There are so many impressive effects we can create with our cameras. The beauty of photography is the creative interpretation and slow shutter speed is one of the great ways we can do this!
Once you have gained the technical skills you need to be confident in using your camera - knowing the ins and outs of how everything works - you can bridge the gap between execution and creative thinking.
Slow shutter speed is one of three core camera skills to master, Aperture and ISO being the other two.
You can achieve amazing results with slow shutter speed. However, you need to have a great understanding of how it works and the techniques to execute it properly, so that you end up with photographs that mesmerise your audience. .
We’re going to cover a lot in this blog, such as:
- What shutter speed is
- How to use slow shutter speed
- Tips to achieve amazing effects
What is shutter speed?
Shutter speed is how long the shutter is open which equates to the length of time light is exposed to the sensor. Basically it's how long your camera takes a photo for.
It is usually measured in seconds, or better fractions of a second, you will see this displayed as 1/250 or 1/60 for example. The smaller the denominator (the number on the bottom of the fraction) the slower the shutter speed.
You may know the term long exposure, fundamentally this is the same thing as using a slow shutter speed. As I mentioned above it’s about how long light is exposed to the sensor.
Using shutter speed enables you to better control the light for your photograph, so you can pretty much manipulate the natural light as it comes into your camera. It’s a great tool to master for when you're working in very dull or dark or extremely bright conditions.
The most exciting thing about it though are the impressive artistic effects you can create without the requirement for post-shoot editing!
Look at this amazing shot from Iceland as an example of just one of the effects you can create…
Notice how the waterfall to the right of the composition is blurred as if ever flowing - this is thanks to slow shutter speed.
If you want to get back to the basics of shutter speed in more depth, I encourage you to read What is Shutter Speed.
How to use slow shutter speed
Blur is usually something we try and avoid by minimising the risk of camera shake and using a fast shutter speed. Here we want the opposite effect!
We utilise a slow shutter speed when we want to add drama to an image or create a more interesting perspective such as with moving water, a busy motorway, cloud movement or star trails.
As with all camera skills - this takes practice. There isn’t a definite formula because every situation is different so take your time figuring out what works best for that context and why.
Here are the technical steps to start using slow shutter speed:
- Set your camera to Shutter Priority (that’s S or TV on the command dial depending on the make of camera)
- Select a speed of 1/2 second
- Check the camera’s light meter to see if the shot’s correctly exposed
- If the light meter is indicating the shot’s overexposed then add a neutral density filter and re-check
- Once the light meter’s in the middle and indicating correct exposure use the self timer to activate the shutter
- Repeat the above for speeds up to as long as 2 seconds because the longer the shutter speeds the more blur you will get
Tips for using slow shutter speed
Here are some really important insights to help you navigate slow shutter speeds!
Use a neutral density filter
A neutral density filter will massively reduce the light your camera sees which will allow you to use longer shutter speeds without over exposing.
But because they alter the perception of light your auto focus may not be as relevant - keep an eye on this and switch to manual focus if necessary.
Depending on the strength of the filter, the light meter may be fooled as well - rely on your photographic knowledge rather than your camera’s designated functions!
Invest in a tripod
When you’re using a slow shutter speed you need absolute still so you don’t negatively affect the set up with unplanned blur.
A good tripod will help you improve your composition, give you time to think about exposure and depth of field.
They'll eliminate camera shake - and some images like blurry waterfalls are simply not possible without a tripod.
A remote switch gives you power
To avoid mismanaging your pre-configured settings for your shot, use a remote to avoid any unnecessary camera shake or shifting of composition.
If you’re capturing a star trail and your shutter needs to be open for a number of hours this also gives you the power to override settings and leave your shutter wide open!
A slow shutter speed can open up so many creative opportunities in photography and it’s really exciting getting those results when you get it just right.
Take your time and settle in at a location. Try different shutter speeds, use varying ISOs and work with and without a tripod to get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.
Self discovery fuels creativity!
There is so much scope to explore your artistry and the incredible things your camera can do. The more techniques you master the more impressive and mesmerising photos you can take.
Connecting the technical skills and creative learning isn’t always straightforward, which is why I’ve created an online course to support you.
Seven Building Blocks of Photography is designed to help you:
- Think like a Photographer
- Use and predict light
- Find compositions that work
- Know instinctively which focal length lens you need
- Know which Camera Settings to use
- Take home images you're proud to have taken
- Gain confidence as a photographer
Don’t just take my word for it…
“Can't put a dollar amount on knowledge”
“I think the biggest difference after completing the course was that I now have a road map to follow..step by step, the 7 blocks go through your mind before you hit the shutter..an invaluable tool... thanks Mike!” Dan Ausec
“7BB has shown me that artistic impression is not only allowed but encouraged”
“I was taught photography in 1961 whilst in the military. It was set in tablets of stone and very formulaic. Throughout life I've just stuck to the formula and produced photographs of record quality because the last thing the military wanted was artistic impression or individualism. 7BB has shown me that artistic impression is not only allowed but encouraged and I can now be individualistic because I'm in charge...it's my picture!” Ivan Grange