5 Creative ways to use Slow Shutter Speeds in Photography

Andrew Beck All Authors, Andrew Leave a Comment

Shutter speed is a great way to manipulate certain aspects of your image in order to create a more appealing, or slightly different take on a scene. For those of you who are not sure exactly what shutter speed is, shutter speed or exposure time is the effective length of time that a camera’s shutter is open.

During this time, light enters through the front element of the lens, through the diaphragm or selected aperture, and finally falls onto the sensor where the image is recorded. This duration is represented on your camera as either 1/400 (representing 1 400th of a second) or 4″ (representing 4 seconds). It would make sense then that faster shutter speeds freeze motion and slower/longer shutter speeds blur motion. Understanding this can unlock a whole new world of possibilities for getting creative with slow shutter speeds!

1. Portraying Movement

Creative ways to use shutter speed 1

ISO 160, f.20, 1/10

The concept here is pretty simple. With the camera being kept steady by means of a bean bag or even a tripod, we purposefully manipulate our camera settings to give us a slow shutter speed (if you are in AV mode then close your aperture to its maximum  eg. f.22) and capture the movement of our subjects. The slower the subject moves the longer our shutter speed needs to be in order to convey the sense of motion.

My Tip: Try and include a static subject (eg. a tree or animal0 which will anchor your image and add to the feeling of movement that you are trying to portray.

2. Panning with Movement


ISO 320, f.18, 1/15

This technique is a little bit more difficult that the one above as it requires you to move the camera horizontally in perfect sync with your subject whilst trying to eliminate any vertical movement. You will almost certainly need to take a number of sequential frames to get a really good image where your subject is sharp whilst the background is blurred. Try to anticipate the movement of your subject and track it from as far away as possible, waiting until it is almost directly in-front of you before you photograph it. This not only allows you to compensate for the speed at which your subject is moving but also yields the best results.

My Tip: Finding subjects where you can easily predict their movement is easier in the city than it is in the bush. Practice this technique with cars on an urban road to get the hang of it.

3. Zoom Blur

Creative ways to use shutter speed 2

ISO 100, f.2.8, 0,5″

Zoom blur can add an abstract quality to a variety of  static wildlife subjects. To create the blurred streaks and lines that emanate from the centre of zoom burst images you need a lens that will zoom. Once the shutter opens, wait for a while (half to three quarters of the exposure) then in one fluid but quite fast movement, zoom out. That way, you get a get a bit of definition into the subject before you blur it. You need a slow shutter speed here to make it easier to time when to start your zooming out process as well as to create the radiating lines emanating from your subject.

My Tip: Set your camera to Low Speed Continuous shooting mode and rattle off a couple of frames in sequence whilst ensuring your camera is held as steady as possible.

4. Aim for the Stars

Quiver Tree Night

ISO 4000, f2.8, 30″

Although there is no movement in this type of image, we still require a slow shutter speed in order for the camera’s sensor to capture the detail that is usually hidden in the night sky. Because it is so dark, in order to capture stars like this we not only need to have a slow shutter speed but we also need to increase the camera’s sensitivity to light (by increasing the ISO). We can also assist the camera in this process by ensuring that our aperture is wide open (eg. f 2.8) in order to allow as much light as possible through the lens and onto the sensor. This combination of increased sensitivity to light, maximum aperture, and a slow shutter speed gives you a good base from which to start photographing the night sky.

The Quiver trees in this image were painted in using a torch and this too takes a bit of practice in order to get a correct and even exposure. This particular tip is bound to keep you busy on your next trip!

My Tip: Make sure that you have a sturdy tripod if you are going to be photographing stars and star trails. There is nothing more frustrating than finding that your support structure has let you down and spoiled an image.

5. Landscapes

Namib Rand Sunrise

ISO 100, f.16, 227″ (10 Stop ND Filter)

The use of Neutral Density (ND) Filters to reduce the amount of light entering through the lens and therefore resulting in a longer exposure with a slower shutter speed can yielded incredible results. This image taken by Mark Dumbleton shows how using the ND Filter to dramatically reduced the shutter speed to almost 4 minutes. This captured the movement of the clouds above the mountain range providing that special something to what would have been a fairly standard landscape otherwise.

My Tip: Filters are a great accessory for shooting captivating landscapes and are a worthwhile investment for anyone wanting to create these sorts of effects.

So those are my 5 tips for using slow shutter speeds creatively.

Feel free to share any tips you may have with our community!

Andrew Beck

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Comments 0

  1. sarel

    Hi Andrew.Thanks a lot for your tips.I do like the zoom effect on the lion,defenitly going to try it.All the photo’s look very beautifull.Thanks a lot for your good advice.


    1. Andrew

      Hi Sarel

      Thanks for the feedback. The “zoom blur” is a great way to use slow shutter speeds. As I mentioned above, it will take a lot of practice and trial and error but i is very rewarding when you are able to capture a subject in this manner with some detail and clarity preserved.

      Happy shooting!

  2. Fida

    I am always amazed what one can do with a camera and I never remember how to do it when I need it. I love your tips because even a dabbler understands them… and please don’t laugh… I printed them out and put them in my camera case. Now I just have to remember that they are there when the occasion arises… 🙂

    1. Gerry

      That’s awesome! 🙂 Printing notes and reminders for yourself is a great way to learn and get better at photography! Glad we could help!

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