Understanding your camera: Slow Shutter speeds

Johan van Zyl All Authors, Johan 1 Comment

After posting a few images of our experience during a Mara week, some people have asked for a blog on slow shutter speeds.  Now on all our safaris and workshops we encourage people to experiment with their photography, to break some of the “rules” of photography, but in order to do this you need to understand the rules in order to break them, if that makes any sense.

First of all, during almost any sighting, we encourage to “bank” your shots, so to make sure that you will have some nice sharp, clear images.  Then instead of taking a thousand images that look exactly the same (read Gerry’s blog on this)  why not play around and create something different, something unique.


Shutter speed:  1/10 sec  Aperture:  F32  ISO:  100

After banking a few images that I was satisfied with, I decided to experiment a little and try and create something different.  Because it was almost mid day and lots of light was available, I had to bring my ISO down to as low as possible, in this case 100.  Still with my ISO as low as it could go, my shutter speed was still not slow enough to capture blurred motion.  My aperture had to be closed (higher number) eventually up to F32 before I had the desired shutter speed.  Depending on the speed your subject is moving, but anything from 1/60 and slower you will start getting motion blur, the slower the shutter speed, the more prominent the blur.

When shooting slow shutter speeds it is important that you know what you are trying to create.  Are you gonna Pan the shot, so in other words try and move at the same speed as your subject whilst taking the images.  Are you gonna try some radial blur or radial panning?  Or are you going to create motion blur, where you focus on a subject, keeping the camera dead still and allowing the subject to create the motion for you.

The river crossings during the Migration in the Masai Mara is a great opportunity to play around with slow shutter speeds.  There is lots of movement, splashing, dust…  Its absolute chaos!

6g4a1806Shutter speed:  1/5 sec  Aperture:  F32  ISO:  100  

After banking a few images, we sat and just watched what was happening in front of us.  This is so important as often you let the whole experience pass you by without truly witnessing it.  By watching what is unfolding in front of you, you also start getting ideas of what you can create.

So with this image above we were witnessing a massive herd of Wildebeest making their way down to the river, some pausing when they get to the water and then the rush of entering the river and swimming across.  Somehow I wanted to capture and portray all this movement.  So with a slow shutter speed of 1/5 sec I focussed on the Wildebeest seen almost in the middle of the frame, held my camera as still as possible by using a beanbag and then took a few images.

One thing to remember with slow shutter speeds is your success ratio is a lot lower.  Often people knock themselves about not getting it absolutely perfect.  Out of this sequence I took close on 100 images to get 1 that I liked.  You need a bit of luck as well…

So next time in the field, bank your shots, stop to look at your scene, decide what you would like to create, and go for it.  A good idea is also to not just stick with one shutter speed the whole way through, vary it around, go to 1/15 up to 1/60 and then as slow as 1/5 just to give you variety and different effects.

Slow shutter speeds are great fun, don’t be scared to try!  🙂


About the Author

Johan van Zyl


The opportunity of visiting some of the wildest, undisturbed areas and sharing my passion for wildlife, conservation and photography with like minded people is a privilege that I am forever grateful.

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  1. Pingback: Understanding your camera: Slow Shutter speeds - Africa Freak

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