Anne Darling Photography

Slow Shutter Speed Technique 3:

Using a Slow Shutter Speed to Create Motion Blur

Slow shutter speed technique is either used with the subject moving or the camera moving. Or both! In panning, the camera is moving. When painting with light, the subject is moving. Motion blur is another technique to try where the subject is moving.

In the shot below, the photographer has used motion blur to create a sense of the train actually moving, just leaving the station, and a sense of speed too. Shots like this are fairly easy to do with the right shutter speed. Too long a shutter speed would have blurred the entire train but here the photographer used a shutter speed of 1/4 second which works well. At this speed, you almost certainly need to use a tripod if you want the majority of the image to be sharp.

slow shutter speed technique intentional blur
A Milan Metro Train Approaching a Station (Photo by Spsmiler) - Panasonic DMC-TZ3, 1/4 sec, f/3.3, ISO 400, focal length 4.6 mm

Including human interest is always good and in the next shot the photographer has used a man standing at the kerb as the still point of the photograph. A similarly slow shutter speed has been used, 1/5 second. With a longer focal length you will have less light entering the lens so your shutter speed will need to be longer. How much longer depends on how much longer the focal length is! So experiment a bit and adjust as you go. Try using shutter priority mode on your camera which allows you to choose your shutter speed while the camera takes care of the aperture and ISO for you and ensures the shot has the correct exposure.

slow shutter speed technique motion blur
Time Passes (Photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim) - Canon EOS 400D, 1/5 sec, f/5.6, ISO 400, focal length 18 mm

Because of the long exposure, you may find that too much light gets into the lens so you will have to compensate. One obvious way to do this is to shoot at dusk or after dark which can be great for producing light trails as in the shot below. Notice though that night shots like this require a much longer exposure, 30 seconds in this case.

long shutter speeds
Light Trails on the Denton Square (Photo by Rich Anderson) - Nikon D90, 30 seconds, f/22, ISO 200, focal length 34 mm

If you are shooting during the day, there are many ways to compensate for too much light. Decreasing the ISO is one way. The lower the number the better. Using a small aperture is another. The higher the number the better. In shutter priority mode this should happen anyway but if you set your camera to manual mode, choose the highest setting (f stop) and then try out different shutter speeds to suit. The third way is to use a neutral density filter which will cut down the amount of light entering the lens. If you don't have a neutral density filter then try placing your sunglasses in front of the lens when you take the shot. A polarizing filter will have a similar effect but will change the tone/colour of the final image.

slow shutter speeds
Light Trails on the Denton Square, Composed of 8 Photos of 30 Seconds Each (Photo by Bresson Thomas) - Nikon D300, 30 seconds, f/8, ISO 200, focal length 18 mm

The final shot is a beautiful example of light trails using this technique. The photographer has used a 30 second shutter speed for this but what gives the wonderful glow to the trails is the fact that he has combined eight separate shots in one image - very nice!

Find Out More!

slow shutter speeds

Great for beginners and serious amateurs, Understanding Shutter Speed is the definitive handy guide to mastering shutter speed for superb results.

Bryan Peterson presents clear, jargon-free explanations of terms and techniques, plus compelling "before-and-after" photos that pair a mediocre image (created using the wrong shutter speed) with a great image (created using the right shutter speed). This is the definitive practical guide to mastering an often-confusing subject.

Topics include freezing and implying motion, panning, zooming, exposure, Bogen Super Clamps, and rendering motion effects with Photoshop, all with helpful guidance for both digital and film formats.

Slow Shutter Speed Technique 1: Panning

Slow Shutter Speed Technique 2: Painting with Light





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