photography

Shanghai highway view at sunset

Shutter Speed is not only a mechanical term, it is a great creative tool as well. Below are few examples to demonstrate, the ways we can use slow shutter speed creatively.

Moving vehicles

Light trails of passing vehicles make for an interesting subject for night photography. Needless to say one needs a longer exposure time for correctly capturing red or yellow trails of passing vehicles.

as train goes by...Photo: Mikel

Start at 8-10 seconds of exposure time to allow several vehicles to pass by. As always adjust the exposure time according to get the best effect.

Streams and brooks

Often streams and brooks are an ideal setting for an effect that is best described with the word “dreamy”. It is a milky white effect of the water that one can see in a lot of professionally taken photographs, captured by creatively using the slow shutter speed.

Virgin RiverPhoto: third i blind

One needs to compensate for any highlights or overexposed part of the photograph by metering for the light (matrix metering would be ideal here) and then using a filter if required to suppress the overexposed areas. Usually a 3-4 second exposure time is required depending upon the lighting conditions and also the kind of effect that one needs. Use of both regular and graduated neutral density filter is often required. Read more on how to take waterfall photos here

Motion blur in everyday life

Public places such as parks, train stations and streets are great places to try your hand at some motion blur. Try setting up your equipment from a height so that you can capture a big depth of field while also capturing a lot of motion blur.

Disney - A Ride On The TTA at Night (Explored)Photo: Joe Penniston

Set your camera to f/11 or a bit narrower and then set an exposure time of 5-6 seconds. Adjust the settings depending on the results achieved. You will be surprised at the amount of movement you can capture at such locations.

Night shots with long exposure

When shooting subjects during night especially during twilight a longer exposure time is required. First rule is never to use a higher ISO unless you have used up all other options. Most semi professional and professional DSLR bodies have a noise correction feature, but to be honest anything above 800 in low light is unusable, unless you mean to use that as a thumbnail image.

Blue & Gold Coit TowerPhoto: David Yu

Lower ISO will also help when it comes to the right exposure as the camera will compensate for the lowers sensor sensitivity and allow for a longer exposure time. Handholding for lower ISO when shooting at night may be difficult and as such a tripod is required. We shall discuss about tripods in more detail later on.

Some Important tips

Using tripods for keeping the camera steady

Handholding a camera while using long shutter speeds can be difficult. While photographers love to capture motion blur, camera shake should be best avoided. As such tripod is an essential accessory to have when using lower shutter speeds.

Shutter Priority Mode

Every DSLR (and currently even some point & shoots) have a shutter priority mode on them. DSLR users can find that on the main dial on their camera. Look for the letter “S” which means shutter priority. When you set the camera on a shutter priority mode you can play around with the exposure time and create some beautiful shots using your camera.

Use of neutral density filters in long exposures

If light intensity is too high, when shooting with long exposures, especially when shooting in bright daylight, one will need to use a neutral density filter to keep out the glaring light.

Switch on/off VR (IS)?

VR stands for Vibration reduction where as IS stands for Image Stabilization. They do the same thing that is counter for camera shake. Switch them on when handholding the camera for using with slower shutter speeds. However when shooting with a tripod, they are advised to be switched off.

Read more on Shutter Speed here